A birth plan is simply a written way for you to communicate your preferences about the birth experience to your healthcare provider, care staff and labor attendants. The plan should be used as a guide, not as a series of orders that absolutely must be followed.
Putting your wishes on paper will help you think about and prepare for the experience. Once labor starts, it can feel like the baby is having you instead of the other way around. A birth plan will help you control what happens, within reason and what is medically safe, in the middle of one of life's most intense experiences.
Birth plans are as individual as each pregnant woman, but there are three hard-and-fast rules to remember when developing your plan:
- Keep it clear and simple. If you can't fit your plan on a single page, it's probably too complex. A plan that tries to address every possible development that can occur during birth and what you would like done about it is less likely to be followed. The goal is to present what's really important to you, so that those involved understand it clearly.
- Keep it flexible. Birth can be an unpredictable experience. You may change your mind during labor and decide you want pain medication. Although you're not planning on a cesarean delivery, they do happen. Also, the hospital's rules and procedures are designed with your safety and the safety of your baby in mind and may take priority over your plan.
- Keep it cooperative. Hopefully you will have a chance to review your plan with your physician four to six months before birth and then again closer to birth after you have attended birth preparation classes. This way, you will have fewer surprises.
The plan shouldn't read like a general's list of orders to enlisted personnel, but should contain a list of your preferences. Use phrases such as "I would like," "I prefer," and "I would hope to avoid."
Specifics you can include
One good way to organize a plan is by labor, birth and post-birth. You can simply state these preferences as a list, such as:
In labor I would like to:
- Move around and change positions.
- Eat and drink.
- Avoid fetal monitoring, enemas and shaving of pubic hair.
- Receive no pain medication unless I ask for it.
- Have an epidural for pain as early as possible.
- Have my husband or significant other take photographs.
- Have no photographs taken.
- Have my immediate family and specific persons (name them) in the room.
- Have no one in the room except my partner and medical personnel.
During the birth I would like to:
- Avoid an episiotomy; some tearing is OK.
- Avoid the use of forceps or vacuum.
- Have my partner cut the cord.
- Have my partner accompany me in the event of a cesarean delivery.
After the birth I would like to:
- Hold the baby right away.
- Breastfeed the baby right away.
- Avoid the use of bottles or IVs for the baby.
- Have the baby stay in my room.
- Have the baby be with the parents or (specific individuals) at all times.
Your plan should cover the things that really matter to you. If you're clear, flexible and cooperative, a birth plan can do a lot to ensure a satisfying labor and delivery.