"What is a written birth plan and why should any time be spent writing one when the plan will just be disregarded anyway at the hospital?" This is one of the most frequently asked questions by moms-to-be and it is crucial to understand that the most important part of writing your birth plan is the process that it takes to understand your own preferences, discuss them with your birth partner, and prepare to advocate for those preferences.
How to Write an Effective Birth Plan
The purpose of your birth plan (birth hopes, wishes, or preferences) is to communicate your preferences to your birth team, whether you are birthing in a hospital, birth center, or at home. It is also important to consider writing a baby plan in addition to your birth plan. The baby plan contains your wishes for once your baby is born and can include preferences regarding routine assessments, skin-to-skin contact, and feeding preferences. There are some key elements to writing effective birth and baby plans that will be read and followed by your birth team as closely as possible, keeping in mind that labor is unpredictable but arming yourself with knowledge is key to knowing you've made your decisions based on the information available to you.
Make it personal.
Consider writing a short introduction, a few sentences, to your birth plan explaining who you are and what your hopes are for your birth.
Arm yourself with information.
Begin researching your options early on in your pregnancy and ask your provider as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Being informed of many alternatives can help take some of the fear out of the equation ahead of your labor and birth, so never be afraid to seek out an answer from your provider, even if it is during your birthing time.
Things to consider:
- Who would you like present during your labor and birth? Close family, friends, doula, medical students if you are in a teaching hospital or birth center.
- What aspects of your laboring environment important to you? Lighting, music, your own clothing, aromatherapy, having a birth tub available for labor and/or birth
Questions to ask your provider ahead of time:
- Are vaginal exams mandatory during the last few weeks of pregnancy and during labor?
- What are your provider's c-section and induction rates?
- What are the hospital/birth center policies for checking in upon arrival?
- What do you consider a good reason to induce labor?
- What are my options if my water breaks spontaneously in early labor?
- What are your feelings on IVs, episiotomy, fetal monitoring, eating and drinking during labor, doulas, and pain management?
- How long can I go past my due date before induction will be suggested and what are the monitoring protocols for if I do go past my due date?
- Once in labor, are any time limitations set or followed regarding length of time in labor or pushing before interventions are suggested?
- Will I be allowed to labor in my own time without any pressure to speed up the process?
Topics to research on your own:
- Childbirth classes
- Vaginal Exams during pregnancy and/or labor
- Stages of labor
- Movement and positions during labor
- Pushing positions
- Comfort management strategies
- Pain management options and alternatives
- Induction options and alternatives
- Delayed cord clamping
- Cord blood banking or donation
- Cesarean section options: Family-centered cesarean sections; how many support persons are allowed in the OR with you; delayed cord clamping/milking the cord; do your arms have to be restrained, can a photographer be present if you desire?
- Newborn baby care including breast feeding, circumcision, bathing, routine assessments, vaccinations, and diapering (whether you want to cloth diaper or use disposables).
Keep it simple and relevant.
Write your preferences in brief statements, using bullet-points if possible, and keep it to one page for each plan, two pages total for both birth and baby plans. Write your requests in a polite and positive tone as opposed to making demands.
Be your own advocate.
It can be very helpful to include a statement at the end of your plan such as, "We request that all procedures be explained in a way we can fully understand so that we can give informed consent prior to any procedure".
Review your plan.
Once you have done your research and considered the options above, written your birth preferences on paper, take the time to review them with your provider and birth support team to make sure you have communicated your preferences before the big day.
In the event of unforeseen circumstances, being prepared and having a birth team who knows your preferences can make all the difference in your experience and satisfaction with your birth. Keep in mind that no matter how prepared you are, labor and birth is unpredictable. This is why it is so important to have researched and prepared yourself as much as possible for any interventions and alternatives ahead of time so that you and your birth team will understand your goals, which is ultimately a healthy mom and healthy baby, and how you desire to get there.
Photo Credit: Faithfully Following