Understanding Your Rights during Labor and Delivery
Policies and Procedures
Hospitals and birth centers have set policies—such as requiring you to wear a hospital gown or not permitting your partner to be with you during a spinal. You can refuse to agree to these, but the hospital or provider may refuse to treat you if you do not comply with their procedures.
Learn in advance what your care provider’s and hospital’s standard procedures are. If there are any you do not agree with, discuss this with your provider in advance. Most of your concerns can be worked around.
Listen to what treatment your care provider suggests, ask as many questions as possible, and understand the procedure, risks, and benefits before reaching a decision about whether or not to agree. Your care provider is often required to inform you of options even though he or she may not recommend them. Always ask your care provider what he or she is recommending in your situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion; you have the absolute right to request one at any time.
Changing Your Mind
You can always change your mind about what treatment you agree to. You can withdraw your consent to a treatment at any time, except when it is medically necessary to continue (for example, in the middle of a C-section you cannot withdraw your consent since it would endanger your life and that of your child). Additionally you can change your mind and agree to receive care that you originally declined. You may also choose to switch providers at any time—even during labor if you wish.
Many women choose to create a birth plan in conjunction with their care providers. However, your birth plan is not a binding contract and your care provider is not required to follow it. It’s best to think of your birth plan as a summation of your goals or as a guideline. “I am happy to discuss birth plans with my patients; it can help alleviate any concerns or apprehension they have about labor,” says Dr. Ahmad. “However I caution them that, during labor and delivery, we cannot predict what the initial presentation or ensuing course will be like, and therefore, I let them know that there is nothing in a birth plan that cannot be changed, based on maternal status.”
Choosing a Facility
You can choose to give birth at any facility you like, but be aware that your care provider will have a limited list of places he or she will go. You also have the right to choose to deliver your child at home, but again your care provider has the right not to attend (and your insurance may cover only certain facilities and providers). Discuss these options with your doctor or midwife in advance and find a provider who will go where you need him or her.
Your Rights after Birth
You have the right to insist that your baby remain in your hospital room with you (“rooming in“), but you might have to release the hospital from liability. You may also refuse to accept the hospital’s feeding schedule for infants and feed your newborn on any schedule you prefer (such as “on demand”). You may refuse to allow some tests on your infant, but be aware that some are mandated by state law and cannot be refused. (States commonly require tests for PKU, blindness, and hearing problems. Check with your care provider for information on mandated tests in your state.) You have the right to leave the hospital with your baby at any time you choose.
You are truly in control of the medical care you receive—it’s your body after all! Don’t be afraid to get the information you are entitled to and stick to the decisions that are right for you. Remember that presenting your questions and concerns in a respectful and non-threatening manner will lead your caregiver to respond in a thoughtful and helpful way.
Note: This article is intended as general information only and is not intended to serve as legal advice or as a substitute for legal counsel.
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