The birth of your baby is one of the most exciting, memorable days of your life. In a perfect world, every woman would remember her baby’s birth with a sense of profound joy and accomplishment. You should leave the hospital or birth center feeling as though you are stronger than you ever knew – regardless of how or where you deliver. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. One study found that 33% of women identified their birthing event as “traumatic,” and over 5% actually experienced acute posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have found that women who feel in control of their labor and delivery report higher satisfaction with the experience.
Just because you are in labor does not mean that you give up your rights. Pregnant and laboring women should be given options and the ability to make their own choices when possible. You should share your thoughts and opinions with your significant other and health care provider before you go into labor, so they can be your voice if you are unable to speak up. Here are just a few of the labor rights you are entitled to:
- You have the right to leave your provider and choose another if you become dissatisfied with the care you are receiving. Hopefully, you’ll know if a care provider is right for you within the first few visits, but if you want to switch to someone else midway through your pregnancy, go for it! You even have the right to “fire” your doctor or midwife during labor if you have major concerns about his or her fitness.
- You have the right to informed consent. Informed consent is a basic right of all patients whether in a hospital or birthing center. Your provider should explain the nature of the decision or procedure; suggest reasonable alternatives; and go over the risks, benefits, and uncertainties of each alternative. Your consent must be given freely. If you plan to give birth at a hospital or birth center, you will be given consent forms. Read them before you sign. If you don’t understand something, ask, and remember that you can always cross something out if you don’t agree with it.
- You have the right to choose the hospital or birth center where you will deliver. You can decide whether or not a particular facility fits your needs, whether it is a hospital or a birthing center, but be aware that your provider may not be able to deliver there. You’ll also want to consider cost, as some hospitals and birth centers only accept certain types of insurance. Birth centers and some hospitals limit who can deliver there based on medical eligibility, as they may not have equipment or personnel for higher risk births.
- You have the right to refuse treatment. Any patient has the legal right to refuse a treatment or intervention. You can even walk right out of the facility where you’re laboring if you choose. Refusing treatment against medical advice, however, may cause repercussions with your insurance company, and leaving a birthing center during labor is probably not the safest choice for you and your baby.
- You have the right to change your mind. Just because you’ve previously agreed to a particular procedure or intervention doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind about it when it’s not an emergency situation. You have the right to withdraw your consent to any medical procedure, regardless of the fact that you previously agreed to it.
- You have the right to choose the friends and family members present during labor. And you have the right to tell people to get out. Baby-birthing is not a spectator sport! Just because your mom brought you into this world doesn’t mean that she has any “right,” legally or otherwise, to watch you deliver your own baby if you don’t want her in there.
In 2014, a judge in New Jersey also ruled that an expectant father has no legal rights to be present for the baby’s birth if the mother isn’t comfortable with it. Although courts in other states are yet to address the issue, it’s likely that they would rule similarly.
Alternatively, if you do want the whole gang there, you should check with your hospital or birth center first. They may have limits on the number of people who can be present.
In discussing birth, we often hear that “a healthy baby is all that matters.” A healthy baby always matters. But birth profoundly affects the mother, too. At Baby+Company, we believe it’s important to have both a healthy baby and a healthy, happy, empowered mother. When it comes to the care you receive during your pregnancy and delivery, there is no substitute for a supportive, trusted midwife. You should be able to easily communicate with your care provider, knowing that he or she has your best interests at heart. That’s what you’ll get at Baby+Company.