The Birth Plan, or Birth Preferences, originally seen as an important tool for families to communicate their ideas about birth, often comes under fire from the nurses, OBs, and midwives who end up having to read them. Parents tell me all the time that they get told specifically NOT to write a birth plan. I say that’s crazy and horrible advice. Birth plans are useful for everyone. A well-written and well thought-out plan can serve many purposes. Granted, they can be very poorly done as well. So before I explain why birth plans are a crucial part of planning for birth, let me first explain why they can be so hated, too.
First, I don’t think parents truly expect that they can dictate things like how long their labor will last, how long they plan on pushing, the size of the baby, or any of those things that clearly can’t be changed by anyone. Secondly, I do realize that a lot of families will go online and find some of the “Birth Plan Generators” where they can just check off a bunch of things without giving much thought to whether or not those things even apply to the place where they are planning to give birth. Finally, some birth plans can end up being really long and full of useless information. The worst birth plan I ever saw was about 11 pages long, filled with information such as the names, ages and personalities of the mom’s 3 dogs, complete with pictures of the dogs and her entire family. The irony with this was that the only actual mention of birth was one line:”I want an epidural.” As anyone who has taken a good childbirth class knows, an epidural doesn’t mean you don;t have to think about your birth.
So then, what are the good reasons to write a birth plan?
The process of writing a birth plan can help families frame their expectations for how they’d like others to respect their personal birth experience. Things like the lighting, what mom would like to wear, perhaps certain religious preferences, and music all are appropriate to list. No matter what happens, if interventions are used, ALL of these preferences can and should be respected. If a caregiver balks at any of them, I’d suggest that the family consider finding a more respectful place in which to give birth.
Also, the process of actually writing a birth plan can be a great exercise for the families to start thinking more about the actual day of birth. Thinking through all of the choices and options is a wonderful way to actually focus on birth, and not just the baby. I’ve found that the process of writing a birth plan helps parents mentally place themselves at the birth place, imagining who will be there, and even thinking about certain logistics, like what to bring and who to notify. Many families (especially if they haven’t taken any childbirth classes, or took really awful scary ones) find that they’d rather avoid the birth plan process so they don’t have to start thinking about the actual birth. The answer then is to find some help- hire a doula, take classes, or seek out a therapist to get good, confidence-building information, get support, or to get to the root of any fears.
If there are special religious preferences that your families has and there are specific traditions or rituals that are very important to you, a birth plans can be the way these are explained to and communicated to everyone involved in the birth. Hospitals are required by law to respect and make allowances for cultural and religious preferences. And while I’d usually say that birth plans should be one page maximum, if there are extensive rituals and traditions that need to be explained, then the birth plan should be as long as it needs to be.
Finally, a well-written birth plan is just a great tool for setting a tone, expectations on the level of respect, and for explaining any specific details that may be pertinent to an individual’s situation. Things like previous births, who is allowed into the birth room, and any medical conditions should go in the introduction. These details paint picture of who you are and will help good staff do a better job of taking care of you. If you have a care provider who talks you out of even the most reasonable requests, then you really need to rethink your choice of a care provider.
At BabyLove, we have a workshop to help you write a good birth plan. Held every other month, it’s time to learn what can go into a plan, and we give families to to work on crafting and refining a helpful, positive birth plan with our help. Find out more about the class and register for workshop by visiting our website.
Have you found a birth plan to be useful? Share in the comments below!