Creating a Birth Plan
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! The maternity shopping has begun and maybe you’re even thinking about what you want to name your baby boy or girl. But perhaps the weightiest decision you will have to make at this sensitive time is how you want to give birth to your child. With the multitude of options available, creating a birth plan is one way to assert your preferences on your very important day.
What is a Birth Plan?
A birth plan is usually a one to two-page summary of your desires on how you would like your labour to be carried out. These may include your wishes on where you like to have your baby, who you would like to be by your side during the labour, what kind of atmosphere you would like, as well as your feelings around medicines and procedures offered during labour and delivery.
And while a birth plan is only a guideline for how you would like your baby to be delivered (availabilities and your health will ultimately have to be weighed against your desires), it is still an extremely useful tool. Not only does a birth plan outline your requests, but it also helps you to become more informed about what options are available to you. And the more you know, the more relaxed you will be about the whole process.
When and How Should One Be Created?
With all of the things that need to be considered, it is recommended that you begin creating your birth plan while you are still in the early stages of pregnancy (or within the first 20 weeks). You may also consider keeping a journal for a month or so before writing up your birth plan, so that you can become more in touch with your feelings around pregnancy in general.
Deciding where you would like to give birth is the first step in designing your birth plan. If a hospital is your choice, you will want to account for travel time as well as any policies the hospital may have that might impinge on your desires for childbirth.
Birth centres (of which there are a few in the UK), which try to combine a home-style birth with medical technology, are also an option. However, you will want to check out your coverage, as some are privately insured.
Finally, if you are experiencing a healthy pregnancy, you may be considering giving birth at home. However, it is important to make sure there are health care professionals in your area who are willing and available to come to your home. Lastly, you may wish to combine your locations to create what is called a "domino" scheme. Under the supervision of a midwife, you will receive at-home treatment both before and after the birth, although the actual labour will take place at the hospital.
No matter where you choose to give birth, there are certain questions that should be considered when designing your birth plan:
Who will be there:
- Who do you want with you (birth coach, partner, relatives)?
- Do you want a doctor, a nurse, a midwife?
- Do you want a doula?
Atmosphere and location:
- What kind of mobility options do you want to have available? (Do you want to be able to walk or simply stay in bed?)
- Do you want to be monitored constantly or would you rather be left alone?
- Do you want music or any other atmospheric enhancements?
- Do you want to have a bath or shower available? Would you like a water birth?
Medicines and procedures:
- Do you want an epidural or other pain relief medications made available to you, or do you want a natural childbirth?
- How do you feel about an episiotomy (the cutting of the perineum)?
- If the need for a cesarean arises, what are your preferences?
Make sure to include your birth plan in your labour checklist and bring extra copies just in case.
Who Needs to Know
Without a doubt, the more people who know about your birthing plan, the better. Your doctor or midwife should absolutely be aware, since they likely have their own ideas about how the delivery is going to go.
In fact, the more your health care professional is included in the process of creating your birth plan, the better. Since they are monitoring your pregnancy, they will be able to guide you through any possible complications that may interfere with your birth plan. Also, keep in mind that doctors and midwives are trained professionals, and although they ultimately have your best interests at heart, they may not appreciate you telling them how to do their job.
Making sure your plan is worded appropriately is one way of ensuring you don’t unnecessarily offend anyone. Think of your birth plan as a list of your desires given best-case scenarios – not a set of demands. Also, try to keep your wording positive (i.e. "our wishes are", "we would appreciate"), rather then making it a list of "don’ts". You may consider making an appointment to have someone at the hospital or birth centre look over your plan to give you some feedback.
In the end, remember that although creating a birth plan may help you to gain a sense of confidence, a birth plan is ultimately not about control. It’s about getting to know yourself and your body, and making your special day exactly that.