Ask A Doula: Those Mysterious Hospital Policies, Protocols and Procedures

I’m a brand new doula just starting out and my client just asked me about what the policies are at her hospital. I panicked! I’ve only done two births, and none at her hospital yet. How can I find out what are the policies, procedures and protocols at my area hospitals?

This can really be a tricky thing for several different reasons: Hospitals are unlikely to just give you a copy of their documents to read, they tend to be living documents that change over time, care providers often have their own, and occasionally you have staff that claim things are “hospital policy” when they are not. Multiply that by the number of hospitals you regularly work in and it can be really difficult to keep up! So over your career, you’ll need to make an effort to stay current on these things.

Here are some ways you can learn about policy and keep current on it:

Ask the hospital

You can call labor and delivery, ask if the nurse has time to chat, and explain that you’re a new doula and will be coming in soon. Ask a *few* questions, prioritizing what is relevant to your client.
When you’re attending a birth, again, ask as relevant. You don’t have to know all of it at once. You can sometimes stop at the nurses station on the way out and ask a few questions if the nurse has time to chat. In my experience, most nurses are happy to visit if they have time.
If you network with the childbirth educators at the hospital, they can also be a great source of information. I teach classes in a hospital and I have full access to the documentation on the hospital’s computers, and I have looked things up for local doulas when possible.

Ask other doulas

If you have doula friends, a mentor, or a local private social media group for doulas, you can ask there. Most doulas are happy to share their experiences, though occasionally you’ll get contradictory responses and that can be confusing. I just chalk it up to provider differences. If you don’t have these things, start networking and building those relationships and before you know it, you’ll be able to pay it forward!

Have your client ask their care provider

This is my preferred technique, as it can help the client feel comfortable talking about these issues with their care provider, it guarantees the answer will be a fit for both the provider and the hospital, and the answers are current. When I get questions about policies, protocols or procedures, I tend to say something to my client like this:

“That’s a great question for your care provider! In my experiences at Local Hospital, I’ve seen some variations in how things are done and I’m sure your midwife will be happy to explain it to you.”

This tends to be something you learn over time, not something you get in a single day.

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