Most women spend a lot of time learning about pregnancy and parenthood when they find out they’re pregnant. But some women don’t do that same research about how to be their own advocate during birth. It’s important to have people you trust guiding and advising you during your birth. But nothing compares to making choices based on your research, education, and preparation.
Birth is deeply personal. While doctors and their knowledge are essential, you have a say in what you want and how you want to give birth. Remember that you know your body; if something doesn’t feel right, you could be the only one who knows, so advocating for what you want is crucial. Here are some tips on advocating for yourself during labor and birth.
10 Tips on How to Advocate for Yourself During Labor
1. Do your homework.
Centuries ago, young women learned about birth by watching their female relatives have babies.1 They often attended their mother, aunts’, sisters’, nieces’, or cousins’ births when those women would go into labor. These days, however, most women are not fully aware of what labor and the birthing process are truly like until they go through it themselves. It can be a shocking experience if you don’t educate yourself. Just as you would spend time learning how to change a diaper, make baby formula, or take a Lamaze class, you also need to do your homework on what will or may happen during the birth of a child. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll feel to ask for what you need when you need it.
2. Research your options.
There is no one right way to do anything. This is true for many options you’ll have during the birth of your baby. You should educate yourself about the various options you’ll have during labor and delivery. Try to decide ahead of time what you would prefer in as many scenarios as possible.
Do you want a hospital, birthing center, or home birth? Do you want to be allowed to eat and move around as you wish? Will you choose pain medication, or do you want to have a medication-free birth? How do you feel about delayed cord clamping, skin-to-skin, or placenta encapsulation? What interventions, if any, are you comfortable with? Will you want to decline your newborn’s eye ointment, Vitamin K, or the Hep B shot? All these questions, and more, are questions you need to understand and have some answers to before you go into labor.
3. Make a birth plan.
Creating a birth plan is key to being your own birth advocate—lay out what you want to happen during your labor and delivery in as much detail as possible. Make a contingency plan for what you want to happen should your original plan go awry.
For instance, I made a detailed plan for my birth center birth. But I also planned what I wanted to happen if I needed to go to the hospital. I also made a plan for what I wanted if I needed a C-section. I made several copies of my plan and gave them to my husband and midwife. And then, when I eventually had to be transferred to the hospital after 40+ hours in labor, I gave the nurse a copy of the plan. I could advocate what I wanted to the team of professionals helping me, and they had it neatly laid out on paper so that everyone was on the same page.
4. Hire a doula.
During my first pregnancy, I was talked into hiring a doula at the last minute. I wasn’t sure exactly what a doula could help me with. But as a first-time mom, I wanted all the help I could get. Hiring a doula was probably the smartest investment I made for myself for my first birth. Besides my husband, my doula was the person who kept me motivated and believing in myself through a very foreign experience. She played my chosen music, prayed over me, encouraged me to drink and eat, and constantly assured my husband and me that we were doing an amazing job. She also knew my birth plan details and was willing to help me ensure these things were done accordingly.
Doulas are especially helpful because they have attended many births. They can help talk through decisions and offer insight into what they have seen before in similar situations. They can also help you understand which concerns may arise so you can plan to handle them before they come up.
5. Involve your partner.
If you have a partner, make sure they advocate for your needs during your birth. Partners often feel helpless during the labor and delivery process. Giving your partner the task of ensuring your birth plan is carried out as best it can will help them feel like they have a “job.” And you can relax and concentrate on birthing your beautiful baby.
6. Clearly communicate your desires to your birth team.
If you don’t write down your birth plan, at least have a detailed discussion with your birth team before the big day. Sit down with your partner, midwife or doctor, doula, and whomever you choose to have in the room. Clearly communicate your wishes for the birth and any contingency plans that may come up. Let everyone ask any questions they have and take notes if necessary.
7. Practice or role-play.
During your pregnancy, ask your partner, doula, or someone to run through specific scenarios with you to help you handle them. It would be best if it were your support person because they can hear exactly what you want and help you. By practicing, you’ll get more comfortable figuring out how to react as things arise.
8. Ask for clarification.
Ask for clarification if your doctor or midwife recommends something you don’t understand. You don’t need to accept everything that is suggested to you. It’s important to not only give your consent but have it be informed consent. Understanding the reasoning behind their recommendations is essential to feel confident in your labor and birth. The more informed you are, the better decision you can make for yourself and your baby.
9. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
You’ve done all the research and consulted with your team of experts. You’ve written your birth plan and are as ready as you can be. When the big day comes, don’t be afraid to speak up to ensure you’re getting what you need and your plan is followed. If you have questions about a procedure, ask them. If you have doubts about a course of action, raise them. Or, if you need to consult with your doctor, midwife, or partner before making a decision, do it. Especially speak up if you feel forced into an unnecessary intervention.
Ultimately, this is your birth, your body, and your baby. Remember that while doctors and midwives have experience, you know your body. You need to tell them if something doesn’t feel right to you.
10. You can change your mind.
All the planning and thinking through labor doesn’t mean you know how it will go. If you have a plan for your labor that, at the moment, no longer feels right, you are allowed to change your mind. Maybe you decided on no epidural, but you find you need one. Things like that can change once you get into the situation. It’s okay.
Being your own advocate during birth is one of the most important ways you can prepare to become a mom. Making the best choices for your child comes first from making the best choices for yourself. With a team of professionals and your loved ones surrounding you, feel confident knowing you can fight for your best birth experience.