You may have visited your local hospital in the past—to see a relative, attend a scheduled appointment, or take a prenatal class—so you might already be familiar with the facility. But imagine how chaotic it would feel if you were in labor and you and your partner didn’t know where to get dropped off, park or even check in.
Luckily, most hospitals offer tours for expectant parents to guide you through the highlights: from the type of room you will deliver in and basic services (where can my partner go for more ice chips?) to more in-depth information like special in-room features and the lowdown on birth certificates and car seats.
Although each healthcare 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 maternal 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 come 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. Laura Adams, an instructor and tour guide at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, says that most women choose to come on the tour in their third trimester, but some women take it even before they get pregnant just to see where they might deliver in the future.
On the day your tour is scheduled, try to arrive 15 minutes early. Depending on the size of your hospital, you’ll need to park, walk a ways to find your group, and probably make a last-minute pit stop at the restroom before the tour begins.
STEP 2: Drop-off and parking
Take note: Adams says where to get dropped off and park when you come 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 simply 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. Ask your guide where you should go.
When it comes to drop-off, support partners at certain hospitals might be allowed to pull up to the entrance and leave their car with security. In this case, they can come 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 on the tour 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 at check-in 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 Northside, for instance, a newborn’s siblings are the only minors allowed past 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. Here, you’ll 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 hot and stuffy or chilly, so you’ll know to pack extra blankets if needed. Ask if the hospital has wireless internet (and if there’s a fee), and look for outlets to charge a camera, cellphone or MP3 player 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.
At this point, 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 should include a look at the room you will be moved to after delivery, as well as a peek at the nursery. 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 immediately postbirth, your support team might be. Find out if you can have food delivered to the room or where the nearest cafeterias are 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 likely know the hospital will check for a proper car seat before you are allowed to leave, but the guide should go over any other formalities you’ll need to take care of before driving away with your new 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, Adams says that many couples pull her aside to ask specific questions about their individual birth plan. Don’t be afraid to talk to your guide if you have any additional concerns—this is a good chance to become comfortable with the hospital surroundings before you come back to deliver, so speak up!