Learn why it's important to schedule a hospital tour, what you're likely to learn, and which questions you should be sure to ask.

pregnant couple at hospital
Credit: OJO Images/Veer

Visiting the hospital or birthing center where you plan to deliver is a smart way to prepare yourself for the birth of your baby, especially if you're a first-time mom. "A tour of the hospital before delivery really helps to curb any anxiety that expectant moms may have," says Pam Chay, R.N., Clinical Coordinator for Patient Care, Women's Program and Education at Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago. Here are answers to the most common hospital tour questions from the experts, as well as a list of key questions to ask.

Q. When should I schedule my tour?

A. "We typically suggest at least one to two months in advance, when the expectant couple is about 32 to 36 weeks along," says Susan Goldman, R.N., and Clinical Nurse Specialist for Maternal-Child Care at North Shore Long Island Jewish Huntington Hospital, Huntington, NY. "However, if the expectant mom is an out-of-towner or hasn't decided where she would like to give birth yet, we tell her to come in earlier to help her make her decision." Ask ahead of time how long your tour will be; most take at least 30 minutes, but some can take up to an hour or so.

Q. Will I have to pay a fee?

A. Typically, no. Most hospitals offer some kind of basic tour, either on its own or included with paid prenatal classes. If you'd like a more in-depth tour, many hospitals can arrange one for a fee. "Some expectant moms, especially those expecting multiples and those considered to be high-risk, like to take the more extensive tour with us because then they have a chance to visit the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which is not part of the basic tour," says Goldman. Each hospital will have a different policy, so make sure to ask ahead of time.

Q. What rooms will I visit?

A. You should tour every room you'll visit during your hospital stay. You can expect to see a triage area, if your hospital has one. Your doctor may have you evaluated in triage, then admitted to the labor and delivery and postpartum rooms. If your hospital offers private and semi-private rooms, ask to see both. If you are scheduling a C-section or are wondering about the possibility of needing one, you can ask your tour guide to show you the operating room, although most hospitals keep it off-limits.

Q. Will I be able to tour the nursery?

A. Yes, the well newborn and special-care nurseries are typically included at a hospital tour.

Q. What policies will I learn about?

A. You should learn basic policies and instructions on when to call your doctor, where to park, where to go when you arrive at the hospital, and what the hospital's visiting hours are. You'll also get recommendations on what to pack in your hospital bag, including toiletries, snacks, entertainment/electronic devices (both for during and after labor), and clothing for you and your baby. "And, of course, we remind our patients to have the infant car seat ready and installed in the car for the day your baby comes home," says Goldman.

In addition to the basics, it's important to ask about pre-registration. Doctors often provide registration paperwork that you can fill out in advance to help speed up the process on delivery day. (You'll need to provide details such as your due date, your doctor's name, your birthdate, and social security number.) This information may still need to be verified and updated at the admitting office prior to delivery.

Q. What other questions should I ask?

A. Chay recommends that you ask the following:

Will my baby be allowed to stay in the room with me the whole time?

Can my partner spend the night with me in the hospital?

Are breastfeeding classes or other breastfeeding resources offered?

Are video cameras, cell phones, and cameras allowed in the labor and delivery rooms?

How many people can be in the delivery room with me?

How are room costs, such as TV, phone, and private room fees, handled?

What are the hospital's security policies?

How many visitors are allowed in the room at once?

Is there an age requirement for children who visit?

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.