Bringing Home Baby: Doctors and Parents on Making Big Decisions

Parents: A Warmer Environment Helps the Stress

One reader, Theresa, said that she sincerely wished she'd known more about alternative birthing options before having her daughter. Her hospital experience was OK, she tells TheDoctor, but a birthing center or other environment that offered more personalized care would have made the process much more enjoyable in retrospect.

In the same vein, Rebecca says that she was so terrified of the process, a birthing center could have made all the difference -- if she'd only known that they existed. "In retrospect," she says, "I would have used one. But knowing myself, because I was so scared of the birth process in general and its potential complications, I would have 100 percent chosen one offered by a hospital. A home birth was the only other option I knew of, and I wouldn't have felt comfortable on that end of the spectrum."

Doctors: Have the Best of Both Worlds

Dr. McAllister agrees that she would also want the peace of mind that comes with giving birth in a hospital. "Although I would have loved to have delivered my babies at home, I have to admit that it still makes me a little nervous. Having witnessed dozens of hospital deliveries in which either the mom or the newborn required emergency care, I wanted to have immediate access to the highly skilled physicians, nurses, and other trained professionals that could provide that lifesaving care if my baby needed it."

This is another decision that's very much a matter of personal choice -- and comfort level. In many cases, alternative options can work out problem-free. 

"The vast majority of pregnancies are uneventful, and mom and baby do just fine," says McAllister. "Women have been delivering babies forever, and our bodies know just what to do!" If you are interested in other, less conventional options (and there are several), they may be worth looking into, by talking to doctors and friends, researching options on the Internet, and the best method -- touring the hospital or birthing center and talking to the staff yourself.

Zeroing in on the Best Information

Given the almost comical amount of information out there on pregnancy, childbirth, and babyhood, finding the right sources can be challenging. Books, websites, and television shows can be informative, but they can also overwhelm. For a life event that is already stress-inducing by its very nature, it's important to find clear, research-based information that serves to educate, not to scare.

It may be tempting to just put off informing yourself, or to make a quick decision, but as the comments here suggest, the decisions you make regarding the birth and early care of your baby have a way of staying with you. They are life decisions, and you will be happier if you do your homework. Even if you end up deciding to do something differently the next time around, knowing why you made the choice you did is bound to produce more peace of mind.

Parents: Stay Away From Anxiety-Producing Information

One reader, Heather, told us that she wished she had laid off the advice books about the birth process during pregnancy, and spent her time on reading up about the baby's needs. She says, "especially towards the end of the pregnancy, I spent a ton of time reading books about childbirth in the hopes that somehow I would learn what it would feel like and get a sense of what my experience would be like, which of course is impossible from books. It did nothing to quell my anxiety."

Another mother, Sandy, said that she wished she hadn't taken the hospital tour before going there in earnest to have the baby, because it only served to scare her. The equipment, the sterility of the place, and the sounds from the birthing rooms were not what this mother needed to experience prior to "D-day" itself. These parents agree that though it's good to be prepared in some ways, there's a fine line between awareness and anxiety.

Doctors: Look for Cited, Expert-Written Sources

McAllister underlines that education is good, but it's all about where you get your information. "As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. The more moms-to-be know about pregnancy and delivery, the better decisions they'll make. I think the question is not so much whether new moms should educate themselves, rather it's how they choose to educate themselves." She recommends staying away from "scary reality shows and books that focus on all the things that can go wrong during pregnancy and delivery.... Worry and emotional stress isn't good for anyone, especially moms-to-be and their unborn babies."

It is important to pay attention to where the information comes from. That means the information you use has to have references or clearly state the source of the facts and figures mentioned in it so you can determine how valid the information is. Check who authored the health information you're using.

Go to trusted sources like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. These are all excellent sources for information on pregnancy, childbirth, and baby's health and behavior, says McAllister. Try to stay away from sites that have no author listed or no biographical information, or which don't give references -- cite journal articles, reputable websites. or books -- for their information. Pay attention to who is behind any websites you use. Avoid sites sponsored by commercial enterprises that would appear to have a vested interest (such as a baby formula manufacturer) in the information.

Remember that the process of having a baby is not a one-size-fits-all situation -- so it is helpful to seek out multiple takes on any issue and choose the one that fits you and your baby best. "Often, there's more than one way to do things right, and there's more than one good answer to any problem," McAllister tells us. "The more you read and understand the facts, the better prepared you'll be to make the decisions that are best for you and your baby."

Be Prepared ... To Be Anxious -- And Trust Your Baby

It's important to keep in mind that women have been having babies for millennia, and in many ways, the female is well prepared for it, in body and mind. The idea behind educating yourself before having a baby is the same as it is for buying a car -- so you can make a better informed decision you are more likely to be happy with.

Yes, there is a lot of information out there, and it can easily have the unwanted effect of making one feel as if she doesn't know what she's doing, or is ill-prepared. As Sarah told us, "I wish I knew to trust my instincts. I wish I knew all babies are not the same. Just because a book (or the Internet) says a baby does X, doesn't mean your baby will. I was concerned if the book said babies drink 16 oz of milk and mine was drinking 'only' 13 oz., etc. I called La Leche for advice so many times, I finally could diagnose myself just by listing the answers to questions I knew 'the experts' would ask. After about a year, I realized I was doing it correctly!"

Polin agrees that keeping it simple and using your intuition is the way to go: "You don't have to be perfect," he says. "When I was growing up, mothers just did what they thought was best, and the kids turned out OK. Maybe we should do more of that these days."

It's true that the days and weeks before and after a baby is born can be overwhelming, draining, and full of questions. But relaxing into it as much as possible can help it along. Like anything else that is new and challenging, having a baby is bound to make you a little anxious. So be prepared for that.

Sarah adds, "My biggest thing is I wish I knew the baby is the true expert  -- only he or she knows what he or she wants, and it may be different (more or less, earlier or later...) than other babies; and that's OK." The process can be overwhelming, but it can also be wonderful -- though it's easier said than done, worrying and comparing yourself to others less helps highlight the joys, so that the hardships can fade away.

Image: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili.

This article originally appeared on

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Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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