How to Advocate for Yourself in the Delivery Room

by Charlie Fletcher April 10, 2024

newborn baby on woman's chest

Birth—it’s perhaps the greatest and most transformative moment of your entire life. It’s also the most difficult and frightening you have maybe ever experienced. It’s the moment you bring your baby into the world.

Whether you give birth in the hospital or at home, in a bed or an operating room, or in a warm bath, childbirth is an arduous process. There’s a reason why they call it labor, after all. Almost inevitably, there will be choices to be made. Also, inevitably, it’s not going to go exactly as you had imagined, planned, or expected.

Unfortunately, for many laboring mothers, the unexpected is more than a surprise. It can be deeply traumatic, especially if they feel pressured or coerced into childbirth decisions that perhaps they were unprepared for. (If you’ve had a traumatic birth, please give yourself kindness, seek help, and check out these resources.) That’s why it’s so important to learn how to be your own best advocate in the delivery room.

Why Advocacy Matters

Childbirth may be the most natural process in the world, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult choices to make. Questions about where you want to give birth are likely to be settled before the baby comes.

Nevertheless, your little one is more than likely to throw you a few curveballs along the way. You may have vowed, perhaps, to forego the epidural. When the pivotal moment comes, though, and you’re facing a long and difficult labor, you might change your mind. You may have determined that anesthesia is the only humane way to make it through the process, particularly in light of new evidence that shows that epidurals neither prolong labor nor increase the chance of a Cesarean.

Knowing how to advocate for yourself equips you with the tools you need to protect your right to change your birth plan when and if you need it. At the same time, self-advocacy ensures that you are not pressured to submit to procedures you don’t want, procedures that you feel might not be best for you or your child, such as the use of forceps or vacuum extraction.

Indeed, though you’ll be given life’s greatest gift in the end, the truth is that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to medical experiences is a real thing. You are also perhaps never more vulnerable than when you are giving birth.

Thus, when you combine this already fraught experience with potential coercion from healthcare providers or even spouses and family members, you may well leave the delivery room feeling powerless and traumatized.

Find your People

One of the first and most important things that you can do to advocate for yourself in the delivery room is to assemble the right support teams and to build a dynamic in which you, not your doctor, your partner, or any other person, have the final say, particularly when the big moment comes.

This also means finding a physician and healthcare team who will acknowledge and understand your pain, who will pay attention and respect to your experiences, including your reporting of symptoms that the healthcare team may not expect.

This can be easier said than done, however, as research has shown that women’s pain is often dismissed, downplayed, or misdiagnosed. Thus, it’s imperative to find a physician who will honor, believe, and respond to your experiences.

As you assemble your support team and establish your leadership role in this profound process, it’s also important to remember that there will almost certainly be moments in the delivery room when you just can’t fight for yourself. In those moments, you’ll need to have appointed someone to step in and be your voice. This may be your partner, your mother or sister, or a close friend.

For many women, though, this role is filled by a professional, such as a doula. Doulas are specially trained to support mothers and babies before, during, and immediately after birth. They can also be the most effective and knowledgeable advocates a woman can bring with her into the delivery room. Moreover, because childbirth is a doula’s career, they can provide expert advice and reassurance throughout the process, which can be deploy empowering and comforting for laboring moms.

The Takeaway

Childbirth is the most powerful experience most will ever encounter. After all, it’s the moment you become a new person, the moment you are transformed into someone’s mom, the moment you welcome a little soul into the world and immediately become the center of their young world.

At the same time, childbirth can be frightening and even traumatic for women in labor. This is why knowing how to advocate for yourself and your child in the delivery room is so critically important. From building the right support team to enlisting a trained professional, such as a doula, there are steps you can take to ensure that you remain heard and empowered throughout this profound and precious process.

Charlie Fletcher


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