Friday, January 9, 2009

Concepts of birth unit design


The key resource for the design of the virtual birth unit in Second Life is the work of Bianca Lepori who is an Italian architect: Mindbodyspirit architecture: creating birth space (Lepori, Foureur and Hastie, 2008). Bianca believes that the architectural design of a birthing space should take into consideration the spiritual and emotional aspects of birth, as much as the physical ones.

Moving, feeling and dreaming body
I cannot repeat all the features that Bianca talks about in the book chapter, so if you're interested, I strongly recommend you look at the book. Because it is a new book, it cannot be accessed at Google Books, so I'm afraid you'll have to beg, borrow or steal. Or you can get hold of the editors: Kathleen Fahy, Maralyn Foureur and Carolyn Hastie.

Here is a summary of her main points.

The moving body
The woman needs to be able to move around, to have the space and freedom to get into whatever position she wants in order to keep the baby moving through the birth canal.

The feeling body
The woman needs to have access to soft textures and firm, supportive surfaces; to be touched or not, as she wishes; the right temperature; have access to water flowing or still; to feel loved, respected and supported.

The dreaming body
The dreaming body is instinctive and responds to images and colours. So women may need access to dark and quiet environments; needs to remain focused so should not be distracted by harsh noise and bright light; responds to curves, not sharp angles.

Design features
I have already mentioned a number of the design features that Bianca advocates in my previous posts. Here are a few more that I haven't mentioned:
  • culturally safe
  • images of beauty, mother and earth in forms of artwork
  • rounded corners and edges to furniture and walls
  • low wall for leaning on
  • rope suspended from the ceiling for hanging on
  • ability to move medical gases, suction and emergency equipment to where the woman is
  • window to outside world
  • pleasant area to walk in, both inside and outside
  • door at the side of the room - bed not in line of sight
  • toilet and shower room en suite, but big enough to birth in if the need arises
  • natural materials such as timber and tiles - avoid metal surfaces
  • secure places for woman to lock her things away
  • equipment hidden out of view
  • natural light - no overhead light
  • windows low enough to see view when lying down in bed
  • sound proofed rooms so woman cannot hear other labouring women
  • CD playing music of woman's choice
  • comfortable accommodation for supporters - access to telephone, food and drink, shower and toilet
  • food and drink available for woman and family - toaster, microwave, iced water, fridge
  • telephone in room
  • non-slip floor surface.
Bianca also advocates the careful consideration of colour based on the seven chakras which are associated with the body energy system.

Red - security, sense of survival, trust
Orange - sexuality, relationships with others
Yellow - personal power, self-confidence
Green - love, compassion, forgiveness
Blue - communication, giving and receiving information
Purple - intuition, self-realisation, letting go of negative thoughts, wisdom
Violet - spirituality, connection to "God"

What do you think of Bianca's ideas? What would you suggest? Does this make sense or do you think it's a load of new age baloney? How do you think we can integrate these features into our virtual birth unit?

Lepori, B. (1994). Freedom of Movement in Birth Places. Children’s Environments, 11, 2, 1-12. Retrieved 8 January, 2009, from

Lepori, B., Foureur, M., & Hastie, C. (2008). Mindbodyspirit architecture: creating birth space. In K. Fahy, M. Foureur & C. Hastie (Eds.), Birth territory and midwifery guardianship (pp 95-112). Edinburgh: Elsevier.


Carolyn said...

You have written some great posts on this topic Sarah. Really good stuff. I am proud to be involved on the periphery of this. I must be great to have the time to devote to it.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for the compliment, Carolyn. It has been a good process for me, and I feel I have a much better understanding of the theory behind the design process. Mind you, it took a few days to study and resource.

Anonymous said...

What might be needed for the baby? Assuming you're aiming for immediate skin-to-skin contact and nursing, perhaps a bassinet isn't high up the priority list, but a high table on which the new baby can be dressed without straining anyone's back would be good, plus space to store some nappies and clothes and a way of warming blankets to wrap the new arrival...

How much is going to happen in the birthing unit? How long will mother and baby spend here before moving somewhere else? Presumably the placenta will be born here as well as the baby, so some baby-care will be taking place.

Sarah Stewart said...

I think we're assuming that the family will stay in the one room until discharge, Dot. Nice point about the cot. Cheers.

Buckeyebrit said...

This is really interesting stuff! As an OT I would strongly advocate theortecially, anecdotally and personally that environment has a significant impact on the birthing experience for all involved. It would be interesting to consider the perspective of the staff present and how their work could be impacted by such an environment. From my own experience feeling comfortable (in every both the physical and psychological sense) in a birthing environment helped me be really engage in the experience.

Sarah Stewart said...

Ahhhh, buckeyebrit, you've taken the words out of my mouth - that's my next post. As a midwife I don't want to be ending over women in awkward positions because it aggravates my sore back.

Anonymous said...

i do love the whole chakra thing and theres nothing like having your chakras polished up from time to time...but....isnt colour so personal? And I would have trouble pin pointing which of the attributes assigned to a colour is going to be the thing most needed by each woman at each birth? Its that individuality thing i think we need something that allows women to get what is needed on the day - we can't know that.
That's the complexity of providing the space.
To a point women are able to adapt I guess so that they can birth in most while we want to allow a space that is woman friendly maybe there is less need to overthink it?

Sarah Stewart said...

@Rae Yes, you're right - we are never going to be able to cater for everyone's taste. We do know some things about what women what in their birth environment, so we're just trying to do the best we can in this SL environment to recreate that.

One of the things Deb & I want to do is get feedback from midwives and women about the unit once its built (as far as environment is concerned, compared to the learning aspects of it) so it will be interesting to hear what people think about the colours we've chosen.

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