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Maternal health literacy: Why it’s important to advocate for yourself

Although it may not seem obvious, it is incredibly important to be your own advocate throughout your pregnancy and after. It's absolutely critical that every pregnant person is empowered to speak up and, if necessary, fight to be heard.

According to women are often dismissed, talked down to, and not given meaningful choices in their prenatal care. The site said they hear everyday from women who:

  • are vocally concerned about altered fetal movement

  • have raised concerns, but are dismissed and told not to worry

  • are given minimal or no choices regarding the timing of their baby’s birth

  • are not informed of stillbirth risks, because they are deemed unable to "handle" this information or doctors do not want to "scare" the patient

  • are denied requested fetal monitoring and ultrasound scans, even when they suspect their baby may be in distress

  • are not offered adequate pain control medications after a C-section

  • are refused requests for non-standard practices, even when clearly informed of risks & benefits and backed by science

  • have mental health symptoms (postpartum depression and anxiety, PTSD, etc.) that are overlooked or brushed off as "baby blues"

  • ask for details during an ultrasound scan, and are met with vague answers out of concern that an actual answer would "alarm" the mother

  • question inaccurate data in their medical chart and find it very difficult to get the errors in their medical records amended

Although there is no right way to be a self advocate, here are a few tips to help make sure you are getting the best available healthcare.

Research to find a provider that aligns with you

It is always great to start with some background information. Researching basic information will help you begin to ask the right questions. Here are a few initial questions according to to get you started in your research and to ask a health provider. Delivering at a hospital vs birth center or a home birth.

  • What birth class will help me to advocate for myself and the birth I want?

  • Is a birth doula, virtual doula, or postpartum doula right for me?

  • What medications can you take during pregnancy?

  • What vaccinations are safe for pregnant women?

  • Who can help with childcare or home health care?

  • Does my employer offer maternity leave?

Make sure you have answers to these questions prior to your delivery, so that you won’t feel pressured into making decisions at the last minute. When looking for information online make sure you stick to reliable, trusted sources (.org, .edu) for up-to-date information and contain current guidelines. The American Pregnancy Association and Healthline are great places to get started.

Keep Records

If you feel like something is wrong, or your doctor’s appointments are not going well, make sure to write it down. When you get home, write down exactly what went on in the appointment and how you felt about it. This will help create a clear timeline of events and will also come in handy when advocating for yourself during pregnancy.

Record-keeping can also be a saving grace if you experience any pregnancy complications or have a pregnancy or baby that requires more intervention than most. This self kept record will also help you ask the right questions because you will need to know exactly what care you/they are receiving and how your baby is progressing at all times. Remember, you are the expert of your body.

Records can also identify any lapses in care or mistakes that have been made.

Ask Questions

Knowledge is power. Asking questions will help you feel more educated and prepared for what is ahead. Knowing your options can help you to have the best possible outcome for you and your baby. If something is not clear, ask for clarification.


When undergoing any type of medical procedure during pregnancy, you should always keep B.R.A.I.N. in mind:

  • B: Benefits of the recommended procedures, care, or medication?

  • R: Risk if you decline any procedures, care, or medication?

  • A: Alternatives that are available?

  • I: What does your intuition say?

  • N: What if you do nothing?

Be Proactive

You have to make the right choices for yourself and your baby. It is important that you make the best decisions for yourself with the assistance of your trusted care providers. Everyone has an opinion; listen to their advice but don’t let them decide for you. The best thing to do is talk with your doctor about all of your options and then go from there.

Have a tribe-friend, family or partner attend the visit with you

Having a tribe of people who can support you through pregnancy is key for positive health outcomes. During your pre planning pregnancy phase, consider thinking about a group of up to 4 people that support you during pregnancy to participate in doctor visits, lactation training and birthing classes. If something feels off, these are the people that can help you navigate through what you are feeling with a health professional.

Consider a second opinion, if you don’t feel comfortable about a diagnosis or treatment

When consulting a health provider, your opinion matters. At any time that you don’t feel heard or you feel a health provider is not giving you correct information, consult an additional health opinion. This helps to ease the mind of the mom and make sure that you have exercised all options when it comes to your care.

The pregnancy journey can be a beautiful experience when you have the right information, the right resources and the right people to help you navigate through the process.

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