Hospitals are offering spa-like services in the maternity ward
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Maternity care trends have been shaped by women’s evolving beliefs and expectations. In the first half of the 20th century, most women gave birth at home, with no medication. Hospital births became standard in the 1950s, with doctor-administered pain relief, until the late 1960s and ’70s, when many women demanded a more natural birth process. Then in the 1990s, local providers say the epidural reigned supreme, and drug-assisted inductions and C-sections became more common.
Both doctors and midwives say that over the past decade, they’ve seen the pendulum swing back once again, with an increase in women desiring an unmedicated hospital birth.
The epidural, however, is still the most popular request by women in labor, with about 61 percent asking for this spinal anesthesia in 2008, the most recent year for which national data are available, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Women are not turning their backs on medical technology and pain relief, but not every patient wants pain medication or spinal anesthesia right away, or she may want to attempt a natural birth. Even those patients who definitely want an epidural still want help getting through the early stages of labor. And they expect far more than a breathing coach and some ice chips.
Most notably, most community hospitals have installed in-room Jacuzzi bath tubs in many, if not all, of their labor and delivery rooms over the past 5 to 10 years. A few, including South Shore Hospital, offer much larger hydrotherapy tubs that can be moved into different rooms. At Winchester Hospital, patients can lie in a large Jacuzzi-style tub in its own room, complete with lilac-colored walls, a light dimmer switch, and a sound system for playing music they bring from home.
For women hoping to go the natural route, many hospitals offer services that, until recently, were provided only by midwives performing home births. They include hypnobirthing, which requires pregnant women to be prepared with several courses on hypnotic relaxation and breathing techniques before labor. And Mount Auburn is preparing to offer water births — where women deliver the baby in the water — in 2013.
While midwives and most maternity nurses are now trained in pressure-point massage techniques, Winchester Hospital has an on-call massage therapist affiliated with its Community Health Institute. In Concord, Emerson Hospital offers aromatherapy in its private rooms.
While not having a eucalyptus-scented hospital room isn’t likely to be a deal breaker, such amenities contribute to a hospital’s overall atmosphere and help patients judge whether they will be treated as an individual or pushed into a prescribed order of events.
That feeling was crucial for Clapper. “I don’t have a conventional viewpoint that causes me to say, Oh, this is how American women get pregnant and give birth,” she said. “I don’t take for granted that there’s one way for dealing with those things.”
Nancy Reardon Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.