What is a birth plan?
It is a brief outline of your preferences for the birth and immediate postpartum period, this is a place where you will organize your wishes into a succinct and easy to read page, with the goal of letting your birth desires be known to your team.
Do I really need a birth plan?
The short answer is, yes, it is recommended that at the very least you talk to your provider or midwife about your preferences, and if you are able to we (the birth community) recommend that you write down your plan and bring it with you to your birth place.
Will the hospital or birth center staff be offended if I give them a birth plan?
No, they will not. I have never seen a doctor, nurse, or midwife balk or have any negative response when given a birth plan. In fact, most hospitals can provide patients with a template if they are struggling with how to organize it. A lot of the time, nurses will ask if the parents have a copy of the birth plan as they are checking into the hospital, and at some hospitals they even place it on the delivery room whiteboard as a reference. Try not to worry about offending anyone, and remember, this is your birth!
I don't know what to put in my birth plan...
This comes up in almost every prenatal appointment that I have, and my response is, “You likely have your birth plan already figured out in your head, this is just a way to organize your thoughts on paper.” Then as we continue talking, the majority of my clients realize that they have already thought about many things typically included on a birth plan.
If you're struggling to think about birth preferences, consider your answer to the following questions:
- Who do you want to be present in the room? And if you have children, do you want them to be there, or to be taken care of by someone else?
- Which responsibilities do you want your partner to help with? An example is cutting the umbilical cord.
- What are your opinions on various birth positions? (standing, squatting, in the tub or shower, on the bed, hands and knees etc.)
- Which forms of pain management are you interested in: hypnosis, breathing, movement, water, pressure, medication, and/or epidural? If you plan to take medications, do you have a preference for which type?
- What are your thoughts about an episiotomy?
- What are your preferences for routine IVs, fluid, and monitoring heart rate/blood pressure?
- How do you feel about fetal monitoring (both external and internal)?
- Do you want delayed cord clamping?
- What are your desires when it comes to skin-to-skin after birth?
- What are your preferences for baby care after birth? Consider when to feed and what to feed (milk and/or water), sleeping preferences, bathing, circumcision etc.
- What are your breastfeeding wishes?
- If you have a cesarean, do you have any special requests for the operation? Examples might be: skin to skin with you or the father, or having your doula present in the OR.
Once you know what you would like to include in your birth plan, you can be as creative or generic as you want with the layout and design. I have seen birth plans simply typed up in a word document, I have seen birth plans that only use pictures, and I have seen birth plans with both pictures and words. How you organize your birth plan is completely up to you, and no, nurses will not be upset if they have to read through your plan instead of looking at pictures.
Some suggestions from an experienced doula:
- Be sure to include your name, your partners name, your providers name, contact information, place of birth, and who you want with you clearly at the top of the page.
- If you have anything significant in your medical history, provide this as well.
- Separating your plan into sections can make the plan easier to navigate, some sections to be included can be: atmosphere, labor preferences, pain management, delivery preferences (including a contingency for cesarean), and feeding/baby care in the hospital.
There is no “wrong way” to create a birth plan, you will not be judged for your birth preferences, and your team truly wants to know - and have a copy of - your plan. Take your time in making this, discuss it with your husband or partner, and if you ever have questions, ask your doula for help!