5 Things You Didn't Know About Hospital Births

Can you fire your nurse? Snack during labor? Check out these surprising facts about giving birth in a hospital.

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Wondering how your labor and delivery will go? If, like most women, you're planning on a hospital birth, you probably learned some basics in your parenting class or on your hospital tour. But that doesn't mean the experience isn't without its share of surprises. Here are some things you may not know about giving birth in a hospital.

You can request a different nurse: It's true: If you find yourself assigned to a nurse you don't jibe with, you're under no obligation to keep him or her as part of your birth team. You deserve to have people you like and trust in the room when your baby is born.

To make the switch, simply ask to speak to the charge nurse and ask to have a different nurse take over your care. Awkward? Maybe, but it's not rude. Nor is it uncommon. "Women can and do request a different nurse during labor," says Jennifer Williams, a certified nurse-midwife who works in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Different personalities mesh in different ways."

You probably won't be able to eat: Many hospitals have a policy that pregnant women can consume only clear liquids during labor, especially if an epidural is planned. This rule made sense back in the day, when women undergoing a cesarean delivery were given general anesthesia, which put them at greater risk for aspirating on their own vomit during the surgery. But today, the vast majority of cesareans are done with epidurals or spinal blocks, and Mom is awake and alert the entire time. Having any type of anesthesia can potentially cause a woman to feel nauseated, so there is still a small risk of aspiration even with epidurals or spinals, but the risk is relatively small. In addition, the American Society of Anesthesiologists recently issued a statement urging doctors to allow healthy women to eat a light meal if they desire. Still, the restriction commonly persists.

If you're concerned about not having access to nourishment while doing the incredibly physical work of labor, talk to your provider to find out her thoughts on eating during labor, and learn the policy of your intended birth place.

You can say no—to practically anything: Giving birth in a hospital doesn't mean giving up your autonomy and free will. Every aspect of the care you experience requires informed consent from you and/or your partner. Translation: You can say no (or "Can I have some time to think about it?") to practically anything, including common policies and obstetric procedures like induction; amniotomy (breaking your water); having a medical or nursing student in the room during labor or birth; and vaginal exams. "Remember that you have rights as a patient, and that you make decisions for you and your baby," points out Shelly Lopez-Gray, a certified registered nurse in Houston, and Adventures of a Labor Nurse blogger.

Of course, that doesn't mean your refusal will be easy to deliver—or accept. Be prepared for possible pushback after saying no. Also, talk to your provider before delivery day so you're on the same page before you head into the hospital. The earlier in your pregnancy you discuss your birth wishes, the better. "Battling hospital policy during labor would be a distressing use of energy that is needed to birth," says Williams. "For peace of mind, try to work out those details before labor. Remember that no one can make you do anything you don't want to do and you're always entitled to ask why for any procedure or policy." (For more information on your legal rights, check out the Human Rights in Childbirth.)

You don't have to wear the gown: Not into rocking the standard-issue hospital gown on the day you meet your baby? You don't have to. Most people choose to wear the gown because it's easier, but you can wear your own clothes, if you prefer. Just make sure they're comfortable and can get dirty (or straight-up ruined), like a simple, cheap nightgown or a stretchy, knee-length skirt. Many women end up giving birth naked anyway, so you might not even need clothes.

You may not have to stay the whole time: A normal hospital stay is 24 to 48 hours after an uncomplicated vaginal birth, and about 72 hours for a cesarean delivery. But if all is medically well with you and your baby, you can exercise your option to leave a little bit early. Just be aware that some insurance companies will cover only the full stay, so confirm whether leaving early works for you financially.