By Lauren Kozlowski, MSW, MPH, MotherToBaby Georgia

“I didn’t even know I should ask my OB about that!” It’s a reaction I hear almost daily as a teratogen information specialist (a fancy way of saying I’ve been trained in evaluating and communicating risks of exposures, like medications, during pregnancy). This particular caller’s reaction was like so many women going into their first appointment after finding out they were pregnant – she really didn’t know how to be her own best advocate. I don’t blame her by any stretch. How are women supposed to just know this? What questions should they be asking? Why should they be asking them? I thought, not only did I want to help her, but all of the pregnant women out there, to have a positive, empowering experience once they’ve found their pregnancy care provider team.

The Importance of the HCP Match

Finding the right health care provider (HCP) for you is essential because doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and midwives are people just like you and me. They come with a wide range of personalities and styles of care. Sometimes they will match your own and sometimes they won’t. You want to be sure that the people that you entrust with your health and your baby’s health are going to help you make the right decisions about your care. Plus it is worth thinking about how you can reduce any stress you may have about sitting down with the person who will care for you and be a source of support during your pregnancy. In this blog I’d like to suggest some ways that you can plan for the most successful experience during pregnancy with your HCP. In this case, success means finding a provider who listens to you, makes you feel comfortable and discusses all of your concerns and options openly and respectfully.

Getting the Most Out of Your Appointments

The good news is there are some ways to empower yourself in these situations and be more likely to get what you need! Below I have a list of some ways you can get the most out of appointments with your pregnancy care provider:

  1. You should be able to ask your provider anything you’d like to know about their experience and philosophy around pregnancy and child birth. You can even ask to make a non-clinical appointment to sit down with her or him and discuss this if you’d like to.
  2. Be prepared for a short visit with the provider at regular appointments throughout your pregnancy. Write down your most important questions and make sure to ask them first.
  3. If you’d like to research some topics before your HCP visit, choose your sources wisely. The internet is full of a lot of misinformation, but there are reputable organizations from whom you can get evidence-based information about pregnancy. Just a few examples include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, the professional society for HCPs specializing in women’s health); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and our own service, MotherToBaby. Pull information from your sources and bring it with you to your appointment to drive your conversation with your HCP.
  4. Bring a trusted family member or friend who can bring up anything you forget to – or that can step into the conversation to help make sure you are being heard correctly. This is particularly important at the first visit or when you are worried about something.
  5. If you routinely take any medications, bring them up as soon as you find out you are pregnant (and when possible, even before you become pregnant); this will allow you and your HCP to talk about whether there are any alternative medications or therapies better suited for pregnancy and/or breastfeeding. And remember that our specialists at MotherToBaby are available to provide you with up-to-date information on the safety/risk during pregnancy and breastfeeding of any medications you may be taking.
  6. If you see a specialist for other medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, etc.), tell your OB provider who you are seeing and authorize them to communicate with one another about your care. When you are living with a chronic health condition, connecting your pregnancy care provider with your other health providers is important to ensure your disease is well-managed throughout your pregnancy and when you are breastfeeding.
  7. Even if they don’t ask about it, tell your HCP about your use of alcohol, tobacco, or any recreational drugs (like marijuana, heroin, meth, etc.). Some of these substances can affect your pregnancy or your baby’s development, so it’s important for you and your HCP to talk about it even if you are just an occasional user. Recreational drugs are another type of exposure where MotherToBaby experts can provide you with confidential, up-to-date information on the safety/risk of use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Importantly, talk to your HCP if you need help quitting any of these substances; there are ways to treat substance use disorders during pregnancy. You also have a chance of being screened for substances at birth – meaning they may test both you and your baby at the hospital. Being prepared for this is important so you know what to expect.
  8. Ask questions about the hospital at which you will be delivering. Do they have any specific policies or practices you would want to know about in advance? Your HCP will be connected to a specific hospital(s); if you do not want to deliver at that hospital and your insurance allows for other options, you may need to find another prenatal care provider. It is best to ask these questions before you become pregnant or as soon as you start your prenatal care visits.
  9. If for any reason you do not feel like your HCP listens to you or is able to create a welcoming, safe environment, change providers! If it’s a requirement of your insurance, get a list of providers in your network. Then ask friends or family if they have someone they’d recommend. You can further whittle down your list by other things that may be important to you, such as a male vs. female provider or office location. Pregnancy is such an important time in a woman’s life, so it’s critical that you are under the care of a health provider that you trust. Depending on where you live and what insurance you have, it may not be possible to find another provider – but if you are able and want to, the sooner you do so in your pregnancy the better. You deserve to feel comfortable and cared for!

A lot of these tips apply to any type of HCP, but pregnancy is a perfect time to flex your self-advocacy muscles and find the provider that is best suited for you. You and baby deserve wonderful and respectful care, and the reality is that sometimes it takes a bit of seeing what’s out there to find the right fit. Finding the right HCP can feel a lot like dating, but don’t be discouraged! If you don’t like the care you are getting, move on to another HCP – with so many exceptional ones out there you can find the best match for you and your pregnancy.

Although not specific to a pregnancy visit, ACOG also offers some tips to help you make the most out of your health care visit: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Making-the-Most-of-Your-Health-Care-Visit

If you want to read more about advocating for yourself as a patient, some other resources are below:

Your Best Birth: Providers, Plans and Being Proactive

https://bloomlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Best-Birth-Bloomlife-ebook-1.pdf

At the end this includes a great acronym BRAIN (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Intuition, Do Nothing) that can be used whenever you are making decisions or have questions about receiving medical care.

A Doctor’s Guide: How To Be A Patient Advocacy Rockstar (For You or a Loved One)

https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/06/21/doctors-guide-how-be-patient-advocacy-rock-star-you-or-loved-one-13106

Health Care Self-Advocacy: Be the Squeaky Wheel

https://www.care2.com/causes/health-care-self-advocacy-be-the-squeaky-wheel.html

The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Medical Advocate

https://betterhumans.coach.me/the-complete-guide-to-becoming-your-own-medical-advocate-ddc658a10a57

Lauren Kozlowski, MSW, MPH is serving as the Program Coordinator for MotherToBaby Georgia. She graduated from Boston University with both a Masters of Social Work and a Masters of Public Health. She has experience working with families in both an educational setting, as well as in housing and health, allowing her to recognize the multiple factors contributing to the ability of women and children to thrive. She enjoys living in Atlanta and exploring what the city has to offer.

About MotherToBaby

MotherToBabyis a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, please call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text information service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets about dozens of viruses, medications, vaccines, alcohol, diseases, or other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding or connect with all of our resources by downloading the new MotherToBaby free app, available on Android and iOS markets.