My friend told me that while she was getting prepped for an epidural with her second baby the nurse told her that the longer someone’s birth plan was, the more likely the birth would end up not going as planned. Initially I was frustrated and assumed the nurse didn’t take birth preferences seriously. However, then I started wondering if there was an amount of “planning too much” and if it can contribute to more trauma if a birth doesn’t go as planned. I don’t know the answer to the perfect length of a birth plan or if birth trauma is created when a birth is different than expected, but I do think there is a practical way to write a birth plan that can encourage learning what you really want for your birth as well as effectively communicate those desires to your birth team.
Why create a birth plan
So how is it helpful to create a birth plan? First and foremost, looking at birth plan examples encourages you to research your options. Many first time moms don’t even know there are options. They show up to the hospital and let the nurse or doctor decide what will happen next, only to find out that they agreed to interventions they didn’t want. When you know what options there are then you can research them as well as what the pros and cons are. Then you will truly be informed of what will happen with your body and baby.
Having a practical birth plan also gives you time to think more deeply about what you want. During labor you won’t be in a space to think thoroughly through what your birth preferences are. You will more likely be influenced by the emotions and physical sensations you are feeling at the time.
Creating a birth plan checklist encourages your birth partner to be a part of the decisions you are making. Most likely your partner is more removed from the birth process than you are. Plus in the moment they are often most concerned about your safety and reducing any discomfort you are feeling. But when your partner has helped in the decisions they will be able to communicate this during labor.
One of the most important aspects of writing a birth plan is that it opens a dialogue between you and your provider. Talking about what you want or don’t want will help you know if you have chosen someone that will best support you or if it’s better to find someone new. You will find out if they are fear-based or evidence-based in their approach. Do they see all sides or just the side they want you to choose? If they are a good fit for you then you can also learn more knowledge from them as you discuss the topics.
What to include in a birth plan
There are many different birth plan template online, but they all include a variation of: preferences before, during, and after birth, plus what to do if there are unexpected outcomes.
Preferences before birth- this includes if you want to go into labor spontaneously or if you want to be induced. It could also be specific about what methods to use for induction if you choose that (membrane sweep, pitocin, cytotec, nipple stimulation, etc.).
Preferences for labor and delivery- preferences during labor vary from what you want the environment to be (e.g. lighting, music, smells, ability to eat and drink), what medical interventions you do or don’t want (e.g. epidural, use of forceps or vacuum, pitocin, type of monitoring, episiotomy), and what type of movement you want (access to birth ball, space to walk, access to tub, ability to choose birthing position).
Unexpected outcomes- although rare, it is good to plan for the unexpected outcomes so you can still have the things that are most important to you included in your birth. Unexpected outcomes include having a cesarean delivery instead of a vaginal delivery, transfering to the hospital from a birth center or home birth, or a stillbirth. There are many choices in a cesarean delivery (dropped sheet to watch baby’s birth, birth partner, photographer, and/or doula present, immediate skin-to-skin contact). If transferring to a hospital you will want written down where you should be taken and what interventions you do or don’t want there. With a stillbirth delivery you can research preferences on time spent with the baby, if you want remembrance pictures, whether to have a funeral or ceremony to remember their life.
Preferences for newborn care- there are several baby care routines that happen immediately after birth that you wanted to be prepared for (cord clamping, skin-to-skin, eye ointment, Vitamin K and Hepatitis B shots, use of formula or pacifier).
There are many more choices than the examples I’ve given. You can look up birth plan templates and birth plan examples online to give you more ideas and areas to research. I will include a few websites for birth plan examples at the bottom.
Most of the time your birth plan can be carried out how you want it to, but occasionally plans change. Flexibility is key. Creating a birth plan is still helpful even if you have to throw it aside unexpectedly.