Rights During Labor and Delivery

Doctor examining a pregnant woman

Women who are about to give birth need to know their rights during labor and delivery. This important information may help to make them feel more comfortable about what will happen once they arrive at the hospital.

Basic Rights during Labor and Delivery

Part of the reason a mother-to-be may become apprehensive as her due date approaches is the worry that she will no longer be in control of what happens or the type of care she receives at the hospital. This is not the case--the woman who is laboring has the right to be fully informed about procedures her doctor is proposing and the risks and benefits associated with them. She also has the right to refuse treatment or change her mind about the treatment she is being given.

Right to Informed Consent

A woman in labor has the same rights that any other patient has: to have a proposed course of treatment explained in language that a lay person can understand. The conversation must include information about the risks involved to the patient, as well as alternatives that are available. In the case of a pregnant woman, the health care provider must also explain the effects of any medications on the baby.

The doctor must disclose all information to the patient, even if he worries that the information may upset or scare the pregnant woman. But, some doctors may not take the time to provide all of this information to a woman in labor, especially if he assumes that the patient has attended prenatal classes or has done her own research about standard procedures and treatments offered by the hospital.

A patient always has the right to ask for more information or clarification if something doesn't make sense to her. Once she has the facts, the laboring woman then gives or refuses consent to medical treatment.

Right to Refuse Treatment

A patient being treated by a doctor has the right to refuse treatment and a woman in labor is no different. The woman may decide that she doesn't want a particular procedure or medication after the doctor explains it to her. She can even leave the hospital if she chooses to.

Refusing treatment against medical advice is her right, even though it may not be the best or safest choice for her or her baby. If a woman does so, her decision will be noted on her chart by the doctor who is treating her. The best way to avoid these types of situations is for the woman to find a doctor she respects and trusts before she gets close to her due date.

Right to Change Her Mind

A woman may imagine her labor differently than what actually happens once it starts. Some women decide in advance that they are not going to use pain relieving medications during their labor but find the contractions are harder to manage than they expected.

A woman can change her mind about whether she wants an epidural or other pain meds. If she signed a consent form to have one administered and finds that she is managing her contractions without it, she also has the right to inform the medical staff that she doesn't want one.

Signing Consent Forms

A pregnant woman's rights during labor and delivery also extend to the consent forms she is asked to sign when she is admitted to the hospital. Before signing, she should read the document thoroughly. The woman can cross out anything she doesn't consent to and make substitutions or additions as well.

For example, the woman may not want to be examined by medical students if she has been admitted to a teaching hospital but has no objections to sharing her medical history with one. This fact can be noted on the consent forms.

A pregnant woman has certain rights during labor and delivery. Understanding those rights can make the process of having a baby feel a bit more comfortable to her, since she will feel more like she has some say in the process.

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Rights During Labor and Delivery