How to make your hospital birth feel more like home

Are you feeling conflicted about your upcoming birth experience? Like – you know you want to have a natural birth, and you might even LOVE to have a home birth, but finding a skilled provider and the necessary support for a home birth in Nebraska is extremely challenging.

You could opt for an unassisted birth, but you and/or your partner are not comfortable without a trained professional at your birth in case unexpected complications come up. Or maybe you love the autonomy and comfort that comes with home birth, but personally feel more at ease being in a hospital close to life-saving technology if it becomes necessary. Or maybe you just want to know that you’ll have a few extra hands (nurses) to take care of you in the first couple days postpartum.

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But you’ve read stories of (or experienced) traumatic hospital births, and you’re worried that your autonomy will be lost and you’ll end up a victim of your own birth experience. So while you feel completely capable and ready for an amazing birth experience, you’re having a really hard time figuring out how to make that happen within the constraints of Nebraska’s birth culture.

Girl, I feel you. It is so hard to feel like you have no choice, and unfortunately we still have a lot of work to do to truly put women in the driver’s seat of their own birth experience (especially in Nebraska).

But, I’m here to tell you that you DO have options, and there are ways to create a birth experience at the hospital that feels more like home…where you can truly feel in control, relaxed, safe and capable of birthing your baby on your terms.

If you’re ready to feel in control of your experience, no matter where you end up birthing your baby, then the following 7 tips for making your hospital birth more like home are for you:

This is a photo of a midwife at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln Nebraska providing comfort to a laboring patient

1. Choose your provider wisely

This tip is number 1 for a reason, because it is the single most important choice you will make as a part of your birth plan. When it comes to giving birth in the hospital, your provider will have more say in how things go down than anyone else. If your provider doesn’t support you unequivocally, and isn’t 100% on board with what you’re wanting for your birth – FIND. A. NEW. PROVIDER. This seriously cannot be overstated.

I recommend interviewing multiple providers and ask thoughtful questions that can be backed up with data – what is their c-section rate? What percentage of their patients “require” induction or augmentation of labor (ie: pitocin, breaking of water, etc.)? Do they allow/encourage movement? What are their non-negotiable interventions (ie: IV/heplock, continuous fetal monitoring, etc.)? What are their thoughts/policies regarding eating and drinking during labor?

My blog post about how to find the right provider for you is a great place to start when you’re researching types of providers and the questions you need to ask. Remember, it is okay to fire your provider at any time if they do not 100% support you. Interview providers until you find one you really click with. You may like your provider as a person, but it’s okay to choose a different one who will fully support your birth plan. And above all – trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, TRUST IT.

This is a photo of an IV machine hooked up to a laboring mother during a birth at Methodist Women's Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska

2. Research every intervention and its risks, benefits and alternatives

The benefit of giving birth in the hospital is that the life-saving (and pain reducing) technology is there if and when you need it. That being said, many of the interventions that are common and routine in our hospitals are not evidence-based, nor helpful for a normal, healthy and physiological birth.

If you have a healthy pregnancy and a normal, uncomplicated labor, then the probability that you need any intervention at all is extremely low. Research ALL the interventions during your pregnancy to learn about their risks, benefits and alternatives before you arrive at the hospital ready to give birth.

Technically (and legally), your provider is required to explain the risks, benefits and alternatives of every intervention prior to administering it during your labor. However, this does not always (actually rarely) happens, and during labor is not the time to be thinking hard about risks and benefits (your body will be taking over and your brain will have fewer resources than normal to make decisions).

Search online for “birth plan templates” – because many of them will cover all of the common interventions during labor, delivery and postpartum – so you can research each individually. Evidence Based Birth is another great resource to get unbiased, data-based information about a variety of different interventions.

This is a photo of Doula Joyce holding space for a laboring mother at St. Elizabeth Hospital

3. Hire a doula

Doulas are a non-medical support persons who are trained and knowledgeable about birth. A doula is an invaluable resource during your birth – think of them like a Sherpa helping you to summit Mount Everest. They are not doing the work for you, but they are full of birth knowledge, wisdom and a passion for helping you succeed. A good doula will meet with you prenatally to learn about your goals for your birth, and help guide you through researching interventions and creating your birth plan. Most doulas will not advocate for you during delivery, but they will encourage you to remember your goals, and speak up for yourself (or have your partner speak up for you) if your provider suggests an intervention that you are wanting to avoid.

If you are local to Lincoln, Nebraska, check out www.doulasoflincoln.org to connect with our local doulas. I recommend meeting with at least three, and pick one who you really connect with. Just like with your provider, you want to make sure that anyone you invite into your birth space/birth experience has your back 100% – and that includes your doula.

This is a photo of a laboring mother in a bathtub receiving intermittent fetal monitoring by her nurse at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska

4. Request intermittent monitoring and no IV

In most of our hospitals, you can expect two interventions to happen right off the bat – continuous fetal monitoring and an IV. These are standard procedures that are done almost immediately upon check in, unless you request otherwise.

The downside to continuous fetal monitoring and an IV is that it limits your mobility. And mobility is KEY if you are planning home-like childbirth (ie an unmedicated birth). If you have a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy and labor, you can absolutely request intermittent fetal monitoring with a doppler (ie – they will check baby’s heart rate using a handheld device every hour or so, rather than strapping a fetal heart monitor and a contraction monitor belt to your belly). Many hospitals will require a heplock if you ask for no IV (a heplock is simply the “start” of an IV, but instead of hooking it up to a bag they put tape over it so that it’s ready if/when IV medications/fluids are needed).

By refusing these interventions, it will be easier for you to move around, bounce on a birth ball, sway with your partner, walk the halls, dance ….basically any movement that feels right in your body. It’s been said that the same movement that got the baby in, gets the baby out. So movement is SUPER important in physiological birth.

This is a photo of a laboring mother receiving support from her husband and doula at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska

5. Wear your own clothes

I am surprised by how many women don’t know that they can wear their own clothes during labor at the hospital! Yes, they will probably hand you a hospital gown when you check in. You can politely decline, and request to wear your own clothing (or no clothing at all!) Being comfortable in your body is so important during labor, and this is a super simple but powerful way to take control of your experience in the hospital.

This is a photo of a laboring mother using essential oils and aromatherapy to comfort her during labor at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska

6. Bring comfort items and items to decorate

Decorate your space if you feel like it! A lot of women will bring affirmation cards, special photos, or even twinkling Christmas lights to create a homey and cozy space in their hospital room. When I had my son, I brought my favorite pillow and would bury my head in it and smell the familiar scent while I was in the middle of strong, active labor. Between closed eyes and the familiar scent, I felt more at home, which helped me to relax and work with my body. You could even bring essential oils and a diffuser, and a birth music playlist on your phone or laptop. Make your room YOURS! This is your sacred birth space, and you should feel 100% at home in it.

This is a photo of a laboring mother clasping her hands together as she focuses inward during a contraction

7. Prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally

Birth is like a marathon. Seriously.

And just like any physically challenging activity, birth is all about getting your mind right. Think about the last time you had a challenging run or hard workout (or had to pee really bad) – your mind often wants to give up before your body is truly at max capacity.

Yes, physically preparing for your birth is important – exercise, walking, yoga, and even weight training are great ways to do so. But I encourage you to focus as much, if not MORE, on preparing yourself mentally and emotionally.

Train yourself to breathe through physical challenges (the “ice” practice is a great way to do this – check out this youtube video to learn more about it). Practice meditation, breath work, or self-hypnosis. Do some journaling (or even therapy) around the fears you have surrounding childbirth. Visualize the way you want your birth to go every night as you fall asleep.

You wouldn’t show up for marathon race day with no preparation and a “let’s just go with the flow” attitude. If your goal is a natural birth where you feel empowered and in control, then set yourself up for success by taking the time to prepare during pregnancy. Thank me later.

This is a photo of a mother seeing and holding her brand new baby for the first time at CHI St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, NE

So now it’s homework time! What are you going to do next to start preparing for that hospital birth that feels more like home? Are you going to re-evaluate your provider? Or hire a doula? Maybe give more consideration to researching interventions, or start being more intentional with your mental/emotional preparations. (seriously – this isn’t necessarily a rhetorical question – email me and let me know! leslie@novitaphoto.com)

No matter where you go from here, know that I am rooting for you to have the most amazing physiological birth experience ever – whether that ultimately ends up happening at home or in the hospital. I hope you feel empowered, confident, and ready to birth your baby on your terms, no matter how your birth unfolds!