Birth Plans

What is a birth plan?

Planning for labor can be a difficult task. It can also seem overwhelming when you consider all the options that are available to you. Some women feel it is not even worth it, sense you can't really plan for how your labor will go. They reason that a birth plan is useless because you don't know ahead of time if you will have problems. But that is exactly the reason why you need a birth plan.

There are four key things to recognize about birth plans before you choose to write or not write your preferences for labor. Understanding these things will help you to be a part of the decision making process for giving birth, while allowing you to be flexible enough to handle whatever challenges labor has for you.

You are creating a Birth Plan whether you write it down or not.

As you learn more about the process of giving birth, you are making plans for the way you would like labor to be handled. You are making decisions about who will be with you, where you plan to give birth and what you plan to use to manage labor. It does not matter whether or not you write your preferences down on paper because the desire and expectation already in exist. Writing your decisions down is a way to help you share those desires and expectations with the rest of your birth team. It is a tool you can use to help the team work together, but it will remain only a tool. Writing a birth plan does not automatically mean you will clearly articulate your goals and desires with your birth team. You will still need to talk with your midwife, discussing your decisions and clarifying the options available to you.

The Process of creating a birth plan is more powerful than the written plan itself.

As a finished document, a birth plan is no more than writing on paper. You have no control over how the nurses and midwives who receive your plan will respond to your requests. However, during the process of writing the birth plan you have tremendous opportunities to ask questions of your midwife. As you build your birth plan, you will use it as a discussion starter with your doctor or midwife. When you bring it to your visits, you and your caregiver will be able to determine what options are best, and what options might not be available to you. This will help your caregiver to understand what type of support you are looking for, and it will help you determine if this caregiver is the best match for you. You will get to know more about her and the way she attends labor; and she will know more about you and the help you will need from her to be comfortable and confident as you labor.

As you work to make final decisions, you will be sure of your choices and your reasons. In that way, not only are you a stronger labor team, but you are more likely to speak up for the decisions you have made. If you are faced with hospital staff who are not supportive of your decisions, the practice you have had discussing your options will have prepared you to clearly state your reasons and request the support you need.

Birth plans are not necessarily written for the normal, uncomplicated labor.

If every labor followed a normal pattern there would be very little need for a birth plan. Because every labor is different and you can not know what labor has in store for you before it begins, your birth plan is an additional tool to help you communicate how you have decided to handle both the normal variations of labor and the unexpected situations that may arise. It gives hospital staff who do not know you the opportunity to understand what assistance you will need and how they can best support you through a difficult labor.

During labor, if situations arise in which a decision must be made, it is easy for a nurse, doula or coach to check your birth plan and see how you wanted problems or issues to be handled. It lets them know what options you would like to try, and what options you would like to avoid.

When a birth plan is fully used, labor generally does not look ideal.

Some mothers have the mistaken idea that when their birth plan is followed, labor will be just like the ideal they imagine. If everything went perfectly in labor, if everyone were going to do everything you asked and labor progressed rapidly and without a single situation that required you to make a decision, then there would be no need for a birth plan. You see, a birth plan is not a script for how you want labor to progress. And a birth plan is not a contract with your doctor or midwife about what will happen during labor.

Some women do get to do everything on their birth plan. They get to try every position and pain relief technique and when complications arise they get to do every intervention and have a cesarean done they way they wanted. The experience was not the one imagined, however every action taken followed the birth plan. Other women get to do very little from their birth plan. Labor simply happens too quickly to try all the positions and techniques they had expected to use for comfort. The experience may have been their ideal, but very little from the birth plan was needed. How much of your birth plan is utilized is dependant on factors you probably don't have control over. But regardless of the circumstances of your labor, your birth plan can help you determine how you will respond to the challenges facing you.