For those women pregnant for the first (or even the fifth!) time, it may come as a surprise that—OB and hospital willing—just about everything about the labor and delivery process can be tailored to the mother’s preferences. Mothers delivering at home or in a birth center have even more options for personalizing their experiences. From start to finish, labor and delivery are becoming, for the lucky among us, an opportunity to get in touch with some concepts that seemed to be lost from maternal medicine for decades: personal choice, woman-centered care, and patient autonomy.
Embarking on the journey from the confirmatory ultrasound to the delivery room, a woman is faced with a number of personal choices to make. Midwife or OB? Home birth, birth center, or hospital? Childbirth preparation classes or “surprise me” attitude? Un-medicated or pumped up on pain pills? Expectant or active labor management? Vaginal labor or scheduled C-section? And the list goes on…
Top Opportunities to Personalize Your Childbirth Experience
- Talk about contingencies. For most birth experiences, not everything goes according to plan. While not all deliveries vary wildly from a woman’s expectations, there is always a possibility that things can go awry. To keep your experience as close to your preferences as possible, develop a contingency birth plan. What happens if you go into labor prematurely? What if the labor is drawn out and the doc wants to intervene? What if you or the baby must be transferred to a specialty facility? Get it figured out in advance so that your preferences are clear if things go south.
- Decide who will be present and make your preferences clear. For uncomplicated deliveries, most facilities will let you have multiple guests. Want family and a close friend? No problem. Want the nurse to tell a certain family member there’s a strict one-person limit so that just you and your partner can share the moment? Most will do that, too!
- Choose your own delivery garb. Guess what: hospital gowns (dry, scratchy, and faded) aren’t always a requirement. Ask your delivery location about their policies on wearing whatever you want. Choose a cute nightgown or a soft oversized t-shirt to look more like yourself and feel more comfy from start to finish.
- Make yourself at home during the first few stages of labor. Aim to reduce your stress and up your comfort level. Do you enjoy music? Create a playlist and ask about options for playing it in your room. Love aromatherapy? Bring some oil or lotion along and make good use of it. Can’t pass up a good chick flick? Pack your faves into your hospital bag. The more at-home you feel, the less likely you are to stress out.
- Ask about eating and drinking during labor. For women at low risk of needing an emergency C-section, gone are the days when abstention from snacks and drinks was required. After all, labor is exhausting—if you can power up with food and water, you’ll be happy you did so.
- Get familiar with alternative delivery positions. If all you know about delivery positions is what you see in the movies, do some research. Side-lying, squat, birthing bars, reclining, birth chairs, and water births offer women a wide range of options that might be considerably more comfortable.
- Be vocal about post-partum preference. Do you want delayed cord clamping? Let them know. Do you want immediate skin-to-skin contact? Tell them! Do you want the baby kept with you whenever possible? Make that clear. Don’t be afraid to tell the nurses or birth attendants what you want once the baby arrives. Better still, tell them in advance. If you don’t let them know what you want, they’ll go with the standard—probably without consulting you.
These tips are just a few of the options I’ve learned exist—many of which were not available to women even just a decade ago. If you have a question about something, talk to your care provider. If you want to know how something works, just ask! In many cases, women may miss out on a personalized childbirth experience simply because they don’t know that they have choices available to them. If you don’t have anyone to guide you through your options, a little research can go a long way. Don’t resign yourself to a depersonalized birth if you want to be able to spread your wings a bit.