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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Planning Ahead

Once those contractions start, your body will be working overtime. Make things easier for you and your family by planning ahead those important last-minute details:

Getting to the hospital. Transportation to and from the hospital can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. Traffic patterns vary during the day and night and will influence how quickly you will arrive at the hospital or birthing center. The changing seasons, weather patterns and the distance you have to travel from your home all will affect the ease with which you travel. Discuss these issues with your obstetrical provider and with your family by or before 36 weeks gestation, at least one month before your due date. If your pregnancy is complicated by medical problems or you have a history of premature labor and delivery, then this discussion is even more important and should take place during the early part of your pregnancy. It may be very helpful to make several test drives to the hospital or birthing center and use different routes at different times of the day or evening. This exercise will help you adjust to last minute traffic problems or other delays. When you arrive at the hospital or birthing center, take time to check out the location of the parking lot(s) and the entrance for admission. Be sure to drive by and be familiar with the location of the emergency entrance; ask your obstetrical provider what is the best entrance to use when you come to the hospital in labor or if you have a problem.

Another issue to think about is who will take you to the hospital. It is wise to have a back-up plan(s) of who will be available or whom you can call to help you get to the hospital just in case your primary support person is unavailable. It is also important to know how to contact them quickly in time of crisis, and for them to know how to contact you. Beepers or pager devices are frequently used for this purpose and can be rented on a short-term basis. Cellular phones can also be used but their use may be restricted in certain areas, buildings or in a hospital setting.

Child-care. It's obvious that you'll need a family member, friend or baby sitter "on call" who will look after your children or aging parents, or your pets while you're in labor and delivery. Make sure you have all of their phone numbers by every phone in your home or at work, even in your purse or briefcase. It's also a good idea to have a pre-written list of instructions regarding meals, school activities, emergency phone numbers or special instructions easily available for the caretaker while you are in the hospital.

What to pack. Before you pack your overnight bag, check with the hospital or birthing center to find out what it will provide for you and your baby. In general, many experts recommend you bring:

  • Two nightgowns (front opening, for ease of breast-feeding)
  • A bathrobe and slippers
  • Two nursing bras (for ease of breast-feeding)
  • Two pairs of underpants
  • A supply of superabsorbent sanitary pads
  • Two pairs of heavy socks (the delivery room can be very chilly)
  • Toiletries including hairbrush and shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, a small mirror, and makeup
  • Snacks or other foods for your birthing partner
  • Magazines or books to read (for you and your partner)
  • A focal point "picture" if you've taken Lamaze classes
  • A still camera or video camera, fresh film and batteries
  • A receiving blanket, diapers, and nightgown or stretch suit for your baby
  • A baby's car seat for the ride home

Who (and when) to call. When your baby arrives you'll obviously want to share the good news, but it doesn't have to be you who shares it. Even if you have an easy labor, you'll be tired by the time it's over - and likely, so will your birthing partner. That's why it's a good idea to have another family member or friend in charge of calling loved ones with news of the birth. Just be sure to give the bearer of good news a complete list of whom should be called. If you plan to share the news yourself, bring a phone card so you can charge it to your home number; hospitals tend to charge more for telephone calls, and the use of cellular phones is often restricted in a hospital setting.

Recording the event. Still pictures or video? Filming the entire birth or just have pictures of the baby? Some women want to record the actual delivery; others don't want to share this most private moment with a viewing audience and opt for after-delivery stills and videos of the baby. Whatever you choose, you'll be in no position to play director during delivery, so be sure a decision is made beforehand. If you plan to film or take photographs, be sure that your batteries are fully charged and there's enough film. You may want to have an extra battery, film and flash equipment available. Birthing partners, family members or friends usually play camera person, but nurses or midwives and physicians sometimes can lend a hand. Check with nursing personnel at your hospital about possible restrictions on filming.

Last updated June 2, 2009




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