Between taking childbirth classes, choosing a name and preparing the nursery, there’s so much to do before your baby’s arrival. But along with choosing a provider and creating your birth plan, taking a tour of the hospital is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you and your baby will be healthy and safe.
Knowing the right questions to ask and what to look for can ensure that the hospital you choose is the best fit for you and your baby. Here are 10 to start with.
1. What level NICU do you have?
Each hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) has designated levels of care, which are set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, it’s important that you deliver at a level III (subspecialty) NICU.
If you already know that your baby will require special services or will need surgery a few days after being born, for example, it’s a given that you’ll be at a hospital that has the appropriate medical team and services in place.
Even if your pregnancy is healthy however, you should make sure that if the hospital you plan to deliver in is a level I or level II NICU, they can still transfer your baby to a higher level NICU if necessary.
2. What amenities are available?
It’s important to know what the hospital provides to help you manage labor. For example, you’ll want to know if they provide squatting bars and birthing balls or if you’ll need to bring your own.
You might also want to ask if you can bring in your own music or aromatherapy. Some hospitals also offer bathtubs for pain relief while others may only allow you to stand in the shower.
If you’re planning to have a water birth, ask if birthing tubs are available, if you can arrange for one to be brought in or if you will need to give birth in a birthing center instead.
3. What type of fetal monitoring is available?
Once you’re admitted into the hospital, your baby will be monitored for about 20 to 30 minutes. As long as you’re OK, your baby doesn’t show signs of distress, and you haven’t received any medication, you can walk around and have intermittent fetal monitoring until you deliver, said Michele Mayer, a certified nurse midwife at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y. Your hospital may also offer portable fetal monitors, so be sure to ask.
4. Do you have doulas?
Studies show women who have doulas during pregnancy, labor and delivery are less likely to have interventions and cesarean sections. Plus, moms are more satisfied with their birthing experiences. Some hospitals offer doulas on staff while at others, you will need to hire an independent doula.
Although some hospitals will provide doulas if you decide to have one after you’re admitted into the hospital, it’s a good idea to choose a doula beforehand so you can make sure you feel supported by her.
“It’s a relationship that’s established during pregnancy, it’s not a last-minute decision,” said Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
5. Can I eat?
If you’re admitted into the hospital during early labor, your provider may allow you to eat something small. In fact, research presented at the American Society for Anesthesiologists last fall suggests that eating a light meal during labor is a good idea.
Once you’re in active labor however, chances are you may not feel much like eating and you may even be nauseated.
Once you’ve received medication or an epidural you won’t be allowed to eat, since there’s a small chance you could aspirate food or liquid into your lungs if you have a cesarean section and need to be intubated, Ross said.
6. What are my pain relief options?
It’s important to ask the hospital what your pain relief options are, including an epidural, analgesic medications, nitrous oxide, hydrotherapy or acupuncture, if there are any restrictions and if they will always be accessible.
7. Who can attend the birth?
If you wish to have more than one person in the delivery room, be sure to ask the hospital how many people are allowed to attend. Depending on the size of the room and the unique circumstances of your delivery, it may end up being a collaborative decision made between you, your partner and the doctors and nurses, Ross said.
8. Can we videotape the birth?
For legal reasons, it’s unlikely that the hospital will allow you to videotape. But once the baby is born, video, photos and FaceTime are probably OK.
9. What’s your security procedure?
After your baby is born, a security bracelet will be placed on your newborn’s ankle to protect him, but ask about other security measures the hospital takes as well.
10. Do you offer lactation consultants?
Breast-feeding may be natural, but it isn’t always easy. In fact, more than 10 percent of women worry about learning how to breast-feed, according to a survey by Lansinoh.
One of the keys to success is to have support from the very beginning. So it’s a good idea to ask if you’ll have access to a lactation consultant on staff or if you should get a referral from an independent lactation consultant to come in.
Although your labor and delivery may not go exactly as you planned, knowledge is always power. Do your homework, keep an open mind and be flexible— all things that will also serve you well when you become a mom!
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.