You might have heard something about writing a birth plan, but don’t know exactly if you should write one. Your main questions are probably: What is a birth plan? What does a birth plan include? Will it help me during labor and delivery to have such a plan in place? In this blog we’ll give you answers to your thoughts and give you a foundation to create your own birth plan.
Here you can quickly download a free birth plan template and a guide with questions you should consider when filling the template with your wishes and preferences.
Why should I write a birth plan?
Your baby’s day of birth will probably be one of the most important days of your life. As with most other big events, the day will probably not go exactly as you’ve wished for or planned. But you can certainly create a document, the so called birth plan, which can help you have some impact on how the labor and delivery goes. The document also makes it possible for you to focus better when the time comes, as your birth partner and/or other support persons in the delivery room, as well as the medical team will know your wishes and preferences. Just remember that you will not be able to control the whole process, so you’ll need to be somewhat flexible, in case something unexpected happens, which makes it necessary to depart from your plan or make changes to it.
Make sure that your doctor, midwife and/or birth center will review the birth plan ahead of time, to make sure they are all aware of your preferences, especially if they are not in line with their typical practices or policies. Remember that this is your baby and your body, so if you feel that the planned birthplace will not allow you to follow your own instinct and go with your wishes, you might want to take a look into finding a new place to give birth at, if that’s possible. It’s very important that the experience of the labor, delivery and the time after the birth does not leave you with negative emotions, as this might increase the likelihood of postpartum depression.
What is a birth plan?
A birth plan is a document where you outline your preferences during your labor and delivery. Try keeping it short and simple, so everyone involved gets the chance to read it. The basic things that can be included in the plan are:
- Who your birth partner/s should be and where you want to give birth
- What kind of delivery you want to experience (for example in water, in special atmosphere, special room conditions etc.)
- How pain should be managed (or not managed at all)
- What types of medical interventions you are open to or want to avoid
- How you want the team to care for your baby
- Other things that might be important for you during labor or/and delivery
What can I include in my birth plan?
Although keeping the birth plan simple, there are many things you might want to go through while creating the plan, so you’ll know what is important to you and what not. You might also want to discuss with your birth partner further about the plan and give him/her information that might help during labor and delivery, so the team doesn’t have to disturb you regarding every detail of the process. These are some of the things you should consider including in your birth plan:
The document should include your name, your contact information, birth place (your hospital’s name, your home or other), your doctor’s and/or midwife’s name and who you are planning to have with you during labor and delivery.
How you want the atmosphere to be
We are all very different when it comes down to what makes us feel comfortable. If you’re into yoga you might want to listen to yoga music or mantras, turn on a diffuser with essential oils or use other things from your usual practices. You can think about the lights and sounds; do you want the lights dimmed, would you like any music playing while you give birth or do you want a quiet atmosphere.
Perhaps you know that you usually feel comfortable with soft instructions or you feel empowered by more definite directions. Keep in mind that this, as with most things, could change in the heat of the moment and your birth partner should be aware of that also. It could be easier for you to communicate directly with your birth partner and ask him/her to talk to the medical team, if you want to change something from your original plan.
Labor and delivery preferences
Include in your document what kind of preferences you have for your labor and the delivery. Things you could consider are for example:
- Do I want to allow additional people in the room, such as a photographer?
- Should the birth partner or additional support person take photos or videos?
- Do I want the support from a doula, labor coach or other additional support person during birth?
- Do I want a warm shower or bath?
- Am I planning on giving birth in water? And do I want my birth partner to go in the birth pool with me?
- What positions would I like to use during labour?
- Do I want and have the option of using a birthing stool, chair or bar?
- Should I have access to a ball during labor?
- What other preferences do I have regarding the atmosphere?
- Do I want to see the birth myself in a mirror?
- Do I prefer not to have an episiotomy unless it’s medically necessary?
- How would I like to deliver the placenta?
- If I’ll need an unplanned C-section, who should be with me in the delivery room?
If you’re having a planned C-section you should consider additional things for your birth plan, such as how you want the screen to be situated and how you want to approach photography and/or video recording of the birth. You can read more about preparing for a C-section here.
Right after the delivery
The moment right after the delivery is very important, as it will probably stay very strong in your memory and might impact how you feel about the whole process afterwards. You should consider for example whether you prefer delayed cord clamping and who should cut the umbilical cord when the time comes. Also, what your preferences are about having skin-to-skin time with your baby; whether you want your baby to be placed on your abdomen or chest/breast right after the delivery. Reading about ‘Breast Crawl’ might help you make this decision.
According to UNICEF UK this is what happens during skin-to-skin contact:
When a mother holds her baby in skin to skin contact after birth it initiates strong instinctive behaviours in both. The mother will experience a surge of maternal hormones and begin to smell, stroke and engage with her baby. Babies’ instincts after birth will drive them to follow a unique process, which if left uninterrupted will result in them having a first breastfeed. If they are enabled to familiarise themselves with their mother’s breast and achieve self attachment it is very likely that they will recall this at subsequent feeds, resulting in fewer breastfeeding problems.
You can read more about skin-to-skin in this article.
How do I want pain to be managed?
There are many ways pain can be managed, from more natural non-medical solutions up to an epidural. You should include in your birth plan whether you plan on accepting an epidural or not to ease the pain and whether you perhaps feel that you’ll definitely want an epidural as soon as that will be an option. Keep in mind, if you don’t plan on having an epidural, that you might change your mind during labor. So it should be very clear in your birth plan whether you are open for that option as plan B (or C, D…) or if it goes against all your ideas about the birth and you’re 100% against it.
There are other options for pain relief and you might want to ask your doctor or midwife about that while you’re pregnant. Other options include laughing gas (Entonox), breathing, such as ocean breathing, and massage.
Caring for the baby after birth
If you’re planning on giving birth at a hospital it’s especially important to mention how you want to care for the baby. If you give birth at home you might not need this part of the birth plan to be as detailed, as you and your partner will probably be the only people taking care of the baby after birth, except for the first hours perhaps.
You should include in the birth plan whether you want to put the baby on breast right after delivery or whether you are planning to bottle feed. We recommend trying first to breastfeed if that is an option for you, but that might not always be possible. If you know that you can’t or certainly don’t want to breastfeed it’s especially important to mention this in the birth plan. Keep in mind that by combining both breastfeeding and bottle feeding from birth, you might experience nipple confusion.
It’s also important to consider whether you want to offer the baby a pacifier or not. You’ll also have to mention if this is something you feel comfortable with the staff doing without you or if you want to take care of it yourself. Again, keep nipple confusion in mind when you make this decision.
If you’re giving birth at a hospital and you don’t go home right after birth, you might want to mention whether you want the baby to stay at all times with you in the hospital room or if you would be open to moving the baby into the nursery sometimes, for example to give you some time to get rested after the birth, and the medical staff takes care of the baby for a moment for you.
Some hospitals give newborn babies a bath soon after birth. You might want to consider skipping the hospital bath. Here are a few reasons why you might want to add that wish into your birth plan.
If something comes up after birth, and the baby needs extra comfort, you might want to include in your birth plan whether you allow the medical staff to offer the baby sugar water.
Remember to mention in your birth plan whether you have any special requirements that are perhaps not the standard process. This could be special needs for you and/or your partner, such as needing a sign language interpreter, additional support from medical staff if you feel that the birth partner might not handle difficult situations or whether you would like specific religious customs to be taken into consideration. We are all different personalities, with our own special needs and beliefs, so it’s very normal that you might have special requirements, and most professionals will show understanding.
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