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7 Things to Know Before You Go to the Hospital

Photograph by Twenty20

You have your baby bag packed, your birth plan in hand and your cell phone fully charged so you can notify everyone of baby's impending arrival. You are on your way out the door to the hospital to deliver your baby, either because you're in labor or because you have been scheduled for an induction or C-section. Here are a few things to know before you put on that hospital gown:

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1. The nurses are your friends.

Depending on what time of day you go to the hospital, you will have at least one, possibly two, shifts of labor and delivery nurses overseeing your progress. Get to know them. Remember their names and let them get to know you. Yes, you may be in labor and not exactly feeling chatty, but these are the people who are going to be taking care of you. You will get excellent care regardless of how you treat the nurses, but if you are polite, patient and perhaps bring a basket of muffins or snacks for them to share at the nursing station, you will be remembered—and they will go the extra mile to accommodate you.

2. Everything won't go exactly as planned.

Something is going to happen to interfere with your picture-perfect plan. Trust me, it doesn't matter.

Yes, you have a birth plan. Yes, you have an ob/gyn you adore, a partner who is there to fully support you, family and friends who are holding down the fort and taking care of whatever needs to be managed at home. But just like a wedding, there is always something that doesn't go as planned during the birth of a baby. Whether it's your doctor being suddenly unavailable because of an emergency, your partner being unexpectedly out of town for work or a hurricane threatening the coast while your baby is crowning—something is going to happen to interfere with your picture-perfect plan. Trust me, it doesn't matter. Really. Let it go, focus on what's important (taking care of yourself and delivering a healthy baby) and roll with it.

3. Your birth plan isn't written in stone, so be flexible.

Just like the circumstances leading up to your baby's birth, there are things that won't go as planned even though you've written them down and handed out copies to everyone. Having a baby may be natural, but it's also unpredictable. In my case, my birth plan changed so many times before I had my first son, I actually gave up on it. I started out wanting an unmedicated delivery, then ended up being scheduled for an induction and finally required a C-section when the induction didn't work. There was very little about my original birth plan that went as planned and I stressed out about it more than I should have because I still achieved my end goal: Deliver a healthy baby boy and bring him home.

4. Consider hiring a doula.

Even if your partner intends to be in the delivery room for the birth, you might benefit from having an experienced doula attend your delivery. A doula can act as a labor coach, a mediator between you and your doctor and nurses, a calm and knowledgeable backup if your partner freaks out unexpectedly and a cheerleader when your energy is fading. I hired a doula for my first baby because I wasn't sure my husband would make it home from his overseas deployment before I gave birth. He did, and ultimately I required a C-section so the doula couldn't be in the delivery room, but her warm support in the weeks leading up to delivery and peaceful presence during my failed induction was very much appreciated. If you have any doubts about the kind of support you will have when it comes time to give birth, consider finding a doula before you deliver.

5. Don't overpack.

Look at your packed bag(s) by the door. Does it look like you're going on a two-week vacation? Unpack them and try again. Pack what you know you will absolutely need for the first eight to 12 hours in the hospital. Then enlist the services of a friend or family member who can bring you whatever else you might need, should the circumstances change while you're in the hospital. I overpacked horribly with my first son, bringing far more stuff than we could possibly use and requiring my husband to make three trips to the car just to bring everything home.

6. Establish your expectations for visitors before you go to the hospital.

Make sure everyone knows what you want—and who you want there—when you go home. You might want to limit visitors for the first two days or longer. Know who you want to come to the house immediately after you bring baby home, and be sure everyone knows what you want well in advance. This way, you won't be trying to soothe hurt feelings from the delivery room or dealing with a house full of unwanted guests when you're exhausted from having just given birth.

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7. Make sure you have an advocate.

This one is probably most important of all. No matter how strong, independent and outspoken you may be, there will likely come a moment when you need an advocate. You need someone to have your back and to be able to stand up—firmly—on your behalf. Whether it's your spouse, your mom or your best friend, make sure that person knows you are counting on them to speak for you when you are tired, in pain, scared or simply unsure. It will ease your mind to know that you have at least one person who will go toe-to-toe do resolve any concern or problem you throughout your delivery and hospital stay.

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