Preparing for the arrival of a new baby can be exciting and overwhelming. Whether it’s your first or fifth child, it’s easy to have this mental picture of what your perfect delivery looks like. But perfect isn’t always possible. There may be some decisions that have to be made in an instant – just when a mother is least prepared or able to make them.
That’s why establishing your birth plan in the months leading up to delivery is so important. A solid birth plan can help you regain some control, ensuring your loved ones and all of the medical staff on your delivery team, knows how best to support you through this process.
What Is a Birth Plan?
A birth plan is a list – sometimes written, sometimes mental – of a mom-to-be’s wishes and care preferences for labor and delivery. Birth plans are a vehicle for open communication between expectant mothers, their families, and the medical team that will be assisting them during the birth. Most importantly, birth plans are an opportunity to discuss your needs and express any concerns you may have before you’re on the way to the hospital.
Checklist: What Should Be Included in Your Birth Plan?
It isn’t difficult to find unsolicited opinions regarding your labor and delivery choices, but your birth plan should be focused on the choices that are right for you. If you are uncertain about some of these decisions, it is best to speak openly about your concerns with your doula, midwife and/or primary care provider to ensure that you are getting trustworthy information.
Natural Birth vs. Assisted Labor – Around 40% of all births are natural, or, unassisted in terms of using an epidural. While there is some debate around the topic of natural birth, the goal is always to bring a healthy baby into the world. Your preferences about natural birth should be one of the first items communicated in your birth plan.
Medications – Any restrictions, allergies or preferences for medications should be included in your birth plan. When in doubt, your doctor will be able to advise you on the safest options for you and baby.
Pain Relief – For those who wish to give birth without the use of an epidural or other medicinal relief aids, there are several other pain relief options to consider. At Washington Hospital, expectant mothers are offered exercise balls and encouraged to walk around in order to offer relief while inducing labor. Massage and other manual therapies can be incorporated between contractions to help ease the pains of labor. If you are adamantly against using an epidural, your doctors can be asked to avoid mentioning this option when the day comes in order to help you avoid temptation.
Afterbirth Options – Some routine care and preventative measures like Hepatitis B vaccinations and antibiotic eye drops will be carried out for your baby immediately after birth, but there are plenty of other choices to consider for the first few moments of your baby’s life.
- Whether or not you want immediate skin-to-skin contact between baby and mom
- Delaying cord clamping to save as much blood from the placenta as possible
- Restricting visitor access for the first few hours so baby and family can spend the first few moments undisturbed
Understandably, your expectations for the big event may be high. But it is best to keep these plans brief, and straightforward. Reviewing an extensive or overly-detailed document is likely the last thing you will want to do while in labor. Think of the aspects of your birth experience that will be most impactful for you and your baby, then prioritize.
It’s important to remember that diverting from your birth plan during labor is completely normal. Labor can be unpredictable, and it is highly realistic to anticipate sudden changes to your birth plan if the situation calls for it. Rest assured, in the event of an emergency like an unexpected C-section or other complications, you will never have to make the call. Your doctors and nurses will have the final say in these circumstances and will do all they can to respect your wishes while keeping you and your baby safe.
Help for Expectant Families
There are a variety of online birth plan templates available, but creating your birth plan can be as simple as talking through your options with your doctor during pre-delivery appointments. If you do have a written birth plan, present it to your doctor as soon as possible so that it can be shared with the nursing staff. That way, when the moment arrives, your birth plan is accessible before you even get to the hospital.
At Washington Hospital, we support moms and families throughout their pregnancy journeys. From prenatal parenting classes to lactation support, we believe information is agency. In addition to the planning materials and support services, our dedicated delivery nurses stay with moms-to-be throughout the labor process, helping carry out their birth plans, disseminating important information and advocating for their needs.