For those who have never created a birth plan, you may be wondering what the importance of this “birth plan” business is. It does sound a bit “crunchy”, and some of it can be depending on your preferences, but a lot of it is just being prepared to handle certain medical situations that may arise for mom and/or baby. When you are in the throws of labor, it is very hard to think clearly (for both mom & birth partner), so making these decisions ahead of time when you can research & think clearly and rationally is crucial. I think many people assume that birth plans are only for natural labors & deliveries, but it is truly just a plan for your birth and is important for every type of delivery!
Before we started trying to get pregnant, I had no idea that birth plans were a *thing*. If you’d asked me then what I hoped my future birth plan to look like, I would have said something like “go to hospital —> have baby—> go home.” However, during the nearly two year process of trying to get pregnant, I learned so much about my body and all the amazing things it is capable of. I’ve spent countless hours reading birth stories of all types in order to help me conceptualize the kind of birth I wanted. I learned two really important things reading through these other women’s experiences. One: while mom & dad (or other birth partners) birth experience IS important… NOTHING is as important as the safety of mom & baby. And two: babies have their own plans.
The first, and biggest, decision you have to make is where you plan to have your birth. Do you want a home birth? Are you using a stand alone birthing center? Are you birthing at the hospital? I’m mostly focusing this post on hospital births because those are the most common and that is the type of birth I planned for and experienced.
So, what do you put in your birth plan?
Once I was pregnant & starting to plan what I hoped for our actual birth, I started researching and looking through birth plan outlines to help me think through all the things we would need to cover in our birth plan. I scoured hundreds (seriously) of websites & read several books. I found that different sources brought to light different questions and scenarios that we could encounter. I don’t think any ONE site or book covered everything, so make sure to check out several. Here are two websites that I found helpful:
Blog- Earth Mama Angle Baby, Birth Plan (I did not use the tool on this site to “create a free birth plan”, I just reviewed all of the questions).
There are so many choices you have along the way, many of which you may not even be aware of. To give you an idea, some of the topics include things like:
- Do you want continuous or intermittent monitoring of baby? Do you want an IV in place or a saline lock? These will determine things like how much information you have about how baby is doing, how mobile you can be during labor, and how quickly meds or fluids can be administered to you.
- Will you be using medications? Would you like them immediately or would you like to labor naturally until you chose to accept medication? Which medications do you prefer? <- I found an incredible chart on labor meds and their benefits and risks to mom & baby in the book “The Birth Partner” by Penny Simkin. I highly recommend doing your research on medications ahead of time so that you can make well informed decisions when the time comes.
- If the baby is struggling to come out, would you like an episiotomy (cutting the vaginal opening)? Forceps delivery (pulling the baby out with an instrument similar to huge salad tongs)? Would you prefer a c-section?
- If you’re having a c-section, do you want to see the baby being born? Do you want your partner to stay with you or go with the baby? Would you like skin-to-skin immediately?
- Once the baby is born, there are various medical procedures they typically preform right away but can be delayed if you wish. Baby will be administered things like vitamin K shot and a hep B vaccine, as well as eye drops. Baby will also receive a bath in the nursery. Most of these things are routine but you do have a choice about if, and when, your child receives them and if you are present when they are performed.
- Do you want immediate skin-to-skin with baby? Do you want delayed cord clamping so that the baby receives all the blood from the placenta? Are you okay with the baby receiving artificial nipples (bottles & pacifiers)?
Then, there are comfort measures you can also add to your birth plan. For example:
- Do you want the lights dimmed? Music playing?
- Would you like to labor in the shower/tub?
- Are there any child birthing techniques (Bradley, Lamaze, visual imaging, etc) that you’d like to use?
- Are there any specific positions you’d like to try to push in?
- Do you want your baby to stay with you for the entire hospital stay (if possible) or would you prefer the baby to go to the nursery so you can rest?
Beyond making sure to address questions like the ones above, there are a few other important things to consider when writing your birth plan:
- Try to keep it to a 1 page maximum. Easier for your medical team to read through and find the pertinent info!
- Include a small intro section with your most important preferences, that way if the doctor and nurses are only able to glance at it, they will see what your priorities are. For example: Med free or epidural, newborn care procedures, cord clamping, etc.
- The way you phrase your wishes is important in how the doctor & nurses will receive the information. It should not be stated as a demand, but rather a preference if the situation allows for it. Use phrases like, “we’d like to…”, “if safe for mom & baby…”, “I prefer…”.
- Add a small section (preferably at the top) containing any important medical information about you, dad, & baby. The hospital should already have this, but it never hurts to be sure. I chose to include my GBS status, blood type, my abnormal heart rate, as well as Aaron’s blood type and Wren’s due date.
- Make sure to begin discussing your birth wishes with your doctor early on in your prenatal care.
Remember, nearly everything that goes in your birth plan is a preference. SAFETY SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY! You can plan all you want, but typically, something will not go according to plan, so be flexible! You did not fail if your birth does not go according to plan. Research and choose your preferences for different scenarios.You may be planning for an all natural & med free birth and end up choosing to use medication or needing a c-section. You may have a c-section scheduled but baby decides they’re coming early and there’s no time for a c-section. The purpose of the birth plan is just to help you, your partner, & your medical team to be educated and prepared so that mom & baby are cared for in the best way possible for each family.
There are so many variables to consider in every type of birth and I think being an educated advocate for yourself and your little one is so important. I hope this has been at least a little bit helpful in understanding why it is so beneficial to have a birth plan!
Birth on, mamas!
~I’m happy to share my birth plan for Wren’s birth if you’d like to see an example. I in no way think that our birth plan is perfect or the only right way, it was just the right way for us. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a copy.
A few sources I think have valuable information:
- Mayo Clinic- Labor Medications
- Mayo Clinic- Induction, Why It’s Done
- Mayo Clinic, Induction Risks
- Baby Center, Natural Pain Management Techniques
- Fit Pregnancy, Natural Pain Management Techniques
- Womens Health, Routine Newborn Medical Care
- Fit Pregnancy, Routine Newborn Medical Care