For many women, having a baby is their first experience of being in hospital. Suddenly finding yourself in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by strange equipment, can be very unnerving. Ideally, part of your antenatal care should include a tour of the maternity unit where your baby will be bom. You will have the opportunity to see the equipment and familiarize yourself with the environment.
What will be there
It is worth making an effort to iearn what the various instruments are used for as this will help to reduce anxiety. If you do not see this equipment until you are in labour, you will probably be too preoccupied to ask questions about their functions.
Your hospital room will probably be dominated by the bed, which is usually in the centre so that people can move around it. The rooms are often not very big so, if the midwife is at one side of the bed, your partner will need to move to the other side to stay close to you.
The design of the bed will enable it to be raised or lowered, either manually or electronically, and it can have stirrups inserted in case you need to have a forceps or a ventouse delivery. Many beds can be converted into birthing chairs by removing the end and putting the head upright. Ask the midwife to show you the various options, because these will make you consider the possible positions in which you could give birth - if you choose to stay on the bed for the birth.
There will usually be several items of equipment in the room. These will include:
A cardiotocograph (CTG): to monitor your baby's heartbeat and your contractions. A Doppler, which is a hand-held device for listening to your baby's heartbeat. Gas and air (Entonox) which may be piped through a tube in the wall of the room or in a canister, and has either a mouthpiece or a facemask attached to it. You will have a canister of gas and air to use even if you are in a bath or on the floor rather than on the bed.
Emergency equipment: should be available in all rooms and will include oxygen in case you need it. If there is a chance of your baby needing oxygen when he is born, a resuscitaire will probably be brought into the room. This is a trolley, with a space for the baby to be checked over, a lamp and a heater to keep him warm, and oxygen and suction should he need it. A sphygmomanometer to measure your blood pressure. Your blood pressure will be checked at various times throughout labour.
There are a number of things that you could consider using during the birth, but you may have to ask about them because they may be stored elsewhere in the hospital, or you may need to provide them yourself. Birthing aids such as a bean bag, birthing chair, birthing ball or rocking chair, can be very useful for encouraging a more active birth. Birthing pools are increasingly used and many maternity units have more than one delivery room with a pool. Extra comforts may be available, such as a cassette- or CD-player, so ask in advance. Music can be very useful during labour and you might like to choose a selection that you will find relaxing.
Getting to know the staff
If the birth is completely straightforward, there will be no need for you to see anyone other than the midwives looking after you, as they are the experts at looking after healthy women in labour. However, there are occasions when you will meet other staff on the delivery ward, such as:
An obstetrician: A doctor specializing in the care of women who have complications during pregnancy, labour or the postnatal period.
An anaesthetist: A doctor specializing in anaesthetics, who would put an epidural in position. If you had to go to an operating theatre, an anaesthetist would be there, not only to provide an epidural or general anaesthetic but also to help out if excessive bleeding occurs.
A pediatrician: A doctor specializing in babies and child health who will check your baby after the birth. A paediatrician would be present at instrumental deliveries or if any problem was anticipated with your baby, for example, premature labour.
Students: Looking after women in labour is obviously an essential part of a student's training, but your permission should always be asked first.
Other staff: There will also be a number of other people on the labour ward, for example, healthcare assistants, porters and theatre staff.