A rapidly growing service is finding that new dads want special care, too.
Gone are the days when a new father celebrated a baby's arrival by handing out cigars in a smoke-filled waiting room. Enter a new era, one with soft music, low lights and the scent of eucalyptus filling the air.
Bavia Health, a Twin Cities area maternity and wellness company, is capitalizing on fathers' expanding roles in the delivery room and beyond by offering its in-hospital post-partum spa services to dads, too.
Following a baby's arrival, birthing rooms are transformed into "spa-spital" rooms and new fathers can kick back for a bit of pampering.
"When you get a massage, you're really in the moment, and it seemed like there was no better time to be in the moment than celebrating the birth of our child," said Minnetonka resident Michael Kaplan, who purchased the "Couples We Treat" package, a 60-minute full-body massage for his wife, and a 30-minute head, neck and shoulder treatment for himself. "At first, my wife said she'd kill me if I got a massage, but the best part about it was experiencing it together and finally being able to see her relax."
Like Kaplan, more expectant fathers yearn to be active players in pregnancy and childbirth for the life-changing experiences that they are. Despite being armed with parenting guides and the best of intentions, many dads say they feel left out because everyone in the hospital has a job to do but them.
Bavia owner and CEO Rachel Swardson said that including dads in post-natal body therapy helps create a family moment in the first 48 hours following birth, a critical time for healing and bonding.
"The father doesn't carry the baby for nine months; however, that doesn't mean that he didn't shoulder his share of the strain during the pregnancy and labor process," she said.
Swardson said uncomfortable chairs provided for dads to sleep in and the concerns they have over the mother and baby's health can take away from the birthing experience. "The best thing for that baby is a happy household, and these services give families an opportunity to come together, exhale and leave the hospital as the new families that they are," she said.
Bavia, which started in 2008 as Go Home Gorgeous, has expanded to 14 hospitals in the Twin Cities area and one in New Jersey.
Healthy parents = healthy baby
Medical professionals say a good massage does more than relax the body -- it can actually strengthen relationships.
"Something magical happens" when couples incorporate massage into their birth experience, said Darlene Spiegelberg, nurse manager for the Birthplace at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina. "We see an overall reduction in discomfort when the services are utilized by the mother, but when Bavia's services are used by both the mother and the father, we see much healthier parents when they go home."
A growing body of research worldwide has found that light massage releases oxytocin, also referred to as the "hormone of love." And studies have shown that the human touch increases paternal involvement with children and strengthens male- female relationships, among other benefits.
"When two people are together and both are releasing oxytocin, that strengthens their relationship," said Gail Tully, a Twin Cities-based certified professional midwife and doula trainer. "This happens in sharing a meal, lovemaking, breastfeeding and in massage."
Still, Jessica Gessner isn't convinced. The 33-year-old Richfield woman doesn't think it's fair for fathers to get the same treatment as mothers -- at least not right away -- because they haven't had to endure the same extreme physical changes for nine months.
"Do they deserve something nice? Sure. Should they go out and have a massage a few weeks after getting up with the baby and learning all of the new life changes? You bet. But to have it done in the hospital when your wife just pushed a baby out or had to endure a C-section and now has to heal ... nope, I'm not buying it."
But some couples are.
Less than 24 hours after Ella Downing came into the world, her parents, Adam and Jessica, shelled out $189 for a moment to care for themselves. Their Fairview Southdale room was transformed from a busy visiting quarters filled with cooing relatives and friends to a quiet, candlelit sanctuary.
The nurses left the room and placed a "Do not disturb" sign on the door and the couple celebrated their first moments alone as a new family.
One content baby, two massages and 90 minutes later, massage therapist Andree St. Aubin whispered to both parents: "Not only are you parents of a newborn, but you're newborn parents. Take care of each other."
Finally, the Downings slept. All three of them.
Aimée Tjader • 612-673-1715
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