(Above: A labor and delivery room at Northside Hospital Forsyth in Cumming, Georgia.)
You might have visited your local hospital in the past—to see a relative, attend a scheduled appointment or take a prenatal class—so you may already be familiar with the facility. But imagine how chaotic it would feel if you were in labor and didn’t know where to get dropped off, park or even check in.
Luckily, most hospitals offer tours for expectant parents to guide them through the highlights: from the type of room they’ll deliver in and basic services (like where to go for more ice chips) to more in-depth information (like special in-room features and the lowdown on birth certificates).
Although each health care facility may vary slightly, here’s a look at what you can typically expect to be covered on the tour.
STEP 1: Sign up and show up
Check on your hospital’s website to see when and where tours are offered. Most will allow you to sign up online for a specific time that is convenient to your schedule. Ask the support person you plan to have with you when you deliver to go on the tour as well; he or she will gain a lot of valuable information about a partner’s role on delivery day.
At what point in your pregnancy you feel most comfortable going on the tour
is up to you. Most couples check it off their lists in the third trimester. (Just be sure not to cut it too close to your due date in case your bundle decides to come early.) Still, it’s not unheard of to go even before you’re pregnant. Some plan-ahead types like to see where they might deliver in the future.
On the day your tour is scheduled, aim to arrive 15 minutes early. Depending on the size of the hospital, you’ll need to park, find your group and probably make a last-minute pit stop at the restroom before you get started.
STEP 2: Drop-off and parking
Take note: Where to get dropped off and park when you arrive to deliver is probably the most important thing to remember from your tour. That’s because some hospitals have a separate entrance for labor and delivery, while others advise parents-to- be to enter through the emergency room doors.
In addition, if you have a prescheduled C-section, your entrance might be at a different location from other mamas on the tour. Speak up, and ask your guide where you should go.
When it comes to drop-off, support partners might be allowed to pull up to the entrance and leave the car with security. In this case, they can go inside with you to check in before returning to move the car. Your tour guide will indicate if this is possible or if your support person will need to drop you off and park right away.
The guide should also go over where to obtain a wheelchair by the hospital entrance and after-hours entry information.
STEP 3: Check-in and waiting areas
The next stop will likely be the check-in desk and waiting area. Here, your guide should cover whether you’ll need to call ahead and be preregistered to check in or if you’ll be able to simply show up when it’s go time.
Your tour guide should also indicate any paperwork, insurance cards or forms of identification that will be required when you arrive and how long you can expect the process to take. (If there are no rooms available, for example, what is the protocol?)
The waiting area is also an important part of the tour because it’s where your family and friends will be anxiously awaiting news. The guide should cover visiting hours and who can come see you when you are in the hospital. (At some hospitals, for instance, a newborn’s siblings are the only minors allowed beyond the waiting area.)
At this point, your support person might want to take note of the hospital’s food options and gift shops.
STEP 4: The delivery room
It’s important to keep in mind that the delivery and postpartum rooms shown on the tour are likely the nicest available and the most recently renovated, so remember to ask if all the rooms at the facility are the same. Find out if there are private rooms available or if you should expect to share.
Your tour guide should point out the features of the room, including the private bath, if there is one. Don’t be shy to poke your head around and look for things like a shower, sleeping bench for your partner and TV. Feel free to take notes on what you find in the room, and notice if it feels chilly, so you can pack an extra blanket or a cozy robe if you’d like. Ask if the hospital has wireless internet (and if there’s a fee), and look for outlets to charge a camera, cellphone or docking station for that special birthing playlist.
In addition to the standard medical equipment, the guide should cover what else the hospital can provide to assist with your birth plan, such as an exercise ball or birthing pool.
Your guide might go over more specifics of what will happen when you deliver, including which nurses and doctors will be in the room with you, how soon after delivery you’ll be able to hold and nurse your baby, and whether the hospital has any photography or video-recording policies you should be aware of.
STEP 5: Postpartum
The next part of the tour will include a look at the room you’ll be moved to after delivery, as well as a peek at the nursery (if there is one).
In the postpartum room, look out for the same features as you did in the delivery suite, and ask your guide about how much time your baby will spend in the room with you versus in the nursery.
Even if you aren’t ready to eat immedi- ately postbirth, your support team might be. Find out if you can have food delivered to the room or where the nearest cafeteria is located.
Lactation support should also be covered on this portion of the tour. Be sure to ask if lactation consultants will be available to assist you and answer your questions, if you can rent a breast pump from the hospital, and if nursing gowns are provided or if you’ll need to bring your own.
STEP 6: Exit procedures
The last part of the tour should bring you back to where you started: the drop-off/ loading zone. You probably know by now that the hospital will check for a proper car seat before you’re allowed to leave, but the guide should go over any other formalities you’ll need to take care of prior to driving away with your bundle of joy.
You can also ask your guide about the necessary forms for your newborn’s birth certificate, as some hospitals provide these directly to patients and may even have a specialist on hand who can assist you with filling out the paperwork.
At the end of the tour, don’t be afraid to pull your guide aside to ask specific questions about your individual birth plan. If you have any concerns that weren’t already addressed, this is a good chance to bring them up, so you’re comfortable with the hospital protocol and surroundings before you come back to deliver.