By Ali Weatherford

If you’re wondering whether you should tour your hospital before you go into labor, my answer is YES! If you can only do a virtual tour, do it! If you can go in person, that’s even better. If you can do it before choosing a location, that’s best.

Choosing a Location

It’s important that you feel comfortable and safe in your birth setting. Labor is a very hormonally driven bodily function, and stress hormones can interfere with its safe and easy progress. However, it’s not possible for everyone to have choices. There are parts of the country where there might not be ANY maternity hospitals, or where the nearest one is uncomfortably far away and the next nearest one is twice the distance. It’s possible that the nearest hospitals don’t provide excellent care or have a NICU. Your insurance might also limit your options.

Some people might opt for a home birth or birth center setting instead, and that could be the right thing for you, especially if the hospital option causes you significant difficulty or stress. In this case, there are likely midwives with good experience and credentials, and you’ll want to make sure you do your homework when choosing your provider just like you would a doctor or hospital.

For others, the idea of a birth center or home birth is stressful. Some people feel most safe in the hospital setting, and will choose it regardless of any difficulties. In this case, people who live very far away from their nearest hospital might decide to stay with family or friends nearby, or rent a home or hotel in the days or weeks leading up to their due date. This actually happens quite often, and might be a good choice if it gives you peace of mind. Keeping those stress levels down can be really helpful!

What to choose first, provider or hospital?

Remember that if you have chosen a specific doctor or midwife that you feel very safe and comfortable with, you will most likely only have one option for your birth location. So if you don’t want to have to switch providers, you’ll need to go wherever they attend births.

Some people choose the hospital first, provider second, other people do the opposite. Either way works as long as you feel like it’s the right thing for you.

Getting a Feel for the Best Location

If you’re in a situation where you have multiple good options, visiting the locations can help you choose. It’s best to schedule a tour with the labor and delivery unit if you can, or you might just go visit the hospital on your own if that’s not offered. You can read about all of the options and amenities on the websites, but visiting the hospital can give you a feel for what it will be like to be there as a patient. Even when you’re choosing from several excellent hospitals, each one will have its own personality, and one might feel more or less right for you. As long as the other things that are important to you, such as doctor availability, cesarean or episiotomy rates, distance from home, etc. match up pretty closely, it’s great to go with what feels right.

Reasons to Tour

There are a lot of very good reasons to tour the facility whether you’re still undecided or whether you have chosen already.

  1. Parking: It can be stressful to find parking at a hospital. At some facilities it’s very easy, but others have a more complicated set up, so going there and actually driving around can help you feel more at ease and prepared for the real thing. If you find that the parking situation is too stressful for you, you might instead plan to get a ride to the hospital. You can ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to be on call for you, or you can hire a rideshare or taxi service.
  2. Hospital navigation: Some hospitals are HUGE or complicated. Some are big enough to have multiple elevators that don’t all go to the same floors so even finding the right elevator to get you to the right floor can be tricky. Some hospitals have lots of good signs to help you find the right department, but others don’t. Going there and getting familiar with the layout can help you feel more sure of yourself for finding the right place during labor.
  3. Personality: Each hospital has its own personality. It might be very bright and cheerful. It might be more elegant and serene. How do you feel when you walk in? If the hospital matches your personality, you’ll probably feel better being there.
  4. Amenities: It might be helpful to see all of the available amenities at a hospital. You can usually expect to be a hospital patient for about 3 days in the case of a quick vaginal birth and as long as 6 days or more with complications, a long induction, or surgery. A hospital stay can be more pleasant when the rooms are bigger and when the facility has some conveniences like good food nearby and comfortable waiting rooms or family areas.
  5. Information: Guided tours can offer lots of great insider information about the hospital. Make sure to take ALL of your questions and take notes. Depending on your tour guide, you can expect to come away with a lot more information than you might get just from reading the online materials. Here are some examples of questions you might want to ask if it’s not covered during the tour:
    • Will it help to call ahead when I’m in labor? Will someone meet us outside?
    • What’s the best way to handle parking/getting in?
    • How long does the triage process usually take and what all is involved?
    • Is there ever a waiting time to get into a delivery room?
    • I’m interested in using these (insert your favorite things such as balls, showers, bath tubs, wireless monitors, squat bars, warm compresses, etc.) tools for labor, do you have them here? Or do I need to bring my own?
    • How much of the time will I have a nurse with me in direct care?
    • I get hungry often and I’m nervous about not being able to eat. I’d like to bring some of my own healthy snacks from home. How is that usually handled during labor?
    • I’m interested in using peanut balls during my labor. Is everyone here comfortable with helping me use them?
    • I might like to try multiple positions for pushing during labor. Will I be well-supported?
    • What is the policy for cervical checks here?
    • How often do you see episiotomies happen here?
    • What is this hospital’s cesarean rate? (It’s also important to ask your own doctor for their cesarean rate if you have that concern. Even if the hospital has a higher rate, your own doctor’s might be especially low and that might be even more important.)
    • How long does it usually take to get an anesthesiologist here for epidurals? I’m planning to have one and just want to know so I can decide when to ask for it.
    • I plan to breastfeed exclusively. How will I be supported toward this goal? Immediate skin-to-skin? No separation from my baby? Delayed procedures?
    • Can I expect to visit with a lactation consultant at some point? And when?
    • If I can’t be with my baby for any reason, can I expect help expressing breast milk and getting it to my baby?
    • Is donor breast milk available if I can’t provide milk for any reason?

How to Tour

You might call the hospital labor and delivery unit to set up a tour, or you might set it up through your obstetrician’s office. It’s a good idea to ask about this during one of your prenatal visits. They will likely be able to steer you in the right direction.

Once you have it set up, I love to encourage people to do a dry run. Pretend that you’re actually in labor. Of course, you probably won’t know exactly which day of the week or what time of day you’ll be needing to head to the hospital, so it’s fine to do this at any time.


You might time how long it takes to get there and find parking. If the parking situation is tricky, ask someone about what you should do when you’re actually in labor. Sometimes they’ll offer an easier suggestion such as temporarily leaving your car near a particular entrance while you get to the right place in the hospital and then letting someone take your car to an appropriate parking spot. As long as parking is fairly simple, I do like to recommend that everyone park and walk in together. I don’t like the idea of dropping off the laboring person in front of the hospital to wait or find their own way in.

Drop Off Procedures

If you need to do a drop off because of a complicated parking situation, I recommend doing this in a modified way. You can probably find a place to safely leave your vehicle for a few minutes with the hazard lights on until you can be escorted to the right area or handed off to someone who knows where they’re going, preferably a doula or nurse.

Things to Pay Attention To

While you’re touring, imagine what it might be like to be in labor and in recovery there. What kinds of things will you want or need? Consider some of these things:

  • How’s the lighting?
  • Is it noisy or quiet?
  • Is the bed comfortable?
  • Is there a bed for your partner and is it comfortable?
  • Do they have the tools you might like to use during labor and for postpartum such as:
    • birth balls
    • peanut balls
    • squat bars
    • wireless monitors
    • pads
    • gowns
    • etc
  • What is the bathroom like?
  • How’s the storage? Will you find places for all of your things?
  • Is there room to move around?
  • What about for the baby?
    • blankets
    • diapers
    • bed
    • clothing
  • How about towels and bedding? Do they work for you, or will you want to bring your own?

You might feel a lot better after taking a tour. Most people have never seen a live birth and when you’ve never given birth yourself either, it’s very hard to know what it will be like. Doing a dry run and getting to know your facility can remove some of the mystery and stress. You’ll have a place to visualize, and can do some things to prepare for your experience in that place. Everyone could use a little more peace of mind leading up to their first birth and parenting experiences, so do this for yourself!