Anatomy of a Delivery Room

The labor and delivery process is full of unknowns -- but your delivery room doesn't have to be one of them! Here's what to expect once you arrive at the hospital.

The Women's & Children's Hospital at Centennial in Nashville Courtesy of Women's & Children's Hospital at Centennial

For some women, a trip to the labor and delivery ward may be the first time they visit a hospital. And while most of us try to stay out of medical centers, in the case of pregnancy, those sterile hallways can represent new life and love.

To ensure that your labor and delivery experience is as positive as possible, take a little preview tour of what to expect, right from the comfort of your own room.

The Nurses' Station. The first stop you'll make on your journey to baby town will most likely be the nurses' station. If you come into the hospital through the emergency room, be prepared to take a wheelchair up to the OB floor; otherwise, you'll be directed to the floor on your own and will check in at the nurses' station. The nurse or clerk at the desk will most likely ask you a few preliminary questions, such as your symptoms, your doctor, your due date, and if you have any allergies or are taking any medications.

Triage. Before you're admitted (and unless you're clearly about to deliver a baby), a nurse will evaluate you in the triage room to assess your condition and what stage of labor (if any) you're in. You'll have to change into a gown and be hooked up to a fetal monitor, which will track your baby's heart rate and your contraction pattern. The nurse will also check your vital signs, get a brief health history on you and your pregnancy, and check your cervical dilation as appropriate.

Labor and Delivery Room. Once you're in active labor and a doctor officially admits you as a laboring patient, a nurse will help settle you into your labor and delivery room. In most hospitals and birth centers, the rooms are all-in-one labor, delivery, and postpartum suites, meaning you and your baby won't have to leave the room for care. "The hospitals do the most as they possibly can to make the room as comfortable and homelike as possible," says Tina Alessi, a certified nurse-midwife with Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey. Some features of your room that are unique to labor and delivery include:

    • Your bed. Labor and delivery beds break down in the middle to become birthing beds, complete with stirrups, handles, and even a birthing bar (to hold onto as you push) on some models. Postdelivery, they're whisked back together with nary a sign of the incredible transformation that just happened.
    • Medical equipment. There's a surprising amount of medical equipment tucked away neatly and discreetly in labor and deliver rooms -- in case of an emergency. There may be suction and oxygen receptacles hidden behind those pretty pictures on the walls, and those nice wooden closets and doors often hold the delivery table and an array of infant resuscitation equipment that can be wheeled in at delivery or as necessary. In some labor and deliver rooms, with the flip of a switch a paneled ceiling may convert to reveal overheard lights and a birthing mirror.
    • The fetal monitor. Along with your bed, your IV pole, and your blood pressure equipment, most labor and delivery rooms house a bedside fetal monitor that attaches to the mother's belly to monitor contractions and the baby's heart rate. One note: Be careful about watching those contractions on the screen -- they're usually external monitors that measure the rate and rhythm of your contractions and can't tell you the true intensity, so what looks like a "small" contraction on the screen might feel a bit more intense! The fetal monitor also usually houses a computer where your nurse will input vital medication information to keep track of your labor's progress.
    • The partner chair. If your partner will be staying overnight with you, expect to find a chair that unfolds into a bed for a semi-comfortable slumber. Don't be afraid to ask your nurse for extra pillows and blankets for both of you -- you both deserve whatever rest you can get!
    • The bathroom. Because some delicate matters take place in this room after birth, your bathroom will also be tricked out: A shower chair can help you if you feel a bit woozy in your first shower; a "hat" that fits discreetly into the toilet seat may collect your urine output; and your nurse can hook up a sitz bath to your toilet seat as well to help soothe your nether regions. Some hospitals or birthing suites have tubs or Jacuzzi tubs for laboring mothers, which, side note, are awesome. There will also be an emergency button or cord you can activate should you need assistance.

      For mothers who have a C-section, surgical suites are very similar to birthing suites, but they're often smaller and lack the delivery equipment. Both labor and C-section rooms will house a tiny newborn bassinette on wheels, for safe harbor and transport of your new precious cargo.

      A successful birth is generally one where you, as the patient and as the mother, feel the most comfortable, so be sure to make it a priority to take a childbirth education class or schedule a tour of your birthing suite to familiarize yourself with the labor and delivery environment. Ask questions. And remember -- this is your birth experience, so make it the best one for you.

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