One of the keys of ethical medical practice is the principle of informed consent. Basically, this means the woman understands what is being done, why it is being done and the risk it entails before she decides to accept or decline a treatment.
The problem is that true informed consent is difficult to achieve during labor. During labor the mother may not be listening to what is said, or have the attention span to listen to all the other options. There may not be time during labor to explain everything the woman needs to know.
It has become increasingly important for a woman to research the options available for handling labor and the birth process during pregnancy. This is not only due to the impossibility of learning everything she needs to know during office visits, but also because standards of care and the common interventions vary not only between communities, but also between caregivers. This is the most important, and sometimes most difficult part of birth planning. By understanding the options available to you, you are best equipped to make the right decision for your situaiton.
What do you need to know to give informed consent?
- What is being recommended to you? Is this a test, a medication or a procedure? Is this a one time event, or will it require several visits or administrations?
- Why is this being offered or recommended? Is this something that is offered to everyone, or is there a reason to believe it will be helpful in your situation?
- What is this expected to do? Is this going to correct a problem, improve your health, manage discomfort or provide additional information? In short, what should be different after you receive this.
- What are the risks of this? The list of risks will vary with every procedure and medication. Every procedure has a risk, many procedures have a very small risk and it is easy to see that the benefits outweigh the risks, but that does not mean there is no risk. It is also important to remember that some risks are not “physical.” There may be no physical risk to wearing a hospital gown, but many women report that it changed the way they felt. So there is an emotional risk involved in wearing a hospital gown.
- What are the other options and their risks? There is always another option, even if it is just to do nothing. Remember that the other options have risks too.
- What will we do if this does not have its desired effect? No procedure, medication or intervention (natural or medical) is 100% guaranteed to work. What will be the next step if you decide to go ahead, and it does not work. How will having used it change the other options available to you?