Picture your ideal birth, where do you envision it happening? Is it in a tub full of soothing warm water? Maybe it is in the comfort of your own home. Or is it at the hospital, possibly on an operating table?
According to the Center for Disease Control in 2012 98.6% of births occurred in a hospital within the United States. Therefore, if “in the hospital” was your first thought, then you are probably correct—ideal or not. With close to 2050 Free Standing Birthing Centers in the US (up from 170 in 2004) and only 27 of 52 states with legislation allowing for midwives to oversee home birth, birthing options other then the hospital are slim. Regardless of where you would prefer to give birth, if the hospital ends up being where you go, there are many things you can do before your big day to help yourself feel comfortable there.
First off, it’s important to come to terms with why you are birthing in a hospital. Do you believe it is the best place for you to give birth, because your health insurance provider doesn’t cover a birth center or home birth, or that you are considered high-risk? Whatever your reason, getting comfortable with it may be hard, as many people feel intimidated by the hospital setting.
Focusing on the positive attributes of the hospital setting will help you come to peace with the choice. It can be comforting to know that you will have quick access to pain relief or emergency medical care in the rare event something goes wrong. The NICU will be close by if baby should need help. Also many hospitals have lactation consultants on hand.
You are still in charge of your birth. You have the right to refuse tests and procedures you don’t feel are right for you. You can labor at home for a long time before you heading to the hospital—if you so wish. Once you get there, you will probably be so caught up in labor that you won’t care where you are, especially if you prepare yourself to conquer the hospital without fear.
Once you have come to terms with birthing in a hospital it’s time to choose which hospital will harbor you. If you have a few options to choose from you should tour each of them before making your decision. Look at their caesarean section rates as well as their birth policies. Do they set a time limit on how long they permit you to labor? What is their nurse to patient ratio?
If you want to try for a particular type of birth such as a VBAC, water or natural birth, the first thing you should do is ask your healthcare provider about the hospitals in your area. Find out which would be more likely to support your birth wishes. Some hospitals are much more supportive than others and that can make or break your birth experience. Unfortunately, many people choose their hospital based on appearance and amenities, but if you want a certain type of birth experience you need to base your decision on the hospital’s policies, facility, and support system.
After you have chosen which hospital you will give birth in, it’s time to get comfortable in it. Being relaxed at your hospital is integrally important because labor can slow down if you are stressed. You will probably need to take a few tours to familiarize yourself with the labor and delivery unit. Take your partner along and assign him to knowing where to go and how exactly how to get there—guys are great at remembering stuff like that!
Don't hesitate to ask questions while on tour, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem to you, and don’t worry if a couple of tours fails to make you feel at ease. Hospitals can be very intimidating! Most of us associate them with illness or preventative measures, not normal, natural events like birth, so it is no wonder some people have a hard time feeling relaxed there.
If you are having a hard time, wander around the main floor a few times. Spend some time sitting in a lounge and reading or people watching. Make a date of it and bring a girlfriend to the hospital cafeteria for lunch. Calm, gentle persistence is best when trying to familiarize oneself with a hospital. Rushing or trying to force yourself into feeling comfortable will only make you more anxious. Making repeated visits to wander around and spend time there is key if you are worried. With time and patience, you can come to accept and feel comfortable in your hospital.
Once you feel comfortable in the hospital setting, you can start to think about how to make your actual room as cozy as possible. Bring a favorite picture to set up in your room. If your hospital does not have a fragrance-free policy and you are fond of a certain scent, get a diffuser or wall plug-in to take with you (candles are not allowed due to the combination of open flame and combustibles gases present in a hospital). Do you have a sentimental attachment to a particular pillow or blanket? Bring it along! If you want to listen to music while you labour compile a playlist of favorite and soothing songs, don't forget a CD player or iPod if your room doesn't have a sound system. Do you want to wear a certain piece of clothing in labor, rather than a hospital gown? Throw it in your hospital bag along with your favorite pair of socks or slippers! Surround yourself with things that will make you feel relaxed and at home, whatever they are. No detail (i.e. laptop, tablet, certain movies, etc.) is too small when it comes to making yourself feel relaxed at the hospital on your big day.
Choosing which hospital you birth in is an important decision. Just as important is familiarizing yourself with “your” hospital and getting comfortable in it. Even if the hospital setting seems intimidating and uncomfortable there are many things you can do to lessen your fears. Have faith, be patient, and keep trying. You will feel relaxed in a hospital and will have a wonderful birth there, too.
Did you give birth in a hospital? What was your experience? How did you familiarize yourself with the environment? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!
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