Today, moms-to-be have more choice over their pregnancy and birth experience than ever before. That empowerment and confidence comes from being able to ask questions when you have them, speak up when needed, and communicate your needs as a patient.
But for many women, self-advocacy is easier said than done. “Speaking up for yourself may seem intimidating at first because your healthcare provider is viewed as an authority,” says Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, a board-certified ob/gyn.
Here, Dr. Rankins offers six ways to advocate for yourself throughout your pregnancy journey.
1. Trust your intuition.
The very first step to self-advocacy, Dr. Rankins says, is to listen to your inner voice. Only you can know what you want and how you feel, and it’s up to you to communicate that outward. “This is your pregnancy, your labor, your birth. If something feels off, or you have questions or concerns, please speak up!” she urges.
2. Find the right provider.
The relationship between a patient and her healthcare provider is an important one, especially during pregnancy. You’re going to be seeing a lot of each other and making decisions together about your prenatal and postpartum care. You need someone you feel comfortable with.
How do you know it’s a good fit? Consider the following:
- Do you feel comfortable communicating your needs to this person?
- Do you feel comfortable asking questions or raising concerns?
- Do you feel respected?
- Do you feel heard?
If your answers are more “no” than “yes,” then you might want to look for another provider or practice who will encourage you to advocate for yourself. “A good relationship with your healthcare provider means you feel comfortable bringing up your questions and concerns and confident that their answers are in your best interest,” says Dr. Rankins.
Mom Laura* wanted to find a doctor that she could develop a good relationship with. “I saw a few different OBs before I found the one I felt most comfortable with,” she explained. I chose to stay with that OB and continue my pregnancy care, labor, and postpartum care with [them]. I think once you find the person . . . it is easier to ask the tougher/uncomfortable questions.”
3. Write down your (many) questions.
Can I eat this? Is this medication safe to take? Was that a contraction? Am I gaining the right amount of weight? It’s normal to have questions, especially if this is your first pregnancy. And it can be a lot to remember, especially if you feel overwhelmed during your pregnancy appointments.
When you come in for a prenatal or a postpartum appointment, Dr. Rankins suggests writing your questions down ahead of time. Jotting them down not only makes it easier to remember everything you want to address, but can help build your confidence in communicating those questions to your healthcare provider. When he or she asks “Do you have any questions?” you’ll be ready to go!
4. Connect on a deeper level.
Yes, your healthcare provider has a medical degree, but they are also human. So try to connect with them on that human level. Voice your concerns by saying things like “I’m worried because” or “I’m concerned because” or “I’m nervous about.”
“After our first ultrasound appointment, my husband was not allowed in anymore due to COVID restrictions,” explains new mom, Erica. That was really hard to cope with, as my anxiety was pretty high. My doctor and nurse were very kind, always encouraging me to call/FaceTime my husband so they could answer any questions he had as well.”
By opening up emotionally, you’ll leave room for them to do the same with their response. When you explain what’s important to you, it will help them better understand where you’re coming from. Remember, they’ve seen it all, and they want what’s best for you.
5. Ask open-ended questions.
Consider asking open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Phrasing questions with “what” or “why” or “how” will give way to more detailed answers from your healthcare provider. Chances are, having more information will make you feel more comfortable.
Still unclear? “It’s OK to keep asking your healthcare provider for clarification until you understand the answer,” Dr. Rankins insists. “Ask them ‘What does that mean?’ or ‘Can you explain that to me?’ until you feel informed about what’s going on.”
Let’s say your healthcare provider proposes an intervention and you have concerns about it. Raising these questions can help you gain clarity about the situation:
- Why are you proposing this? What are the benefits for me and my baby?
- What are the risks for me and my baby?
- What are the alternatives?
- Why does it have to be done right now? What would happen if we waited?
Remember, asking questions is not being pushy, and it’s not dismissing your healthcare provider’s knowledge or expertise. In fact, this process has a name: shared decision making.
Remain calm and persistent until your concerns are addressed. “And if things get tense when you bring up questions, that may be a sign that you need to find another healthcare provider,” Dr. Rankins assures.
6. BYOS (bring your own support).
Ask if you can bring a partner, friend, family member, or doula to all your prenatal appointments. Having this support will become even more important during your labor and birth. Labor is emotional and intense, and you want to be able to focus your energy on the experience. Plus, it’s possible that the healthcare provider you had during your prenatal visits—the one you’ve been connecting with for the past nine months—may not be there for your birth.
“It’s hugely beneficial to have someone with you who can advocate on your behalf,” Dr. Rankins advises. “Any trusted person who is comfortable speaking up for you, especially if you can’t do it yourself in the moment, is a great addition to your birth team.”
Remember, mama: This is your body, your baby, and your birth. You should feel empowered to ask questions when you have them, speak up when needed, and communicate your needs as a patient—and those around you should support you along the way. Learning how to stand up for yourself is a useful skill that will serve you and your family well, far into the future.
*name has been changed
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