Picture birth. Where do you envision it happening? A tub? A home? An operating table?
If you thought hospital, you are correct. Today about 98.8% of births occur in hospitals. While birthing
in a hospital setting may or may not be your ideal choice, in many places it is the only viable one. There are only about 170 birth centers in the United States, and in many states home births are not allowed. Regardless of where you would prefer to give birth, if a 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. Is it because you believe it is the best place for you to birth? Because your insurance doesn’t cover a birth center or home birth? Because you are high-risk? Whatever your reason, getting comfortable with it can be hard because many people feel intimidated by the hospital setting.
In order to come to peace with the hospital, focus on the positives of the environment. 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. There will be a NICU close by and, in many hospitals, lactation consultants on hand.
You have the right to refuse tests and procedures you don’t feel are right for you and are still in charge of your birth. Remember, you can labor at home for a long time before you head 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 and birth policies. You can find some of that information here. 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 and which would be likely to be supportive of your birth wishes. Some hospitals are much more supportive than others and 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 birth in, it’s time to get comfortable in it. Being relaxed at your hospital is integrally important because labor can slow down once you get there 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 know 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 there. 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 yourself 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 you are fond of a certain scent, get a diffuser or wall plug-in to take with you (steer clear of candles, as most hospitals don’t allow them). Do you have sentimental attachment to a particular pillow or blanket? Bring it along! Compile a list of favorite songs to play if you want music during your labor, and don't forget a CD player 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 (ie 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 get used to it. Have faith, be patient and keep trying. You will feel relaxed in a hospital and have a wonderful birth there, too.
Where did you give birth? Did you feel comfortable there? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!