In previous generations, a pregnant woman didn’t have much input about the experience of carrying and delivering a baby. A doctor told her what she would eat, wear, and do during her pregnancy, she delivered at a hospital where the doctors and nurses made the decisions, and that, as they say, was that.
Today, health care is as much of a consumer experience as getting a haircut, and women with low-risk pregnancies have never had more options. Natural labor or epidural? Vaginal delivery or C-section? Labor in silence or jam out to a special “pushing playlist”?
One of the biggest decisions today is whether to give birth at a hospital at all. Although many hospitals are increasingly offering family-centered care, such as large, welcoming delivery suites and natural pain-management tools, women wanting a completely natural, self-directed experience without medical information are probably best suited to give birth at home with a midwife, while women who want a family-like atmosphere staffed by trained professionals might find that a birthing center is their best bet. Most women still choose the traditional hospital setting to give birth in, though. When deciding on which facility to choose for your big arrival, be aware that each hospital offers a slightly different birth experience, and get the facts about your options by asking the right questions.
What Are the Hospital’s Medical Policies?
What’s the hospital’s C-section rate? How long will you be allowed to labor before a C-section is performed? (You may have already asked your obstetrician, but for legal reasons, hospitals have their own policies.) How often does the hospital perform episiotomies? Forceps deliveries? Will the staff attempt to “speed things up” if labor isn’t progressing quickly enough? Will the baby be monitored constantly before birth, or just intermittently? What kind of equipment does the hospital use for monitoring? Does the hospital allow vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)? What’s its policy on epidurals—when are they administered, and are walking epidurals available? Is an anesthesiologist available twenty-four hours a day? Can a woman give birth in whatever position is most comfortable for her? Is the hospital a teaching hospital, meaning that medical students might be present during labor and delivery? How long is the typical hospital stay for a healthy mother and baby?
Even for low-risk pregnancies, there’s always the chance that complications could develop. Is there a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) onsite, or are infants transferred to another facility? If either the mother or the baby experiences an emergency, what’s the procedure for transferring to another hospital?
What Amenities Are Offered?
Will you be in the same room the whole time, or will you be moved to a separate room to deliver or recover? Does the hospital allow you to keep the baby with you at all times after delivery (rooming in)? Are the rooms private or semiprivate, and are they equipped with birth balls or tubs for pain relief? Do the rooms have private bathrooms? Where are patients placed if all the rooms are taken?
Does the hospital offer Lamaze classes, infant CPR lessons, or other prenatal education programs? Is a lactation consultant on hand, or are resources available for moms who are choosing to formula-feed? What kinds of security procedures are in place for the maternity ward? Will the infant be given an electronic monitoring device or some other form of identification band? Do authorized infant caretakers wear special identification for safety? Is there a doula on staff, or will you allowed to bring your own designated birth coach?
What’s the Atmosphere Like?
What’s the hospital policy on visitors, and how many people can be present during the delivery? Can children visit? Is photography/videography allowed, or are there times when it’s forbidden? Does the hospital allow overnight guests, and are the rooms or suites large enough to accommodate them? Is there an extra charge for those guests? Will you be allowed to eat snacks during labor? Are there lounges, kitchens, or communal areas for family members to wait in? Does the hospital allow computer or Internet use, or have a WiFi network for patients? Will you be permitted to bring books, music, games, or other distractions to keep you occupied?
Take note of the layout of the space and the friendliness of the staff: Is the maternity ward private and easy to navigate? Are the staff members friendly and warm or distant and clinical? Is the temperature cool, meaning you’ll have to bring extra socks and blankets? Do the beds look comfortable?
The choice of where to deliver a baby is an important one, made in conjunction with your doctor (and, of course, with your insurance company). For prospective parents, touring potential hospitals and choosing the best place to give birth is a normal and expected part of the preparenthood process, as well as the ideal way to make sure that your facility is the right fit. Once you’ve determined that, the only decision left will be what to name your baby.