For many women giving birth, the hospital environment is foreign territory. Add to that the "laboring brain," in which a person is wholly consumed with the physical aspects of labor and birth, and has difficulty accessing the thinking and decision making part of the brain. These aspects combined can introduce added fear and confusion during your birth. One way to make your experience feel more comfortable, suported, and empowering is to be sure to ask questions throughout labor and birth. It may be hard for the laboring person to remember to ask questions, which is why it's helpful to appoint a partner, birth support person, or doula in charge of reminding you to ask questions or to ask them directly of your care providers. The following five questions will ideally help get you the answers you need to have a better birth experience.
Top Five Questions to Ask During Labor and Birth
Can you tell me more about the procedure you're doing/recommending and why?
Hospital staff sometimes forget that their patients don't know what they know. Asking for complete information about a procedure -- whether it's routine or a major medical intervention -- will help you to understand risks and benefits, and make an informed decision.
That is not on my birth plan. What can we do that's more in line with my preferences?
There may be things that happen in labor that necessitates a choice that's not on your birth plan, but it doesn't have to be all or nothing. There may be alternatives that would help keep you more in line with your preferences and what's most important to you. Or, if you need to accept an intervention, find out what else can remain the same. For example, if you end up getting an epidural that you didn't originally want, but moving around in labor is important to you, ask your support person and nurse to help you stay as mobile as possible when you have an epidural.
What's the risk in choosing not to do that procedure or in waiting longer?
Asking this question will give you clearer indication of the level of urgency of a procedure and why it's being recommended. For example, if Pitocin is suggested, you can ask about waiting longer before using Pitocin (while trying position changes and walking) or not using it at all.
What alternatives can I try?
Except in the case of an emergency, there is almost always an alternative option in labor and birth. This includes pain relief, positions for pushing, and a slowly progressing labor.
I don't understand what __________ means. Can you please explain?
You aren't expected to know medical lingo or understand the numbers and lines on a fetal monitor, but it will likely make you feel a lot better and an active participant in your own birth if you do know more about these and other unfamiliar terms and information. Staff will not always think to proactively explain things, so it's up to you and your birth support team to speak up and ask questions.