Although many alternative-birthing clinics are fully equipped with the latest high-tech medical tools, the approach used is quite divergent from that of most conventional hospitals. "Generally, the standard medical care is the same as that performed by most OB/GYNs," says Regina Lellman, ND, LAc, one of the five general practitioners at the Natural Childbirth and Family Clinic (NCFC) in Portland, Ore. "And, we actually treat minor complications during pregnancy in much the same way. Of course we try not to use things like antibiotics," she admits. "But we will if we have to."

The clinic's naturopaths meet with expectant mothers once a month for the first seven months, once every two weeks for the next two months, and once a week until the baby is born. Screening tests are performed to detect risk factors such as gestational diabetes, and ultrasounds are a common practice. But where the clinic's philosophy starts to diverge is in its approach to the expectant mother herself. Unlike the restricted visit time imposed by many allopathic practitioners, doctors at the clinic believe in investing time and energy in creating a close, secure relationship between patient and naturopath.

Whether or not a woman feels comfortable and secure with her care and surroundings can drastically affect the nature of her birth experience. "Hospitals are not a great place to start if you have a normal pregnancy and a normal labor," says Lellman. "For most people, hospitals are thought of as places for surgery and trauma, and this association is not conducive to a peaceful state of mind."

The birthing room at NCFC is designed to instill a feeling of peace. With its queen-sized bed, TV, hot tub and adjoining garden, the space looks more like a honeymoon suite than a delivery room. "We want a woman to walk in here and feel like she does when she goes into her bathroom," says Lellman, "like she can close the door and do whatever she wants and nobody is going to bother her."

Partners and children can rally around expectant mothers, lending support and encouragement. "Here there is the concept that there is no clock ticking," says Lellman. "There is not the idea that a normal birth takes 16 hours and if it goes beyond that, it is time to augment. We let the body work its magic naturally."