As you prepare for the birth of your baby, you may have heard about the necessity of writing a birth plan in order to inform your caregivers about your preferences for labor and birth. You may have also heard that you should NOT write a birth plan, because it can be a self-fulfilling prophesy for bringing about everything you did not want for your birth into reality.
A birth plan can be an excellent tool, but as you’re about to learn, its usefulness may be for reasons you did not expect. We’re going to unpack what is a birth plan, and just as importantly, what it’s not.
What A Birth Plan Cannot Do
- A birth plan cannot change birth place policies. Some people feel that a birth plan is a directive for what they feel they are entitled to have happen during labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period. If the plan is not in sync with the policies and procedures your place of birth typically follows, there is a very good chance that you and your birth partner may experience conflict with your birth team.
- A birth plan doesn’t mean you have control of the outcome of your birth. Hear this – there is nothing about labor and birth that you can control. There are ways you can prepare for the possibilities and feel informed so you are not blindsided when birth comes along, but you may be setting yourself up for feelings of disappointment and failure if the outcome is very different than what you “planned.”
What A Birth Plan Can Do
- A birth plan can be used as a learning tool. When created in conjunction with research and preparation, the process of creating a birth plan can help you learn about your options for labor, birth and the postpartum period, and it can help you discover what is important to you and what an ideal birth would look like to you.
- A birth plan can be used as a communication tool. Especially when your care provider is an OB/GYN and prenatal visits are typically short in length, a birth plan can open communication lines. As you learn more about labor and birth and decide on your preferences, you will begin to craft your birth plan. When you share some of these points or your whole plan with your provider, you will learn whether your care provider supports your choices. You will be able to have conversations about what you can expect about the care you will get, and whether your choices are available at your planned place of birth. If you find that what you want is very different from what your caregiver is willing or able to provide, you will have to make a choice about whether to stay and change your expectations, or find another provider whose philosophy is closer to your ideal birth.
- A birth plan can give important information to your birth team. If you have some needs that are not directly related to your medical care, it might be helpful to put them in your birth plan. Examples could include:
- A religious practice you want your team to know about
- A medical condition your partner has that may affect his or her ability to help you throughout your labor.
- A desire for help from the nurses to help limit the number of people who come to visit.
- Terminology used by certain childbirth education methods that you want your birth team to know and understand.
Tips for Preparing to Write Your Birth Plan
- Research different types of childbirth classes and attend one that has a philosophy that supports your wishes for birth. There are several different types of childbirth classes to choose from – Lamaze, Bradley, Hypnobabies, Hypnobirthing, Birthing from Within are a few of the well-known methods. There are independent childbirth educators who develop their own classes, and there are also no-brand hospital childbirth preparation classes. Ask your care provider if they have any class recommendations, as this will give you some insight on how they feel about preparing for childbirth.
- Consider hiring a birth doula. A birth doula is your advocate who can help answer questions about your options, and if you need her to, give you guidance on ways to communicate with your care provider about your questions and desires. A birth doula is not a replacement for childbirth classes (unless she also teaches childbirth classes!), but she can help you talk through risks and benefits of procedures and point you to resources that can benefit you.
- Look for evidence-based websites and books to learn about your options. While polling friends and lurking in online forums will bring up lots of juicy information, also seek out reputable sources for solid information about labor and birth. Lamaze International is a good place to start. Your childbirth educator and doula will also be able to point you to additional resources.
- Take a tour of your place of birth. If you are planning to have your baby at a hospital or birth center, take a tour. Ask questions about standard practices such as fetal monitoring, whether you can be mobile during labor, and procedures you’re curious about. Check out the birthing suites and the bathrooms, and get a feel for the vibe of the place.
Birth Plan Format Tips
- Use birth plan templates carefully. There are many online birth plan generators and pre-made templates. These can be useful for helping you create a draft of your birth plan because you may find points that you had not even considered or known about. However, make sure that you truly understand every point that you have on your birth plan.
- Keep it under one page. Decide what is most important to you and include those points. To help keep the length to a minimum, consider excluding requests that are always or never allowed. Topics to cover include your preferences for Labor and Birth, Postpartum Care, and if you would like, a section that speaks briefly on what to do in the event of a C-section.
- Before your bullet points, include an introduction written in a friendly and respectful tone. For example:
“Thank you in advance for your support and encouragement during our birth. We understand that labor and birth are unpredictable, and we ultimately wish for the safety and health of mom and baby. We ask that you consider each of our choices that follow and accommodate them when possible. We understand that circumstances may require a deviation from our wishes, and we respectfully request that recommended procedures by explained thoroughly, with benefits and risks, so that we can be informed and involved in the decision making process.”
- Add Signature Lines At The Bottom. At the end of your birth plan, include lines for your caregiver to sign. Having a signed copy may come in handy if, at your place of birth, there are questions from nurses about honoring your choices.
When You Are Done With Your Birth Plan
Once you have a good, working draft, take it with you to a prenatal visit and have a conversation with your doctor or midwife about your choices. If everything is great, ask your caregiver to sign the document, return one copy to you and keep one for your file. You will also want to have a few copies to take with you when you’re in labor.
If you have concerns about whether your caregiver supports your requests, you may have to think about how you want to proceed. Will you change your preferences, or will you seek care elsewhere?
A birth plan is a great way to become clear about your preferences for labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period. It allows you to learn about your options and serves as a communication tool to help you speak to your caregiver. Remember that you cannot control what ultimately happens during birth, but with the knowledge you have from the homework you have done during your pregnancy, you will be better able to make informed choices to have the best possible birth and beginning for your child.