Going on a maternity hospital tour can be pretty exciting for some couples, scary for others!
Just in case your nerves get the better of you, here is a list of important questions to ask when you take a maternity hospital tour.
Remember, its important to also base your decision on how you feel and how you are treated by staff while you are in the hospital.
When you’re walking around, ask yourself, ‘how do I feel being here?’
Observe and see if you see a friendly, supportive environment, or a busy, cold, hurried one.
How you and your partner feel is very important.
Maternity Hospital Tour Questions
So with that in mind, ask these great questions to back up how you feel:
#1: What Birth Aids Do You Have Available?
When you’re in labour, just having a bed in the middle of the birth room gives you little to work with.
It can also draw you onto the bed where you may end up remaining for most of your labour, when you really need to get moving around and changing positions in order to help baby move down in to your pelvis to be born.
Find out if the maternity hospital offers birth/fit balls, floor mats, beanbags or other items to help you during labour, and how many are available – sometimes these items are shared and you can miss out on the day.
You should also check if you’ll need to bring your own music player, essential oils and heat packs – some hospitals provide them and others prefer you to bring your own.
#2: What Is Your Policy With Partners Staying Overnight?
In Australia, public hospitals generally do not allow partners to stay overnight due to shared rooms and lack of space.
Some private hospitals offer the opportunity for partners to stay overnight (some for an extra fee). So if you’d prefer your partner to stay with you, this is a question you might want to ask.
If the hospital doesn’t allow it, you may feel a little down, but know that visiting hours usually do not apply to partners, so your partner can spend as much time with you as they like.
#3: Is It Policy To Room In With My Baby?
Many hospitals now have policies supporting babies rooming in with their mothers during their entire stay, but it does pay to ask.
Find out if there is any reason why your baby will be taken out of your room without you, or if you will be separated at any point.
It's so important to be as close to your baby as possible during this crucial bonding period – which you won't ever get again.
#4: What Is The Hospital's C-Section Rate?
The World Health Organization states around 15% is an acceptable rate of c-section births, all things considered.
However many hospitals exceed this, some far more than others.
By finding out the c-section rate of a hospital, you’ll get a better idea of the hospital's philosophy and attitude to birthing, and what sort of births staff are used to supporting.
Sadly, it's not as common for staff to support completely natural births these days. If your hospital has a high c-section rate and you don’t have other options, it's very wise to invest in educating and informing yourself as best possible.
Get your hands on the best support people you can find, including a well recommended doula. Educate yourself with independent birth education classes (non-hospital based) and read these great birth books.
It's also good idea to ask for the policy on VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section), if you’ve already had a caesarean. If they are actively supportive of VBAC’s this is a very good start.
#5: What Is Your Policy On Breastfeeding In Recovery?
If you have a c-section, mother-baby separation often occurs after surgery, which can be upsetting for some mothers.
As a new mother, you’ll likely be craving that skin to skin contact with your baby, and want breastfeeding to get established as soon as possible. Your baby will surely want these things too.
Some hospitals will support breastfeeding in recovery and others will not, so if this is important to you, be sure to ask.
You can also mention this in your birth plan that you’d like breastfeeding in recovery, if possible.
#6: What Is Your Policy On The Third Stage Of Labour?
Once your baby has been born, the focus and excitement is right where it should be – on the baby.
However in the background – and often without you realising it while you’re in blissful babyland – doctors and midwives tend to hurry the process along, so they can clean up and move onto the next birthing woman.
The problem is, by hurrying things along, your baby is missing out on some huge health benefits by not having a physiological third stage (which is all to do with the cord and placenta).
Despite a plethora of studies reporting massive benefits (without any harm), some doctors and hospitals are still yet to adopt a policy of delayed cord clamping.
When a baby’s cord is cut immediately, the baby is robbed of 32% of his volume of blood. Thats not a typo – one third of his or her blood volume. Just a two-minute delay in cord clamping can increase a baby’s iron reserve by 27-47 mg, which is equivalent to 1-2 months of a baby's iron requirements. This could help to prevent iron deficiency from developing before 6 months of age. Ideally, the cord should be left alone until it has stopped pulsating. Cord milking can be done in situations where time is limited, for example, during a c-section.
Read more about the importance of delayed cord clamping here.
Find out more about The Third Stage Of Labour.
Maternity Hospital Tour Question #7: What Is Your Induction Rate?
Knowing a hospital’s induction rate is just as important as its c-section rate.
A high induction rate can be evidence of ‘failure to wait' and trusting that a woman’s body will labour (in most cases).
Remember that full term pregnancy is up to 42 full weeks of pregnancy.
If the hospital's induction rate is high, then it’s likely women are being offered inductions far too early or too frequently, or they are not being adequately informed of the risks. Find out more about induction of labour here.
#8: Do You Allow Photography and/or Videography?
If you’d like to take photos and/or videos of your birth, even with your own camera, this is a must ask question.
Some hospitals and doctors have a policy of no videos at birth for legal reasons.
#9: What Are Your Visiting Hours?
You’ll likely want to know visiting hours to pass on to any friends and family – of course, make sure you’re ready for visitors in your own time and don’t feel obligated to pack visitors into every minute.
You’ll be pretty tired and need your rest, and bonding time is very important.
So don’t try to please anyone else but yourself.
#10: How Do You Deal With Unwanted Visitors During Birth And After?
It's a really sucky thing when family or friends turn up when you least expect (or want) it.
As a doula, I have seen the birth process completely de-rail after parents have turned up to the birth suite, after specifically being told no.
Oh boy, you do not want to make a labouring woman angry. You can seriously impact her focus and the progress of her birth. It means her support team have to work really hard getting her back on track, in the birth zone.
Even if you say no to friends and family, sometimes it still happens. It can be upsetting to a woman in labour as well as a mother trying to get the knack of breastfeeding – complete with engorged breasts and hungry baby.
You might like to tell your hospital that if anyone turns up, it's an absolute no and you don’t want to know about it. It's the best way not to disturb your labour.
If you're really worried, you may like to stick a sign on your door to remind staff that you don't want visitors.
#11: Am I Able To Leave The Room While In Labour?
It's very important to be active during labour, so find out if you are able to move around the ward, and if there are any stairs you can walk up and down to help get labour going.
Find out about the huge benefits of an active birth.
#12: Do You Have An NICU? If So, What Level?
If your baby will need special assistance or is a high risk baby, you may want to find out about their NICU (newborn intensive care) facilities.
Most big, teaching hospitals in Australia have a full level 5 NICU, so if you give birth at a hospital which has a lower level NICU, your baby may need to be transferred.
If your baby will need to be transferred, ask what the previsions are for mothers and partners, for example, if you will be separated from your baby or if the hospital will take you too.
This of course isn’t required for the majority of babies, especially if you are low risk, so you don’t need to base your decision on this one alone.
#13: How Do You Feel About Doulas?
Some hospitals have started to disallow doulas attending births which is a really disappointing, considering the huge benefits they offer.
It's a great idea to find out this in advance, even if you don’t want a doula, for two reasons.
One: because you may change your mind, and two: you get an insight into their philosophies as a hospital.
If they don’t support doulas, then it will be very telling about their birth philosophy. If they know of and value doulas, it's a positive step.
At the end of the day, it should be the mother’s choice as to who they hire to support them, especially when it means less intervention and more support for the birthing couple.
#14: What Is Your Policy With Fetal Monitoring?
This is an important question to ask, because hospitals have varied policies on monitoring.
Some hospitals will monitor you upon arrival, some every four hours, and some prefer to keep it to a minimum.
The problem with electronic fetal monitoring is that it can be very restrictive, keeping you on the bed when you will benefit so much more from being able to move your body.
Maternity wards are often busy, and sometimes midwives forget to come back and take the monitoring off after the 20 minutes they promised. So, you end up stuck in bed much longer. Studies have shown that continuous electronic fetal monitoring results in a higher rate of c-section births, without improving outcomes.
Some hospitals have policies of routine internal exams every four hours too, which is completely unnecessary. Find out more about internal exams here.
#15: Under What Circumstances Would Formula Be Given And Will I Be Asked First?
Some mothers are shocked to hear their baby has been given formula without their permission, usually after a c-section.
I have also heard of babies being given formula where the mother had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
I attended a birth where a c-section was required due to placenta praevia (placenta over the cervix). In order to prevent any formula being used if surgery took longer than expected, I suggested to the mother-to-be to express some colostrum, in case she was unable to feed her baby straight away. The midwife was very happy to oblige and we stored some precious liquid gold in the fridge for her baby.
These are just a few important questions you might want to ask – but always think about what's important to you. Feel free to add any questions of your own. All the best for a fabulous birth!