You’re about to have a baby! No matter what your situation is, whether this is your first baby or your third, the delivery experience can feel terrifying. Most of that fear likely stems from the unknown of what can happen in the delivery room. Even if you have already given birth, every delivery experience can be different.
With the right information at hand, you can calm some of your nerves and feel more prepared to deal with common things that happen during birth. Here are 15 questions to ask your doctor before your precious kiddo is born.
1. If I have a birth plan, what contingencies should I include in it?
A birth plan is an outline of what you want to happen with your labor and delivery. It can include things like who you want to have in the room alongside you, what you want to do for pain, or if you’d like a special playlist of music to listen to while you’re in labor. Birth plans are not necessary, but for some families, they are helpful to have. During labor, several things can happen, both good and bad. If you have a quick and easy delivery, that’s wonderful! But you should also plan for other possibilities.
Talk to your doctor about what issues may arise based on your unique pregnancy and medical history. Ask what situations may be considered an emergency and what they will do to minimize risk. Familiarize yourself with the different possibilities and include instructions about how you want those situations to be handled. If something is important to you, be sure to include it in your plan.
2. How will I know if my labor is real?
Especially if this is your first baby, it can be hard to tell if your pain is Braxton-Hicks contractions (also called “practice contractions”) or “the-baby-is-coming” contractions. Ask your doctor how you can best differentiate between the two and how to manage practice contractions when they do come along.
3. When do I need to go to the hospital?
Ask your doctor when you should go to the hospital so that you get there in time to have a safe delivery. He or she will be able to give you instructions on how to time your contractions and what to do when they fall within a certain number of minutes. This information can be helpful so you don’t head to the hospital too early, only to be sent back home. It is also helpful so you don’t delay heading to the hospital for too long.
4. Are there any red flags to watch out for?
Ask your doctor if there are signs to look for that indicate something has gone wrong and how you should respond, if that is the case. What should you do if you notice a bloody discharge from your vagina? What if you feel dizzy after you give birth? Get the information you need on potential pre-birth and post-birth emergencies while you’re still pregnant. This information isn’t meant to scare you, but to help you prepare for possible scenarios, however unlikely.
5. What are my pain relief options?
There are plenty of pain relief options available, so talk to your doctor about the methods available at their facility. There are both medical and non-medical options to explore. Be sure to ask about the side effects of medication options like nitrous oxide, pethidine, and epidural anesthesia. If you have a doula, ask them about non-medical options like ice/hot packs or massages and breathing techniques.
6. What's the hospital’s C-section rate compared to the national average?
If you prefer giving birth without a cesarean, this is an important question to ask. Some facilities have a high C-section rate, while the national average is 31.7%. A high C-section rate can be a sign the facility has a more interventionist approach or that the hospital typically sees a lot of complex patient cases and at-risk pregnancies. If you prefer a natural birth, have a conversation with your doctor about the cause for a high c-section rate so you can make sure your doctor understands that you want a non-C-setcion birth unless there is an emergency for you or your baby.
During Labor and Delivery
7. How many people can I have in the delivery room?
Especially during and after a pandemic, medical facilities may have different rules about how many people are safely allowed in delivery rooms. Make sure to ask your doctor about this number beforehand, choose your people, and make sure they’re acquainted with your birth plan in case something goes wrong.
8. Can I eat or drink during labor?
While it’s technically okay for you to eat or drink during labor, most facilities don’t allow it in case you need a general anesthetic. This is incredibly rare, even with C-sections, but it’s better to be safe. Some hospitals allow you to drink water or chicken broth to keep you sustained during labor.
9. What medical treatments does your facility default to?
Different medical facilities default to different medical therapies during delivery so be sure to ask about their typical treatment options. Ask your doctor in what circumstances would they recommend an episiotomy, operative delivery by vacuum or forceps, or C-section.
10. What if there are complications with my baby?
Sometimes, the hospital will transfer your baby to another facility if there are health complications. Ask what level of post-delivery care is available for your baby at the facility where you plan to give birth? If the baby is born early or has health needs, when would the hospital be able to handle it, and in what circumstances would they need to transfer your baby to another hospital? Does the hospital have pediatric surgeons available if needed?
11. Are there options for private labor rooms?
Labor is an intimate and important event for you and your family. Most likely, you don’t want to share the experience with another family on the other side of a curtain. If it’s feasible for you, ask about private labor room options as well as rooming-in options so you can have a private and quiet room with your newborn after giving birth.
12. What are the standard procedures for newborns right after birth?
Ask about the common medical procedures applied to newborns, like suctioning fluid out of babies' noses and mouths. Ask your doctor what procedures you can expect, which are necessary, and which ones you have a choice regarding.
13. Will a lactation consultant be available to help me with breastfeeding?
Even though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t always come easily to moms and babies, especially for first-time moms. You might experience nipple and breast pain during feeding, your baby may have a hard time latching, your baby may have special needs, or you may have twins or triplets! No matter the concern or frustration, it’s helpful to know whether or not the medical facility has a lactation consultant to help out. Be sure to ask if lactation sessions are covered by Medicaid or private insurance, or if you will have to pay out-of-pocket for them.
14. What does self-care look like post-birth?
If this is your first pregnancy, you may not know everything that will happen with your body after the baby is born. Yes, you’ll have a newborn to care for, but do you know how to care for your healing body? Ask what postpartum depression looks like and what to do if you have symptoms. Ask about special underwear and clothes you’ll need, and when you can return to your job.
15. What can I physically do in the first week after giving birth? What activities should I avoid?
Labor and delivery can cause physical issues like incontinence and back pain, so physical activity may increase your level of discomfort. Your doctor can help you create an exercise and activity plan that reflects your unique body and delivery experience. Some women may not be able to exercise for several weeks, while others might be able to begin taking short walks just a few days after giving birth. Talk with your doctor about what’s a reasonable amount of exercise after delivery. Once your baby is born, revisit that plan to make sure it’s still accurate.
Bonus: Which hospital should you go to?
This may sound intuitive but as a reminder, make sure you know which hospital to go to. If your OB/GYN works labor and delivery at a specific hospital and you choose to give birth at that location, talk with your OB/GYN about their call coverage. That way, when you go into labor, you’ll know whether or not to expect your doctor at your delivery.
Take this list with you when you’re considering doctors and hospitals. Make sure you’re happy with the birth plan, if you create one, as well as the hospital’s processes before you commit to a specific doctor or medical facility. This is your family, newborn, and birthing process—to ease concerns choose a doctor and facility you are confident in!