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The Birth Plan: preparation or wishful thinking
Preparing for your baby with a birth plan is a great way to instil a sense of control over how your little one arrives into the world. However, Natalie Nelson suggests a flexible mindset when designing your birth plan.
Listen to a group of preggie moms (or even new moms) chatting and there’s a good chance that the topic of birth plans will pop up. Every preggie mom is encouraged to prepare a birth plan, but how much of it is really applied? And what should be included in the plan? And what happens when things don’t go according to plan?
Generally caregivers are happy to accommodate a mom’s birth wishes, as long as the birth is uncomplicated and things are going smoothly. This is particularly applicable for midwife-led births, be they at home or at a birth centre. Doctors and hospitals are more prone to follow policies and procedures as dictated by the institution concerned, but don’t let this deter you.
What is a birth plan?
Essentially a birth plan is a written plan of what you would like to happen when you’re in labour, when your baby is born and afterwards. Unfortunately no one can predict exactly how a birth will turn out, so perhaps a birth plan should rather be called a birth wish list! Having said that, preparation and intentionally seeking out how you’d like your labour to be managed will help you create a sense of control and order in your mind. For first-time moms, this is an invaluable tool because you have never birthed a little squidgy bundle of cuteness before, and having a plan can only stand you in good stead!
Researching for your birth plan
The first step to creating a birth plan is research – gathering information and deciding what you want. What happens during labour? What are the stages of labour? How does your primary caregiver care for you? What options do you need to consider at each stage? Who will be present and at what stage? Where are you birthing (at home, at a birth centre or in hospital) and what can you expect from that environment?
Each stage of labour has different requirements. Stage one is essentially managing pain and being monitored by your caregiver. Stage two will include pushing preferences and delivery aid preferences. Stage three will include newborn care, placenta preferences, skin-to-skin preferences and breastfeeding preferences. Stage four (yes, there’s a fourth stage) will include your recovery and bonding time with baby – how many visitors can visit? Will baby room in with you? …etc.
In order for you to be able to make any decisions regarding these stages, you need to be informed. Read about your options, discuss your choices with your caregiver, and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to. Consider who you and your partner are; are you intensely private and shy, or easy going? Are you afraid of medical situations or comfortable to be poked and prodded? Do you want a medical birth or a non-medicated, vaginal birth? Once you have established these things, you will be able to start putting them down on paper.
Compiling your birth plan
The second step is to start writing your plan. Feel free to start this as early in your pregnancy as you want. This will give you time to consider, change and adapt your plan. Initially it can just be jotted down; nothing too structured. Perhaps there will be things that you hear during your pregnancy that grab your attention and pique your interest. If you have them jotted down somewhere, you’ll be able to include them in your plan when you finally get around to formally structuring it. Remember, once it’s written down, it can be changed; it’s not cast in stone. Let your plan be flexible.
Discuss your birth plan with your caregiver
The third stage of shaping your plan is for you to go through it with your caregiver. Discuss the implications of each choice. Would they be able to accommodate your wishes? Discuss which choices are an absolute for you, and which you’re willing to forego in an emergency. Of course, if an emergency does arise, realise that there will be certain things that will have to be done that you will have no control over.
Tips for your birth plan
When putting your final plan together, remember the following tips:
- Keep it simple, preferably in bullet form
- Try keep it to one page
- Make it easy to read
- Don’t make the font too small
- Break it up into the three stages of labour
- And don’t forget the fourth stage!
- Consider doing a separate baby plan
- Search for templates on Google if you’re stuck
- Capture not only what you want, but also what you’ll do in the event things don’t go as planned
- Write what’s most important to YOU during YOUR baby’s birth
Final preparation before your bundle arrives
Once you have finished your birth plan (or birth wish list), go through it one more time with your caregiver and ask them to keep a copy on file. If you are birthing in a hospital, ask if you can leave a copy with the maternity unit, as your doctor will probably only be there towards the end of your labour.
Also remember that your caregiver’s primary job is to take care of you and baby during labour and birth, and they will do that according to how they’ve been trained. While they will also try to accommodate you as much as possible, should things take an unplanned turn, your caregiver will do what is necessary to ensure both you and your baby’s safety. Be flexible with your plan and be willing to go with the flow should it come to that.
Birth can be somewhat unpredictable, but having a birth plan will help you through any curveballs, give you confidence to make good choices and help you adapt to any changing situation.