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How to stand up for your rights in pregnancy and birth


Knowing your rights in pregnancy and learning how to question information given to you. These are two of the most important things I teach hypnobirthing couples in my classes. Knowing your rights and being able to discern if the information given to you is right for you can make a massive difference to the care you receive and the decisions you make.


Confrontational questions

Some of the questions I used to teach couples to ask their care providers were a bit forthright and ‘in your face’. Some people are very non confrontational and I could see them squirm when I went through these question with them. I could see that under normal circumstances they would never dream of questioning a medical professional. I always say to these couples this is about standing up for your partner and your unborn baby. You have to put aside any uncomfortable feelings, not doing so could have lasting repercussions for your partner and your baby. But it's easy for me to say!



During my first pregnancy I didn't ever come up against anything I needed to question or push back on. My pregnancy was easy, with no complications and I was supported by my midwife team in my decision to have a home birth. I did a hypnobirthing course when I was pregnant and knew the questions I would need to ask should the need arise but it never did. I never got the chance to see how/if I would stand up to a midwife or consultant.


I'm now currently pregnant with number two. At my very first booking appointment I got the chance to see how I would do at exercising my rights and question some information given to me. The first situation was this: due to the fact that my first baby had a low birth weight I am being referred to a consultant. The midwife told me I would have to ask the consultant if I would still be allowed to have a home birth! My response was easy and firm "I do not have to ask the consultant if I can have a home birth, it's my right to choose to give birth at home". She quickly changed her response to "Oh, er, you'll have to inform the consultant that you're planning to have a home birth".


Being given wrong information

The second incident was more to do with me being given some wrong information. The midwife gave me a magazine with lots of information about breastfeeding. I asked if there was any information about continuing to breastfeed your first child during pregnancy but she said there wasn't. I asked if your breast milk always dries up during pregnancy. She said "Not always but if it doesn't dry up and you don't stop breastfeeding your body won't produce colostrum. Your new baby will miss out on it and only get 'full fat milk'." I knew this information was incorrect! I had done a bit of research myself and read about this on Facebook breastfeeding support groups, so I questioned this and told her I thought she was wrong. However, when doing so I wasn't 100% sure I was right and so was nowhere near as firm as I was on the first point and also went bright red when refuting her! I was 90% sure I was right but that 10% of uncertainty really made me less sure of myself (and blush like a teenager).


Luckily the midwife had to leave the room at this point. I did a quick search on La Leche League website which confirmed to me that the body will produce colostrum whether or not it is being removed (by a breastfeeding toddler). When she came back I told her what I found and she did gracefully say "I stand corrected."



The information on breastfeeding she gave me was wrong. As it's another subject I'm passionate about I had already done some research on it and was pretty sure I was right. But it did get me thinking about how the couples I teach must feel in a similar situation. They're not experts on birth or hypnobirthing. The dads in particular have only had one lesson on what their rights are and how to ask the right questions to get the right information. Usually the mums will have also read the book so will have had the lesson reinforced by their reading. But still I'm asking parents with only a little knowledge on the subject to stand up and question medical professionals. These are people who have studied for many years to do the jobs they do, it's no wonder some couples might feel intimidated doing it.

So what can you do about it?


Do your own research

In most cases there is time to do a bit of research. You don’t generally have to give an answer on the spot and should always allowed time to consider any suggestions made to you. These days everyone has a smartphone and sometimes all you need is a few minutes to do a google search. Some great places to get evidence based information on pregnancy and birth related matter are:

They have a website with a wealth of useful information on it, publications. They also have a helpline you can call to ask any pregnancy or birth related questions.

Evidence Based Birth® is an online childbirth resource that informs, empowers and inspires expecting parents and practitioners to understand the latest, proven, evidence based care practices. .

Sara is a midwife, author and researcher. Her website and facebook page contains hundreds of free articles and blog posts for anyone seeking information about birth.

These are an independent review of all the studies on particular subjects. They can be a bit academic but are also aimed at healthcare users. Do a google search with the words cochrane + the thing you’re researching e.g. cochrane induction for post dates.

These are the guidelines hospitals should be following. Do a google search for NICE guidelines + the thing you’re searching for e.g. nice guidelines gestational diabetes.


Push your embarrassment to one side

Sometimes you have swallow your embarrassment and think about the consequences of not asking questions or standing up for your rights. You have to consider the long term. How long will you remember the momentary embarrassment of questioning a Dr or midwife you may never see again? Compare that to how long you may regret a decision or path your labour and birth took.


Say it with a smile!

You can get away with so much more if you say it with a smile. I'm sure you've all been in a situation where you've said something really cheeky to someone but did it with a smile and therefore got away with it. The reason is smiling disarms people and it also releases oxytocin in you and the person being smiled at making everyone feel calmer.




Curiosity

Questioning your care and any decisions being offered to you doesn't have to be confrontational. I always teach couples to come at it from a place of curiosity “I'm curious to know why is that” or “I'm curious to know why exactly are you suggesting that for me." In most cases a midwife or obstetrician will be happy to share their reasons with you.


Act dumb!

The other way to question things and get more information from your maternity team is to ask questions from a place of ignorance! “I'm sorry, I really don't understand that, can you explain it for me in layman's terms”. This one is brilliant because it takes away any kind of confrontational feel to the conversation. You're handing the power over to them them and their (usually) superior knowledge on the subject. You're also getting them to really breakdown what it is they're suggesting. If it still doesn't sound good to you in simple terms then it may not be the right course of action for you.


The choice is always yours

The most important thing to remember is that everything is an offer! You're a grown adult with full mental capacity so no one can make you do anything you don’t want to. Many things will be presented to you as if it’s the only option but you ALWAYS have a choice!


To find out more ways you can help empower yourself with vital skills for pregnancy and birth book on to one of my hypnobirthing classes here.

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