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Your Delivery Options

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Experts offer inside tips on getting the birth you want:

If you disagree with your doctor's birthing practices, switch physicians right away. To find a new doctor, "call the delivery unit at your hospital and talk to nurses," suggests Mary Jean Schumann, R.N., director of nursing practice and policy for the American Nurses Association. "Ask them who they like."

Don't waste time with an out-of-date birth plan form. "A lot of birth plans that people use have been floating around since the late '70s or early '80s and address outdated practices like having an enema and shaving the pubic hair," says Dr. Shanahan. "We don't do those things anymore."

Tour your hospital or birthing center. "Sometimes people put things in birth plans that aren't available," says Ashlesha Dayal, M.D., an ob-gyn at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. Be open to learning about alternatives. If a hospital can't provide a water birth, it may offer comforts such as birthing balls or squat bars.

Appoint your spouse or labor coach to look out for you. Assign him or her the task of hunting for the anesthesiologist if you want pain relief, or finding the ob if it seems like it should be time to push. "Women often don't realize that once they go into labor, they may not be able to be their own advocate," Schumann says.

Make clear your personal and religious preferences. "Maybe you'd like prayers said immediately or for the father to be first to hold the baby. It's good to have that written down for hospital staff," says Jerri Hobdy, a certified nurse-midwife and program director of the Midwifery Institute at Philadelphia University.

Find out who will deliver if your caregiver isn't there. It will likely be one of your doctor's or midwife's partners; make sure they know your preferences as well, Schumann advises.

Avoid absolutes. "The words always and never don't have much of a place in labor and delivery," Hobdy says. "Don't say, 'No medication.' Say, 'I want to try to avoid medication.' That's more realistic."

Be flexible. "Nothing is written in stone," says Robin Dietel, R.N., a labor nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, WI. "Labor is unpredictable. We never know what to expect, but if you have a birth plan, at least we will know your preferences and try to accommodate them."

Beth Howard is a Babytalk contributing editor and mother from Charlotte, North Carolina.