Birth Plan Basics

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When you welcome your baby into the world, how do you envision the experience? From music to medication, many factors come into play when delivering a baby. Creating a birth plan will help you learn what you want and expect at this special time. Here’s what you need to know to create your birth plan.

What Is a Birth Plan?

A birth plan is a written list of your preferences for before, during and after delivering your baby. But let’s face it: Babies rarely follow set plans. So rather than a list of must-haves, a birth plan is more a list of nice-to-haves.

Making a birth plan can bring you several benefits. Many moms find the process of writing a birth plan helps you to:

  • Identify what you want around the birth of your child
  • Discuss your wants with those who will be with you during your delivery
  • Set expectations for everyone involved
  • Define your priorities when it comes to the birth of your little one

A birth plan is typically well thought-out and concise (one to two pages, tops). It is not a binding agreement or a list of demands. Because there are so many aspects to consider when it comes to having a baby, a birth plan can help you home in on what is most important to you.

Do I Need a Birth Plan?

In short, no. A birth plan is not a requirement. But many expecting mamas like to create birth plans so they have a good idea of what’s to come in an experience where someone else (your baby!) is often in control.

When you’re deciding whether or not to use a birth plan, you may find it helpful to talk to others who have used one.

How Do I Create a Birth Plan?

The basis of any birth plan starts with research. Learn what is involved before, during and after delivery. You may feel strongly about walking while you labor, but not have a strong preference about birthing positions. Educating yourself will give you the knowledge you need to make these decisions.

Rather than a list of must-haves, a birth plan is more a list of nice-to-haves.

Your health care provider may have a birth plan form to help get you started.

Birth Plan Basics - smallKeep these tips in mind as you begin to work on your birth plan:

  1. Keep it brief. A birth plan that is clear and concise means it can be read quickly and easily. It’s not necessary to list reasons why you made the decisions you’ve chosen.
  2. Start a discussion. Talk about your choices with those who will participate with you in your child’s birth. This can include your doctor, nurse, midwife, doula, anesthesiologist, labor coach, partner, parent, or friend. Having these conversations early on can avoid unexpected discoveries down the road. For example, you may want candles lit during your delivery but your birth center doesn’t allow them.
  3. Be positive. Terms such as “our wishes” and “my preferences” work better in a birth plan than phrases like “do not” and “under no circumstances.”
  4. Be flexible. Know that a situation may arise at the last minute that cannot be predicted, and decisions sometimes need to be made quickly during childbirth. Keep your birth plan open to such possibilities.

Parents-to-be often include the following items in a birth plan. Use these questions as a starting point to get you thinking about the choices you might make:

  • Before Birth
    • Who will be in the delivery room with you?
    • What types of pain management are you open to?
    • Will you deliver at a hospital, birth center or at home?
    • Will you want to walk during labor?
    • Are you open to inducing labor and under what circumstances?
  • During Delivery
    • What are your wishes regarding a premature birth?
    • What are your preferences if you need an unplanned cesarean section?
    • What are your thoughts on birthing positions?
    • How do you feel about fetal monitoring, episiotomies, use of forceps?
    • What comfort measures do you want: music, special lighting, massage, a birthing ball?
    • If an unexpected situation arises during labor, what choices would you consider?
    • Will there be children or siblings in the room with you?
  • After Baby Is Born
    • Who will cut the umbilical cord?
    • Will you breastfeed or bottle feed?
    • Do you want to hold your baby immediately or do you want vitals taken first?
    • Will your baby sleep in the hospital room with you or in the nursery?
    • What type of pain relief do you prefer postpartum?

Talking to Your Doctor About Your Birth Plan

When it comes to labor and delivery, oftentimes health care providers have a routine already in place. Talk to your provider well in advance of your due date to make sure you are comfortable with this routine. Not all may be open to varying from standard procedure.

As you prepare for this talk, recognize the need for flexibility. If one of your requests might increase certain risks, your health care provider may turn it down. But she might also have alternatives that may appeal to you.

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

Many a parent has said that childbirth is a new parent’s first introduction to the idea that you are no longer in control. Often during delivery, plans will change, perhaps due to your baby’s positioning or change in heart rate, your water breaking early, or one of numerous other factors that can affect childbirth.

As you write your birth plan, know that the unplanned might very well happen. This is where a birth plan can help. Having your wishes laid out ahead of time will help you know your decisions if something unexpected does come up.

And if things don’t go according to plan, don’t beat yourself up about it. It doesn’t mean your plan was a failure. Of utmost importance during a delivery are a healthy baby and a healthy mom. When that is the end result, all the planning in the world is completely worthwhile.

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Answer a few questions and we'll provide you with a list of primary care providers that best fit your needs.

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Small Steps: Be Patient
Many of these problems go away after birth.