The day you give birth is one of the most important days of your life — not to mention your baby’s! You can’t control the experience entirely, but you can get ready for it. Writing a birth plan helps you prepare and communicate your goals to your health care providers.
Visualize the ideal birth
Many health care providers are starting to expect birth plans, says April Bolding, DPT, CCE, CD, a childbirth educator, doula and co-author of Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn. “I see them being well received in our Seattle hospitals. Nurses now ask for [a plan] if they aren’t handed one.”
Making a birth plan is also a useful exercise for expectant mothers. As Shoreline mom Sarah Lenoue recalls, “I think the part of my birth plan that helped the most was the planning process.” Creating a plan encourages you to define your priorities and values around childbirth, and it can inspire you to learn more about available options and their risks and benefits.
“When we start talking about birth plans in childbirth education classes,” explains Kim James, ICCE, LCCE, a childbirth educator, doula and doula trainer, “we always start by examining our values around medical decision-making in general and childbirth in particular.”
Seattle mom Shelley White Giordano used her birth planning process to hope for the best and prepare for the worst — she and her husband designed two different plans. “The first plan was a wonderful exercise in visualization,” she says. They started out by imagining the ideal birth and “identifying the most important elements.”
Their second plan was about “logistics, safety and comfort in less ideal circumstances. I wanted to be prepared if there was an emergency . . . I wanted to know what I could ask for if my child was healthy, like nursing right away, discovering the baby’s gender on my own and my husband being present.”
Consider the practicalities
When planning for your baby’s birth, think pragmatically. Are you hoping for a water birth? Planning to bring your mother and your seven sisters for support during labor? Intending to record the entire birth? Plotting to live-tweet the experience? Be sure to check the policies of your birth location to ensure that what you want is feasible.
The place where you intend to birth your baby will also affect some of your other options. Do you want to be in a hospital, in a birth center or at home? Will you use an ob-gyn, a family practice medical doctor, a midwife or an independent doula?
Likewise, think about the juxtaposition of your hopes and the reality of your situation. “I have had people who live in a cramped apartment or with roommates choose to birth at a birth center for the privacy and larger space,” says Tina Tsiakalis, a certified professional midwife and owner of the Center for Birth in Seattle.
Picking the right health care provider is equally important in building the birth you want. “I wish every parent spent less time writing birth plans with dos and don’ts and spent more time selectively choosing health care providers that align with their own philosophy on maternity care,” says James. “[This means] that parents first have to identify their own values.”
Mood lighting and more
It’s fun to think about the right music, aromatherapy and fuzzy slippers to pack in your hospital bag. By all means, include these details in your birth plan!
You might know you’ll want your own robe from home, the music you listened to while relaxing in prenatal yoga class, a camera to take millions of newborn photos, a nursing bra and a journal to keep track of your experience. Anything that will help you feel comfortable is important.
In addition, you may want to bring a talisman to keep you inspired during labor. Kim Radtke of Birthways.net, based in central New York, had a necklace of beads given to her by the important women in her life. She used it as a focal point and a reminder of the support she had outside the birthing room. “I knew I had the power of all those women with me,” Radtke says.
What about the pain?
The most critical elements of a birth plan are a little more serious, though. The number-one item that Bolding recommends: “Preferences on pain medications. If you desire to labor without medications for as long as you can, I think it’s important to write, ‘Please don’t offer me pain medication. I will ask for it if I need it.’ No woman forgets that pain medications are an option in a hospital setting.”
It is impossible to be pregnant without receiving ample advice about pain medication. To make a truly informed choice, you should research medication options as well as non-pharmacological comfort measures, such as movement, changing positions, acupuncture and acupressure, warm water in a tub or a shower, touch and massage, hot or cold packs and rhythmic breathing.
It’s wise to be informed of the risks and benefits of all your options and to have a variety of possibilities in your plan in case you need more tools than you expected.
Planning versus controlling
While the planning process is helpful and important, remember that a birth plan is just that: a plan. It expresses your preferences but offers no guarantees.
Says James, “Too many parents create birth plans with the expectation that it is the script for their baby’s birth. Parents need to spend time first evaluating what is important to them in terms of bedside manner and philosophy of maternity care for themselves. Then go out and find the best medical care provider who matches their expectations. Birth plans cannot change a provider’s style of practice, personality or protocols.”