Choosing A Birth Place

[Adapted from The Expectant Parents' Companion, by Kathleen Huggins. Copyright © 2006, used by permission of The Harvard Common Press.]

Visit the Hospital or Birth Center

On your tour, ask some of these questions:

The Basics

  • How many laboring women is each nurse assigned to?
  • Are birth plans welcomed?
  • How many family members or other people are allowed in the birth room?
  • Are professional labor assistants welcome?
  • Are photographs permitted?

If You Would Prefer a Natural Birth

  • How are contractions and fetal heart tones monitored in labor? (With a Doppler ultrasound stethoscope or with an electronic fetal monitor. If the latter, is the monitoring intermittent, continuous, or by telemetry (wireless monitoring? External or internal?)
  • Are women free to move about in labor?
  • Is the use of a shower, bathtub, or birthing pool permitted?
  • What comfort devices are available, such as a birthing ball or birthing chair?
  • Are eating and drinking allowed during labor? (Some hospitals allow women only to suck on ice chips.)

If You are Considering a Medicated Bath

  • What choices other than epidural anesthesia are available for pain management?
  • Is it possible to have an epidural that is light enough to allow moving in bed?

If You are Planning a Cesarean Birth

  • Are support persons welcome in the room during the delivery?

Infant Care After a Vaginal Birth

  • Can the mother hold the baby against her skin during the initial evaluation?
  • Can weighing, bathing, and routine medications be delayed for the first hour or two?
  • Is early breastfeeding encouraged?
  • Can the mother's partner bathe the baby?

Infant Care After a Cesarean Birth

  • How much contact can the mother have with the baby immediately after the birth?
  • Can the partner accompany the baby to the nursery?
  • Can the baby be returned to the mother in the recovery room?
  • Is early breastfeeding encouraged?

Postpartum Care

  • What is a typical hospital stay following a vaginal or cesarean birth? Is it possible to leave the hospital early?
  • Are mothers allowed to keep their babies with them around the clock?
  • If a baby is in the nursery, is he brought to the mother whenever he seems hungry? Are newborns routinely offered water or formula after nursings or while in the nursery?
  • Is a lactation consultant on staff for breastfeeding assistance?
  • Has the hospital received or applied for certification as a UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital? (This would signify that the hospital's policies promote breastfeeding.)

If you'd like to give birth at home, you'll need a practitioner - probably a midwife - who attends home births, and your pregnancy will have to be low-risk" and healthy.

You'll want to ask the midwife these questions:

  • Does she have hospital admitting privileges and a backup physician, in case of emergency?
  • Will she provide labor support if you are admitted to the hospital?
  • Does she have a backup midwife in case she is unavailable when you go into labor?
  • What resuscitative equipment does she bring to the home?