Birth Plans – What You Really Need to Know

August 10, 2021

Let’s talk about birth plans! 

“What are they, what do they do, and how do I make one,” are all questions you might be asking yourself as you prepare to give birth to your baby. Maybe you heard about birth plans from your sister, a friend at church, a neighbor, or your local mom group. Maybe you’ve heard horror stories of care providers ripping up birth plans in front of expecting mothers and saying, “I don’t do birth plans.” Maybe you’ve hired a doula who suggested you write one. Let’s break it down and address these questions.

What is a Birth Plan and What Does it Do?

A birth plan is primarily a list of your preferences for labor, delivery, and postpartum. You might include that you don’t want to be offered pain medication, or that you want to be in a position other than lying on your back when you’re pushing. Maybe your partner wants to catch the baby, or maybe you want to take your placenta home to have it encapsulated. These are the types of things you could include on your birth plan. 

It’s not a list of demands, however, but rather a communication tool that allows you, your partner, your care provider, and your birth team to be on the same page about how you’d like things to go. You want to be sure that your care provider and birth location specializes in and supports the type of birth that you want, and when you’re able to write those things down, it makes it much easier to have those discussions with your provider. Your partner also needs to be on board so that he (or she) can advocate for your needs and desires when you’re in labor land and unable to do so yourself.

How Do I Make a Birth Plan?

Start big! Make a list of everything that is important to you. Don’t hold back! This is as much an exercise for you to know what you want as it is a list of preferences for your provider and birth team. If you haven’t already, take a birth class that helps you know what all your options are so you can make more informed choices. 

Once you’ve made your list, remove anything on it that is standard practice for your birthing location. For example, if you feel strongly about having an IV placed and you’re birthing in a hospital, you probably don’t need to put that on your birth plan because that’s already a standard practice in the hospital. From there place your desires into simple bullet points and organize them under a “Yes, Please” or a “No, Thank You” column. Being courteous as you express your desires goes a long way, so be thoughtful about how you choose to word things. 

Once you’ve written up your plan, make sure to bring it to your care provider and have a discussion about your preferences. It’s not necessary for your provider to “sign off” on your birth plan or give you permission for the things you’ve listed there, but if you’re finding that they’re not on board with your birth plan, that may be time to have a discussion with your partner about whether your provider is the right fit for you. Remember that as long as the baby is still inside you, you have options! 

Final Thoughts

Some people choose not to write a birth plan altogether because they’re afraid of being disappointed if their birth doesn’t go as planned. As the old saying goes, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”  Cynthia Gabriel, in her book “Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds,” writes beautifully about this very idea:

“Here’s the risk: getting attached to your birth plan means that you will feel disappointed if you don’t get what you’ve decided you want. But feeling disappointment can be healthy and life-enhancing. Not getting what we want in life is disappointing. Isn’t it always better to strive and fall short than to never strive at all? Since when has it become unacceptable to feel sadness, disappointment, or anger? Repressing strong emotions like disappointment is a normal reflex in North America and some parts of western Europe. Not coincidentally, these are the same places where women most often repress pain in childbirth…North Americans are often confused by feeling more than one emotion at the same time. When our obstetricians say, “You don’t want to be disappointed,” they may assume that it is impossible to hold disappointment in our hearts together with joy at the birth of a healthy newborn. My experience as a birthing woman and a doula says otherwise. The paradox of being happy and sad about birth seems more natural and appropriate to me than a steady state of one emotion.” 

So go ahead. Make your birth plan. Get attached to it. And make space both for joy and disappointment if it comes.

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