As a birth doula, a large part of my job consists of working with individuals or couples BEFORE birth actually starts. Building a relationship; growing in knowledge; beginning open conversations about fears, hopes, and expectations; and planning the birth all happen before labor starts. I love the opportunity to dive into creating an experience that resonates with you.
By the end of this post, you should be able to:
1. Describe what a birth plan is.
2. Explain why a birth plan is important.
3. Begin the process of creating a birth plan.
4. Explain how a doula can help formulate a birth plan.
What’s a birth plan?
A birth plan is a document, shared with your medical team, detailing preferences for how you want to manage labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum time. It can include choices about preferences around induction, wanting access to a bath/shower, music choice, pain management, movement during labor, skin to skin, etc.
I think a good birth plan is like a road map. Say you take a road trip, it’s quite likely you’ll plan your route. There’s probably a most direct path to get to where you want to go, and maybe you’ve planned a few stops along the way. The map shows you all the connected routes, and helps to ensure you don’t get lost along the way. A birth plan provides options, and informs the birth team of the various paths available. A birth plan can be useful for all types of birth- hospital, home birth, cesarean, etc. because it's about learning and prioritizing what seems most important to you. We’re all different people who can birth babies in very different ways.
Why is a birth plan important?
First of all, whether you realize it or not, a plan has likely already begun. A provider and a birth location are two of the most influencing factors for birth outcomes. Providers are influenced by their education, past experiences, and by policies put in place by the hospital/birth center and/or state. Prenatal test recommendations, preferences around induction and pain management, rates of episiotomy and cesarean sections, and on call policies all vary between providers and birth locations. All of these factors can influence your experience. A plan is already forming… I encourage you to take charge of the plan. Birth can happen in a wide variety of ways so take the time to learn what feels right for you. Women carry their birth experiences with them for the rest of their lives.
Here are a few pointers to help you get started on your birth plan.
1) Consider taking an out of hospital childbirth course. Hospital childbirth courses tend to teach you how to be a good patient. They tend to teach you the hospital's birth options. An out of hospital childbirth course should provide a wider breadth of options around birth. It should teach a wide variety of material that doesn’t focus on one specific hospital or provider. It will also allow you to meet other parents that might be planning a different birth than you are. They might have new ideas or resources to share, which can help to solidify or round out your own birth plan.
2) Start educating yourself. Search online for a birth plan template. You’ll find many options. (I like these options- A, B, C). Pick one or two, and write down any words or phrases you’re unfamiliar with. Take these to your doula, childbirth educator, or doctor to learn about them. It’s hard to say you want or don’t want something if you don’t know what it is.
a) Follow B.R.A.I.N. to become informed on a topic. B- What are the benefits? R- What are the risks? A- What are the alternatives? I- What is your intuition telling you? N- What happens if we do nothing? OR, what are the next steps?
b) Listen to and read birth stories. Hearing first hand experience from other women and families can be such a great way to learn what resonates for you!
3) Focus on yourself. Take some time to think about and write down environments, conversations, or interactions that make you anxious. What calms you? What makes you feel safe? What makes you feel connected to your partner? How do you comfort yourself?
a) Once you have answers to those questions, share them with your birth team. Then, start to practice comforting yourself, creating environments where you feel safe, and connecting with your partner. Think about how these elements can be incorporated in your labor and birth experience. Some examples might include deep breathing, dimming the lights, listening to favorite music, a mantra or prayer, singing/dancing, or being held.
4) Hire a doula! (Shameless plug) Here's how a doula can help:
a) As mentioned previously, a doula can help educate about various procedures and practices. A doula has experienced birth many times, and can help walk through a birth plan.
b) A doula can help you to organize and prioritize what’s important through conversation with you and through sharing their personal experience of what can happen during labor.
c) A doula works with you and your partner. During labor a doula provides resources and support ideas to your partner, reassures and supports your partner (they need to drink water, eat, and go to the bathroom too), and helps to ensure you and your partner can continue to foster the connection you’ve built with each other.
Once you have a few preferences, type them up. I recommend containing your birth plan to one page. Short and simple is best. Pick an easy to read font, and an easy to follow format (like a bulleted list). If you’re crafty, color code the items. Create a plan that feels right for you. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Share the plan with your birth team before labor and bring copies to share at the hospital.
A birth plan educates you and your birth team about how you feel about x, y, or z happening during labor. It also creates space for you to tune in to your needs during pregnancy. A birth plan doesn’t make labor predictable or perfect, but It helps you to be the author of your own story. I’ll say it again, birth can happen in a wide variety of ways so take the time to learn what feels right for you. Women carry their birth experiences with them for the rest of their lives.
You can do this!