If you’ve decided on a hospital birth, you might be wondering how you can best prepare for that experience. First, I just want to tell you that with birth (in any location) you can only prepare so much. In the end, birth is unpredictable and we don’t get to control every aspect as much as we wish we could. However, being prepared is so important so you’re ready for anything! I opted for a hospital birth for my first baby and definitely felt prepared heading into the experience but also picked up a few tips that I’ll be keeping in mind for next time that will hopefully help you too!
1. CHOOSE A HOSPITAL.
So this one goes without saying that in order to be prepared for a hospital birth, you need to choose a hospital. Depending on where you live and your insurance this choice might be made for you but if you live near multiple hospitals or have a doctor that delivers at multiple you want to do some research to choose the best one for you. This was the case with my doctor however it turned out one of the hospitals was out of network. Luckily my doctor caught this and told me because I would never have thought that it wouldn’t be. So I definitely encourage you to call your hospital/insurance just to confirm the hospital you’ve chosen is in your network and you aren’t surprised afterwards. When choosing a hospital you may want to consider things like distance/traffic patterns, reviews from local moms who’ve delivered there, their specific policies regarding your birth preferences (delayed cord clamping, induction, c-section rates), resources they have (labor tubs, nursery vs rooming in etc).
2. IT MIGHT BE YOUR DOCTOR…OR IT MIGHT NOT.
Most of the time, if you’re opting for a hospital birth you are opting in to the idea that your personal doctor may NOT be the one who delivers your baby. Most doctors who work out of hospitals operate on an “on call” schedule so your baby will be delivered by whichever doctor is on call when you’re delivering. This is something to chat with your doctor about ahead of time so you know how frequently they’re on call, how many other providers there are, if there are opportunities to meet any of them ahead of time etc. I personally started asking for the call schedule when I was 36 weeks so I knew who would be on call when, those last weeks when I was most likely to go into labor. You can’t control when your baby comes (outside of planned induction/c-sections) but you might feel more comfortable if you know who’s going to be there before you show up at the hospital.
3. WRITE BIRTH PREFERENCES.
You can’t actually plan how your birth will go as much as we’d like to, so a birth plan isn’t my favorite term. However, you can definitely have preferences for how things will go and you should definitely write them down, share them with your doctor and bring them with you to the hospital. Some things to consider for your birth preferences might be things like:
- Creating a calm environment- having dim lights, music of choice, essential oils etc.
- Your preferences for induction or augmentation of labor (pitocin, breaking your water)
- Pain management preferences- epidural, iv pain medication, natural pain management techniques
- Labor and Birth positions you hope to use
- Preferences on having (or not having) an iv, continuous monitoring and other common standard hospital procedures
- Preferences on what happens immediately after birth- skin to skin, cord clamping and cutting, what to do with the placenta, newborn procedures
You may not have preferences on all of these things and that’s ok too! But anything you feel strongly about, go ahead and write it down. Be sure that once you’ve written out your preferences, you share and discuss them with your doctor BEFORE you’re at the hospital. I recommend giving them a copy around 36-37 weeks so you can discuss them and they can be added to your chart. You should also bring them with you when you’re in labor to share with the nurses. And just one more reminder that these preferences may not come to fruition depending on how your birth progresses but having them written down, shared with your provider, nurses and partner will help everyone know your goals and help you achieve them.
4. PACK EFFICIENTLY.
I know it’s tempting to bring everything but the kitchen sink. Seriously, I looked at so many packing lists and saw so many people telling me not to overpack and still I felt like I was moving in when we got to the hospital. And you know what? They were right. I thought I only had the essentials and I still didn’t need or use everything I brought. My biggest tip when packing your bag is to keep things separate to make them easy to find. Either by using a couple smaller bags, packing cubes or using opposite sides of a suitcase for different purposes. This way you can have the things you’ll need for birth in one spot, things you’ll want for postpartum in another, and things for the baby in another. It keeps you from having to rummage around through everything.
I packed for the baby in his diaper bag (you need SO LITTLE for them- one outfit and the carseat really would cut it for most babies), I packed for my husband and I in a carryon sized suitcase. I put things I wanted for labor in the top zipper pocket- like chapstick, portable fan, headphones, snacks, bathing suits for the shower etc. I put postpartum needs like pjs, shower shoes (an absolute must) and toiletries in the main section. This meant when I was asking my husband to find my fan in the middle of labor he didn’t have to dig through everything to find it.
5. LOOK AT HOSPITAL POLICIES AHEAD OF TIME.
I briefly touched on this when discussing birth preferences but hospitals have a lot of rules and policies about pretty much everything. So I would do some research on how your hospital operates their labor and delivery department. How many people can be in the labor room with you? How many visitors can you have postpartum and when? How far along do you need to be to be admitted? Can you eat/drink during labor? Can you bring in your own comfort items like twinkle lights or a diffuser? What newborn procedures do they do and which ones are optional or mandatory? There’s a lot of things you may want to research and explore about how your hospital operates. I recommend two things- look at their website and get all the information you can from there AND ask around to your friends or via a local mom’s group to get details from women who have already delivered there.
6. MAKE A PLAN AND PRACTICE.
Be sure you are very familiar with how to get to the hospital, particularly if it’s not just right down the road or you don’t travel that way frequently. I recommend doing a test drive before you’re in labor, with your partner driving. It won’t help if you’re the only one who knows how to get there if you’re in the middle of contractions and can’t give directions. In addition to just knowing the best route to get there, you’ll also want to be sure you know where to park or if there is a valet. You want to be sure you know where you need to go to get checked in to labor and delivery- hospitals are big places and again you don’t want to be lost and in labor. Some hospitals have laboring moms go through the ER, some have their own triage areas so get the scoop beforehand. Some hospitals have tours of the labor and delivery areas which are great to give you a lay of the land before the big day so call and see if this is an option for you!
I cannot tell you how much you will not want to be filling out paperwork or answering a bunch of questions while in labor. Many hospitals have an option to pre-register which involves filling out a lot of the paperwork beforehand. They’ll still probably ask you more questions than you’d care for but at least some of the required items will be out of the way. If this isn’t an option for you, it wasn’t for me unfortunately, be sure your partner knows all of the information you might be asked. Your personal info, insurance info, social security, health history, the details of your pregnancy, all of it. This way, they can answer all the questions and fill out the forms while you focus on birth.
8. TAKE A BIRTH CLASS.
This last tip would be good for anybody having a baby whether that’s in a hospital or not. Everyone should take some birth education. A lot of hospitals offer classes, so that’s a good place to start. Although a lot of people will tell you that many of the hospital classes aren’t as helpful as people would like- giving just a very basic overview in most cases. So I’d encourage you to find a class that suits you if you want something more in depth. If you just need a brief lowdown on childbirth, the hospital class might be perfect! If you’re hoping to use a particular labor strategy like hypnobirthing, lamaze or the bradley method then you can often find classes that are specific to those programs either locally or virtually.
There are also a TON of online birth class options. I actually took three different birth classes when pregnant- my husband and I took the hospital birth class which I think was definitely helpful for my husband who is very new to the ins and outs of childbirth. I also took two separate digital classes through MamaNatural and MommyLaborNurse. By taking a class, whichever class you take, you will feel more confident and prepared for whatever birth throws your way because you will be armed with more information about how things could go. It’s also a place to ask questions you have about birth. And if you take the class offered by your hospital they can obviously answer hospital specific questions which can be a huge plus!
Remember that no matter how your birth goes…you are a ROCKSTAR! Hopefully these tips help you feel more prepared for your hospital birth as the big day approaches. Seasoned mamas- is there anything you wish you would have known before your hospital birth?