Can I choose the hospital where I’ll give birth?
In most cases, you’ll deliver your baby at the hospital where your healthcare provider has admitting privileges. So keep in mind that when you choose a doctor or midwife, you’ll likely be choosing the place where you’ll give birth. It’s worth doing some research to make sure the hospital’s policies and approach to birth fit your needs.
“Most patients choose specific doctors and then go where they deliver, but occasionally patients want a specific hospital or birthing center. They would have to switch providers if their provider doesn’t have privileges there,” explains Jennifer Wu, an ob-gyn in private practice at Women’s Health of Manhattan, in New York City.
Some practitioners have admitting privileges at more than one institution. If this is true for yours, ask how they determine where you’ll deliver.
It’s also critical to determine which hospitals are covered under your insurance plan. It’s more than frustrating to find out halfway through your pregnancy that your doctor or midwife takes your insurance but the hospital they deliver at doesn’t.
And while you may be willing to travel a little bit further for the best hospital, you’ll want to consider distance from home when making your decision. You won’t want to worry about how long it’ll take to get to the hospital once you’re in labor. Plus, having a hospital close by may be especially helpful if it’s where you’ll be going regularly for your prenatal care.
Other things to consider when choosing a hospital
If you have a few hospital options to choose between, these considerations may help you narrow your choices:
Do you want to try a VBAC?
If you’ve previously given birth by C-section and are interested in trying to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) this time, talk with your provider. You’ll want to make sure you’re a good candidate and that your provider supports your decision. Also, make sure the hospital where they have admitting privileges will allow a VBAC and has the medical personnel available 24/7 to do an immediate repeat C-section, if necessary.
If this is important to you, you may want to inquire about VBAC success rates for both your hospital and provider.
Do you have a high-risk pregnancy?
If you’re at high risk for preterm birth or other complications that might affect your baby, choose a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) if possible. The NICU has both a well-trained staff and the latest health equipment to care for newborns who need special attention – because they were born preterm or low birth weight, or because they have conditions such as jaundice, breathing difficulties, heart issues, birth defects, or infections.
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Every NICU isn’t the same. Some hospitals are equipped to take care of the tiniest babies. Others are only able to care for those born at 32 weeks and later, and need to transfer babies who are more premature.
Do you want a low-intervention birth?
Some hospitals have on-site birth centers in addition to traditional labor and delivery suites. Birth centers offer the option of laboring and giving birth in a more relaxed setting, often with amenities such as a whirlpool bathtub and birthing ball for you and a comfortable sitting room for family members.
Hospitals provide a safety net in case you need additional care. If you need to be transferred for any reason – if, for example, you decide you want an epidural – you’ll only have to move down the hall or up a floor or two.
You might find it helpful to spell out your preferences in a birth plan to share with your medical team.
Questions to ask when choosing a hospital for labor and delivery
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
Labor and birth:
- What are the hospital’s policies about things like continuous electronic fetal monitoring and routine IVs?
- How many support people are allowed to be with me in the labor and birth room?
- Is this hospital supportive of doulas?
- Is video recording and/or photography allowed in the birthing room?
- Would my baby’s siblings be allowed to attend the birth?
- What pain relief options will be available? (All hospitals are equipped to administer an epidural, but not all provide nitrous oxide, for example.)
- Is there an anesthesiologist or anesthetist at the hospital around the clock?
- How many women in labor does each nurse typically care for?
- How do available options align with my ideal birth plan? For example, is there a tub to labor in? Can I play soft music and soften the lights?
- Is this a teaching hospital? Will there be residents and medical students involved in my care?
- What’s the C-section rate for women who give birth here?
- Is delayed cord clamping an option?
- Can my baby stay with me in my room 24/7?
- Can my partner stay with me in the room? What accommodations do you have for partners?
- Are lactation consultants available?
- What’s the visitation policy? Are there specified visiting hours?
- What are the meal options?
- How long is the typical stay in the hospital after a vaginal birth? After a cesarean?
There are a variety of ways to get this information:
- Ask the doctors or midwives you’re considering to be your caregiver.
- Talk to friends or family members nearby who have recently given birth.
- Call the hospital directly and ask to speak to a childbirth educator, if they have one.
- Speak to other childbirth educators or doulas in your community.
- Check with hospital maternity services. Some have websites with detailed descriptions of their services and policies.
- Take a tour of the hospitals you’re considering – and don’t be shy about asking questions.