Case Study: Private Hospital Maternity Unit (Sydney, Australia)

This Sydney hospital has shifted to a family-oriented approach to childbirth, transforming its spaces to cater to the changing role fathers play in the lives of their newborn children.

It’s a given that cultural attitudes to fathers have shifted: fathers are now expected to play an active role in everything from pregnancy and labour to caring for their newborns and growing children.#1 And this view is borne out by the numbers, too. Studies have shown that, for children, there are life-long health benefits that come with their fathers participating in raising them, particularly in the early days.#2 Research has also found that engaging with fathers can have long-term, positive effects on the health and lifestyles of both parents.#3

#1. Father’s Guides, Royal College of Midwives.
#2. National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services, UK, 2004
#3. Bottorff, 2006; Flouri & Buchanan A. 2003

Cooperative parenting is an approach many institutions and industry stakeholders are now advocating – including Britain’s Fatherhood Institute. With this approach, both father and mother are actively involved with raising their children from the get-go. As centres that care for new mothers in the first few days after their babies are born, hospitals have a significant role to play here: they are perfectly positioned to help new parents establish positive, involved relationships with their babies.

Helping put cooperative parenting into action

This was something one Sydney private hospital had in mind when it came time to renovate their maternity unit. It had been constructed some 20 years previously, and, with revitalisation work on the cards, it was the ideal opportunity for the hospital to create an environment that supports not only new mothers, but also new fathers and other family members.

Five babies are now born here every day, and mothers stay, on average, four nights; five if they deliver babies via caesarean section. Births – whether by natural delivery, planned or emergency caesarean section – are intense, laborious and often painful experiences. Rest, comfort and support from caregivers, new fathers and other family members are therefore vital for new mothers in those initial days spent in hospital.

A supportive environment

Support is important not only for the children themselves, but also for new mothers.

Various studies have found that patients are less anxious and that their physical and mental health improves faster if a family member is present in their hospital room.

“Supporting people is very important in our maternity ward, in order to reduce anxiety levels … and to give mothers some rest,” agrees the maternity manager at the Sydney private hospital in question.

A learning experience

According to the maternity manager, “It’s useful for fathers to get used to baby being around.” Indeed, for both fathers and mothers, those few days in hospital after the birth offer an ideal opportunity to familiarise themselves with their new arrival – and it’s a time during which nurses and midwives can teach parents the skills they need to confidently look after their newborns once they get home.#4

It makes sense, then, that this private hospital wanted to create space in each room for a family member to stay with the new mother – and this renovation presented an opportunity for them to do so in an environment that, in being comfortable, sets the scene for support and for an effective learning experience.

“It’s great to have partners staying to support the mothers overnight,” says the maternity manager. “Especially for new parents, as they both need to experience looking after babies overnight.”

Improved functionality

At this Sydney private hospital, more space wasn’t an option. “We needed to look at how to use existing space well to accommodate needs of clients,” says the maternity manager.

This was where efficient, multipurpose furniture could help. Herman Miller Healthcare supplied the hospital with pieces from the SleepOver collection, which are versatile and multipurpose by design. The SleepOver range consists of sofas, benches and armchairs that easily convert into comfortable bedding. The SleepOver collection can also be used for work and for dining, without expanding the footprint of the Settee or the Bench.

#4. “New, modern maternity wing opens”, The West Australian, 28 June 2018

Antimicrobial finishes and easy-to-clean surfaces also make the SleepOver collection a fitting choice for hospital rooms, keeping infection risks well under control.

The SleepOver Bench has been particularly successful in the hospital’s postnatal ward. As a bench, it can seat several people at once – perfect for when family and friends come to see the new baby – and at night, it quickly and easily converts into somewhere partners can sleep.

“People have been asking us where they come from, as they are interested in them for home,” says the maternity manager. “And midwives like them also because it’s easy to use them, and they fold away well.”

Post-renovation, the maternity ward has six birthing rooms and 28 private maternity ward rooms that are “Fresh and modern,” she continues. “There’s good use of furniture within these spaces, and the dads seem to be quite comfortable.”