A new study from the Netherlands reveals that even if a person experiences an unexpected intervention or complication during labor and birth, they are less likely to suffer trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they experienced good communication and support from care providers. Dutch researchers, gynecologists Claire Stramrood and Martine Hollander of UMC Utrecht and Radboud UMC, interviewed 2,000 women about their childbirth experience in order to find out if traumatic childbirths could be prevented. Throughout the interviews, the researchers found that more often than not, women did not feel that their desires or fears were listened to and that procedures or interventions were not explained.
Given this information about the importance of good communication and a respectful relationship between you and your care provider, what can you do to improve your chances of a better, more communicative birth experience? We've come up with a short but important list of must-dos to help you receive the best care.
Tips to Make Sure You Feel Heard & Supported in Labor & Birth
Get to know your care provider(s) early and often in pregnancy - Interview your doctor or midwife before your first appointment to learn about their care model and frequency of interventions, as well as how you are listened to and received during the interview. Throughout your prenatal appointments, spend time "with your pants on" discussing your concerns and questions. Evaluate how you are treated during appointments. Red flags include feeling like you're being rushed, or like your concerns are brushed off or otherwise dismissed, criticized, or minimized.
Meet with all of your care providers - If you're in a practice that rotates doctors or midwives, be sure to meet with all of them and have similar conversations to find out how each one approaches the question or issue. While one provider might be awesome and take appropriate time to make sure you're at ease, another's demeanor may be quite the opposite. If there's no guarantee over who you'll get during birth, it's important for you to know what you're up against (or perhaps, give you the opportunity to switch providers).
Hire a doula - While a doula can't guarantee the kind of care you'll receive from your doctor or midwife, a good doula can help improve your feelings of being heard and supported in labor. In addition to the continuous one-on-one support, a doula's role is to make sure you are able to speak up, express your concerns, and ask the right questions in labor and birth. Even if you're typically a great communicator, being in labor and giving birth is a vulnerable experience and not usually a time when a person feels like being outspoken and direct, especially if environment isn't supportive.
Take a good childbirth class - One of my favorite topics to teach on in my childbirth classes is "how to communicate with your care provider." It may seem like it's fairly straightforward, but it isn't always a given. A good childbirth class will teach you the right kinds of questions to ask to get the information you need. A good childbirth class will also boost your confidence when speaking up because you'll know more and feel more empowered to discuss your care with your doctor or midwife.
Asking for a different nurse - While your nurse doesn't call the final shots of your care, your nurse does greatly impact the kind of care and support your experience throughout labor and birth. If you have a nurse who isn't friendly, patient, or supportive -- or just isn't on the same wavelength -- you can absolutely ask for a different nurse. It can make a huge difference in your overall experience.
Switching care providers - If at any time during pregnancy, you begin to feel like your doctor or midwife will not be supportive of the kind of birth you desire, or you don't feel like you're being heard or respected, you have the right to hire a new practice and care provider. Of course, this option is not always available to everyone depending on insurance and location restrictions, but if it's possible, it can not only make a difference in how you feel about your overall birth experience, but it can improve your the health and safety of your birth outcome, too. Before switching providers, investigate who else might be a good fit -- ask your doula or childbirth educator, or friends who have had similar choices in birth preferences. Take time to interview a new care provider before making the switch, too.
Expectant parents: How do you feel about your current care provider's communication skills? New parents: How well did your provider communicate with you, and how did that impact your birth experience?