Do You Really Need a Birth Plan?
You may have heard about birth plans and wonder if you need one. The answer is it’s totally up to you. You don’t need to have a birth plan to give birth. But it can be useful to help you think about and communicate your wishes for your baby’s birth with your partner and your healthcare team.
A birth plan is a list of your preferences for your baby’s birth and the first few days of life. It contains details about where you plan to deliver, who will be present, which birth techniques you’d like to try, how you want your pain managed, types of care and feeding of your baby, and other details around labor and delivery.
Benefits of a Birthing Plan
Writing a birth plan can help you organize your thoughts around your options for your labor and your baby’s care. Your birth plan can also provide a framework for an effective conversation with your doctor or nurse-midwife. For example, if you’d like to try to have an epidural-free birth, your doctor can ask the hospital to assign you a labor and delivery nurse experienced with that type of delivery.
What to Include in a Birth Plan
Not sure where to begin? First, check with your hospital or birthing center. They often have their own birth plan forms for you to use or personalize for your particular needs. Try to keep your plan to 1 or 2 pages to make it easy to understand and reference, focusing on these key topics:
The delivery room. Include any requests about atmosphere of the delivery room, such as dim lighting, lower noise level, temperature, and music.
People in the delivery room. Write down the names of the people you want with you in the delivery room in addition to your partner—including family members, friends, or a birth coach—and if you will allow medical or nursing students to observe your birth.
Pain management. Plan out how you’d like to work through labor pain. Do you prefer to start an epidural, or other pain medications, earlier in labor, or try a medication-free birth?
Monitoring your baby. Talk about how the birth care team plans to monitor your baby’s heart rate during labor. It’s common to use a monitor continually attached to the mother’s abdomen. In some cases, you can request periodic monitoring or ask to turn down the monitor’s sound.
Labor options. Outline any techniques you’d like to use to help your labor progress or for you to relax. These can include standing, walking, lying down, and breathing techniques. Consider any special labor devices, such as a birthing ball, a birthing chair, or a warm bath setting.
Medical interventions during labor. Include your feelings about medical assistance during delivery, such as medically inducing labor, breaking your water, using forceps, a vacuum extraction device, or having a C-section. You may not have a choice when the moment arrives, but it can be helpful to outline which way you might lean if you have options.
Umbilical cord and placenta. Note who you prefer to cut the umbilical cord, such as your partner or medical provider. Indicate if you plan to save your umbilical cord, cord blood, or placenta.
Baby care. State if you want your baby to remain in your room with you after birth, or if your baby can spend time in the nursery. Express your preferences for feeding your baby: breastfeeding or bottle feeding. If you are having a boy, include any circumcision plans.
Religious or spiritual traditions. Express any religious or spiritual traditions you would like to include in the labor and delivery process if possible.
When to Create a Birth Plan
It’s a good idea to draft your birth plan at least a few weeks before your due date and review it with your doctor or nurse-midwife. You should also review your plan with anyone who will be there for the birth. When you go in to deliver your baby, bring a few copies with you.
Changes to Your Birth Plan
Think of your birth plan as a guide rather than a script. Your care team will do their best to honor your wishes for your birth. But they may not be able to meet all your birth plan preferences. You may also find you change your mind as you’re going through labor. That’s fine, too. The ultimate plan for everyone involved is a safe and healthy delivery for you and your baby.
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- Birth plan form. March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.com/materials/birth-plan.pdf
- Get ready for labor: Your birth plan. March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/your-birth-plan.aspx
- Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2010