So What Should Be Important to You
The most important thing is for you to feel comfortable with the staff and the environment of the hospital that you choose. Are the people friendly? Do you have confidence in their abilities? Some hospitals offer LDRP rooms, which translates to Labor Delivery Recovery Postpartum, meaning that you will be in the same room where you delivered until you go home. Other hospitals have a labor and delivery room, but then move you to a regular room on the maternity floor after you deliver. Do you want a private room (who doesn't want one?) or a semi-private room? Does the hospital even offer semi-private rooms at reduced costs? Previously, maternity rooms looked like any other hospital rooms. Today's maternity rooms often have carpeting and look more like luxury hotel rooms than anything remotely affiliated with a hospital. For example, all the oxygen outlets are hidden behind wooden cabinets. In fact, in some hospitals, the baby warmer in the mother's room folds down from the wall like an old-fashioned ironing board. There is a lot of effort that goes into designing labor and delivery rooms these days. Many hospitals, in an effort to compete, will go to great extent to offer the most positive experience when you have your baby.
Many hospitals offer online enrollment for their childbirth classes. Check the hospital's Web site and search for classes that fit your schedule. (You might also find some classes on Lamaze, classes for prospective fathers or siblings, etc.) Often, these classes are offered for free, but you do need to enroll in advance of the class.
The first step is to call the hospital and schedule an appointment or time to visit. Go in armed with a list of questions, like you had for your doctor. Here are some questions that you might pose:
What are the hospital's visiting hours for family and friends? Can they visit all the time or are there restrictions?
Will I have one nurse assigned to me or will she take care of other patients at the same time?
Do you have doctors on-call in case my doctor doesn't make it to the delivery room in time? Are these doctors residents or fully-fledged staff members?
What would the normal procedures be if my pregnancy developed complications?
What is the extent of your neonatal care? What level of neonatal care do you offer? If something goes wrong with the birth, would you send the baby to another hospital in the area? Which hospital?
Are we allowed to take pictures during the birth process?
Can my spouse or significant other be present during a c-section if I have to have one?
How many people can be present in the delivery room?
What kind of delivery rooms do you have?
What "extras" does your hospital offer?
How would you characterize the difference between your hospital and other hospitals?
Are all of your rooms private or are some semi-private?
Is there any way to cut costs if I'm paying for it myselfthat is, I don't have insurance?
Do you have a stocked refrigerator on the unit for patients who are hungry or deliver after hours, or do you offer room service at all times?
Can my husband or significant other stay with me the entire time? Is there a bed or a couch for that person?
What are the procedures for checking out and in? Are they lengthy or do you handle them in advance?
Do you have free parking? If not, what are the charges?
What kind of childbirth classes do you offer?
Do you have a person on staff to teach new mothers how to nurse?
What kind of follow-up care is available after the patient is released? Do you have a support nurse who can answer questions?
Find some women who have had babies recently and ask them about their experiences with their doctors and their hospitals. New mothers love to talk about their labor and delivery "adventure." Find out what happened to them and what they did and didn't like about their hospital and/or doctor. Keep in mind that different people like different things and have different tastes. Still, at this point, you're simply collecting information. You can make a decision when you have all the information in place.
These are some of the questions you might ask. If you think of any others, jot them down on a list. In all likelihood, many of these questions will be answered on your tour before you even ask them.
While you're taking your tour, look around at the facilities. Is everything neat and clean? Cleanliness is of paramount concern in a hospital where bacteria and germs are at a premium. You want to minimize yours and your baby's risk for getting an infection.
From the Mother's Perspective...
When I delivered my babies, I was very young (in my 20s and early 30s) and inexperienced. I believed that nothing could possibly go wrong with my pregnancies, so I didn't worry much about what might happen to the baby (or me) if something did go wrong. Fortunately, I was lucky and nothing bad happened.
I have a different perspective with age and experience. Now, I would definitely investigate the neonatal care unit of the hospital, finding out if they had the equipment to treat premature babies or infants with more extreme problems. A level III neonatal unit can treat respiratory problems. A level IV unit can handle any operations (from heart defects to genetic defects) that might occur in your baby.
In the course of five pregnancies, I went to three different hospitals (one private hospital, one teaching hospital, and one woman's hospital) and four different doctors (I finally found the doctor I loved with the fourth child). All of the hospitals turned out to be excellent, but services and care were changing back then, moving toward the L&D rooms that we know today. The best experiences I had were with the last two pregnancies where I had a labor and delivery room, and then a private room after the birth (similar to what you have today). I cherished the privacy and the chance to have real bonding time with my baby and my husband in a hotel-like setting. The pregnancies before that were hospital rooms on a maternity unit.
Another feature that I consider to be important is a lactation nurse to show you how to nurse your baby. Contrary to popular belief, nursing is not something you automatically know how to do. A lot of questions arise while you're attempting to nurse, and problems like cracked nipples and painful breasts can drive you away from nursing and straight to the bottle (baby bottle, that is) if you don't have someone to encourage you and tell you how to handle these issues.
The Absolute Minimum
Don't be "wowed" by extras in a hospital if the actual facilities aren't up to your standards. The bottom line: The hospital might have to save your life or your baby's life. Make sure first and foremost that it is a good hospital with excellent medical facilities. All the rest is gravy....
Make sure the doctor you want to use can practice at the hospital you choose. Not all doctors have privileges at all hospitals. If the doctor doesn't practice at the hospital of your choice, you're faced with a dilemmaeither change doctors or hospitals.
Visit the hospital ahead of time. Find out where you should go when you're in labor and what you can expect to find when you get there.
Make sure you know the hospital's rules and procedures. It will make life simpler when you're a patient.
Pick a hospital that will give you the "birthing" experience that you want, but make sure that it is a quality place with a good medical staff. When all is said and done, it's about safety first.