All About Birth Settings: Giving Birth at the Hospital

IMG_9149b.jpgIn this new, short series, we will describe the different kinds of places where you can give birth -- what to expect, what's common, and tips for navigating and making the experience uniquely yours. First up, we will review the hospital birth, which is where the majority of families in the United States go to give birth. 


Giving Birth in a Hospital 

If you're planning to give birth in a hospital and you've never done so before, it will help you to learn what to can expect as far as environment, the staff, routines and procedures in place, and how you can customize the experience to suit your preferences. 

What to Know About the Hospital Environment for Birth

  • Upon checking in, you will be required (yes, even while in labor!) to fill out a significant amount of paperwork
  • In most cases, you will be assessed in "triage" to determine if you are far enough along in labor to be admitted
  • While all hospitals differ slightly, you will likely be assigned to a private room with a bed and bathroom; your bathroom may have either a shower/tub combo or just shower
  • You will be provided with linens, pillows, and towels
  • You will have access to the mainstay of snacks and nutrition (usually crackers, fruit, popsicles, juice and soda, water, peanut butter) offered to patients in labor and deliver (unless your hospital does not permit eating and drinking during labor, which does not align with current research) 
  • You may bring with you nearly as many personal items as you desire to feel more comfortable (check with your hospital's policy for any items not allowed, like candles and pets)
  • Hospital rooms typically have multiple sets of lights that can be turned off and on in various parts of the room to help control the lighting to create a more soothing, low-light environment
  • You will labor and give birth in the same room (unless you have a cesarean), and be transferred to a postpartum room after giving birth
  • You may or may not be able to labor in the shower or tub; if your hospital has telemetry units for monitoring, it will be easier to labor in the shower or tub for longer periods of time
  • Your hospital stay will typically be between 2 and 4 days, depending on how you give birth and any complications present
  • Taking a hospital tour during your pregnancy will allow you to familiarize yourself with the hospital you've chosen and answer any questions 

What to Know About Staff at a Hospital Birth 

  • You will be assigned a nurse (nurses will change out shift at 7am and 7pm) upon being admitted (generally it is the same nurse, but another nurse may pop in to help if your assigned nurse is with another patient)
  • Nurses can be tremendously helpful throughout your labor -- be sure to ask them for support and assistance when needed
  • You can request a different nurse if you feel that your nurse is not a good fit for you
  • Your doctor or midwife will not be with you throughout your labor, and in fact you will likely only see her a handful of times prior to birth
  • There are several other possible staff members responsible for you and your baby's care during your stay, including a nursery nurse, neonatologist, nurse tech, postpartum nurse, lactation consultant, anesthesiologist, and more

What to Know About Routines and Procedures During Hospital Birth

  • All hospitals have protocol/rules in place, mostly for safety and liability reasons
  • Your nursing staff will need to adhere to hospital protocol; your doctor or midwife can often make special requests for your care outside of protocol, based on your needs and preferences -- be sure to check with your doctor prior to birth about what types of requests can be accommodated
  • Routine procedures that are often in place and often automatically carried out in a hospital during labor and birth include (but are not limited to) cervical exams, IV placement, IV fluids, continuous fetal monitoring, directed pushing, artificial rupture of membranes, and early cord clamping
  • Staff are required to inform you of all procedures and get your consent prior to doing them, but that does not always happen; ask questions frequently! 
  • You do have the right to be informed about and accept or refuse any procedure or intervention
  • Taking a hospital tour during pregnancy will help you learn about the routines in place at your hospital

Ways to Make Your Hospital Birth Uniquely Your Own

  • Bring comfort items from home, including a favorite pillow or blanket, your own clothes to labor and recover in, a beloved framed picture
  • Diffuse your favorite essential oil to promote comfort and relaxation (and to get rid of "hospital smell")
  • Be sure to adjust the lighting and keep your room door closed to encourage a sense of privacy and peace (the perfect task for a partner or doula)
  • Make good use of the tub or shower for laboring -- water is a great relaxation tool!
  • Use the bed -- as a prop -- for positions other than lying flat on your back, whether it's as a head/arm rest while sitting on a yoga ball or as a balancing support for squatting
  • Ask your nurse for the squat bar, which attaches to the bed and can be used to facilitate pushing
  • Bring your favorite snacks and drinks to keep you nourished with the foods you like
  • Create a birth plan to outline your preferences for birth, making sure to discuss these in advance with your provider and ensure that what you prefer is likely to be granted at your hospital (or, be prepared to be very assertive during labor and birth if not)


More Hospital Birth Resources from Lamaze 

Lamaze has several different resources to help inform and prepare you for birth in a hospital. Check them out:

It's in the Bag: How to Pack for a Hospital Birth

5 Questions to Ask at the Hospital During Birth

How to Communicate Your Birth Preferences at the Hospital

Having a Baby in the Hospital: What to Expect During Your Stay After Birth

When to Head to the Hospital in Labor

Create a Comfortable Laboring Environment in the Hospital

Do I Need to Take a Hospital Tour?

Medical Interventions

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