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How To Have A Great Hospital Birth

Tips from nurses, doulas, and veteran parents on how to have the best hospital birth possible.

by Romper Editors
New Parents Issue 2024

Let’s face it: Depending on what Facebook group, Instagram algorithm, or childbirth class you find yourself in, hospital births can get a bad rap. The chatter you’ve heard probably goes something like this: The doctors will laugh at your birth plan, they’ll induce you, they’ll force you into a C-section, they won’t let you bond with your baby, they’ll push breastfeeding on you, et cetera. But of course, not every hospital or birth is the same, and it is absolutely possible to have a successful hospital birth that makes you feel safe and empowered. “Yes, hospitals have policies and procedures in place they must follow and standards of care they adhere to. But a hospital birth might actually give you more control over the outcome of your birth,” Dr. Orlene Thomas, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells Romper.

Of course things will happen — complications can occur, pain relief might take a minute to come, a shift change of nurses could happen right in the middle of pushing — because childbirth itself is often unpredictable and requires a degree of flexibility, no matter where you are. “Be prepared for unexpected changes or interventions,” says Thomas. “Trust your health care team’s expertise, and focus on what’s best for the health and safety of you and your baby. Knowing that you are in a facility equipped to handle any situation can provide peace of mind during the birthing process, allowing you to focus on the experience without undue worry.”

Being flexible doesn’t mean being unprepared, so we asked doulas, labor and delivery nurses, and fellow parents for their very best advice on delivering in a hospital. Here’s what they told us:

Find a doctor you love.

“Many, many, many providers out there will run the show their way. What you want is a provider who is interested in what you want. People go for mediocre all the time with their doctors. Find a practice that makes you feel fantastic; find a provider who matches the things most important to you. That’s the No. 1 thing. The provider is more important than the hospital or birthplace.” — Francie Webb, IBCLC, certified doula

“Don’t be afraid to go find a new provider if the one you’re currently working with is dismissive or makes you feel like your concerns and desires aren’t important. You aren’t obligated to stay with a doctor just because you’ve already had an appointment with them, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for finding one who will listen to you.” — Samantha, mom of three

“Don’t just pick the hospital that has fancy rooms or offers a surf-and-turf dinner. Clients armed with a supportive team and the best medical providers that heavily incorporate traits like informed consent, bodily autonomy, shared decision making, et cetera, seem to set them up for success.” — Allison Petrides, certified labor and postpartum doula

Research the hospital itself.

“Take the tour offered by your hospital. It’s your chance to ask how your birth might unfold in that hospital specifically. If I want wireless fetal monitoring, do you have those kinds of monitors? Do I labor and deliver in one room and then recover in another one, or do I stay in the same room the whole time? I didn’t think to ask that so we had our belongings strewn everywhere, and my husband had to frantically throw them all back in our bags while they wheeled me and our newborn to our postpartum recovery room. And taking the tours helps you get the lay of the land — where to park, what door to go in, which elevators to take to which floors — so you’re not figuring it out during contractions.” — Katie, mom of one

Ask lots of questions about the birth setting.

“Talk about the different options that there are for pain control and what the hospital room looks like. Is it going to be disappointing when you get there and you can’t get in a tub? Or maybe you need to bring a birth ball with you because the hospital doesn’t have one. Does unmedicated birth mean no epidural? Or does it mean you don’t want Motrin or IV pain meds at all? If your provider says ‘Oh, you might have to have a C-section because your baby’s looking a little big, but we’ll plan on vaginal,’ OK, well, what does a C-section look like? Can my partner come? Who can be in the room? Don’t do random research online, but actually talk to the person you trust as your doctor.” — Sheila Grimes, RN, labor and delivery nurse

If you want an epidural, get an epidural.

“Get the epidural as soon as they say you can. There's absolutely no award for enduring pain. So the second that they tell you you can get that epidural, just get it. Feeling the contractions doesn’t do anything for your motherhood. Save your energy, save your strength. Try to relax. And also you don’t want to wait if there’s a whole bunch of other people in the queue.” — Aprill, mom of one

“The epidural gave me more than just pain relief — it gave me back some of my comfort and sanity. My blood pressure was through the roof with the pain, and because my monitors were missing the baby every time I moved, I couldn’t get into as many positions as I wanted to for long without the nurses having to look for the baby’s heartbeat again. Once I got the epidural, I was able to actually enjoy the hospital environment and sleep and chat with the nurses without so much pain.” — Lauren Hughes, mom of four

Don’t be afraid to speak up or ask questions.

“If you want to ask questions and you need a doctor to really talk you through something and they’re not, it’s OK to be like, ‘Hey, I need to understand what you’re talking to me about.’ It’s not as if I would have said ‘No, I’m not getting a C-section.’ I just need to understand where we’re at. It’s hard to remember that when you’re exhausted. Also, be aware of shift changes. I think the reason I pushed for as long as I did is because we were caught right in the middle of a shift change and a new nurse came in.” — Aprill, mom of one

“While you should probably go with a medical recommendation when it’s made, it’s always OK to ask why if you’re uncomfortable with something. For example, if you have past trauma that you don’t want to tell them about, but you don’t feel comfortable with multiple cervical checks, it’s OK to push back on that that. Because as long as baby’s looking OK, they don’t need to check you every five seconds. And if things are going wrong, then they should communicate that to you and tell you why they need to check you. You are in control of your body, and you can decline.” — Sheila Grimes, RN, labor and delivery nurse

Make your hospital environment a good place for you.

“Everybody packs the coming-home outfit for baby and their phone chargers and stuff, but throw some things in your bag that will make you feel good and safe and cozy at the hospital. I took my favorite quilt from our couch, and I also brought battery-operated candles and new fancy pajamas. I wanted to have a hospital birth because I felt safe there with my baby, but I still wanted the room to feel cozy.” — Sarah, mom of one

“I specifically asked my midwives to keep the lights low when it was time to push, and they were totally fine with it. It was such a nice, calm, peaceful experience instead of the one I had with my first baby, which was under the bright fluorescent lights.” — Jennifer, mom of two

“The big thing, honestly, that was helpful was having an eye mask and headphones; that really makes a big difference. That’s what I would tell everybody to pack in their hospital bag. And having a cellphone cord that’s extra long so you can have that by your side.” — Lauren, mom of two

Let the nurses take care of you — and if they offer some kind of relief, say yes.

“Say yes to the prescription-strength Motrin or whatever pain relief they offer, say yes to extra ice pads, say yes to the stool softener. That was my favorite thing about being in a hospital — I didn’t have to pack any of that.” — Gayle, mom of two

“The minute I stopped trying to win some kind of Best New Mom Ever award, my hospital stay got better. I leaned hard into my nurses and asked them all the questions, let them help me get my baby latched, all of it. That’s literally their job and what they are there for.” — Jessica, mom of two

Take the freebies.

“My nurses were literally like, ‘Please take whatever’s in that drawer home with you and I’ll bring you more.’ I had so many mesh undies and frozen pads left over, I gave them to friends. Take the goodies.” — Elizabeth, mom of one

“They just provide everything that you need, I felt like. They gave me bags that had all the stuff for after birth, like the special underwear and the pads, toiletry products, and everything for recovery with taking care of my dressings and teaching me how to do my binding and all of that. I felt like I was well taken care of, well-educated. There was a lot of emphasis on helping me get back up to speed after he was delivered. So I really appreciated that.” — Natalie, mom of one

Above all, remember this: Your voice matters. And the more you can advocate for yourself and have a support system in place — like a partner or doula or even your midwives and nurses — to encourage you and help you feel safe and confident, the better your hospital birth will be.