What is a Birth Plan?
A birth plan expresses your delivery preferences to your birth team and immediate family members for what happens in the delivery room on the day your baby is born. Some considerations often included when creating a birth plan are birth options such as:
- Labor pain relief measures other than pain medication such as using a birthing stool, squatting bar, birthing ball, waterbirth tubs, perineal massage
- Requesting to be able to eat and drink during labor versus being limited to only ice chips and clear liquids
- Postpartum care -Access to a lactation consultant, rooming in with baby, skin-to-skin with baby
- Intermittent fetal monitoring versus continuous fetal monitoring
- Banking baby’s umbilical cord blood
After you hear about other women’s births and learn labor and delivery possibilities, you’ll naturally develop hopes and fears. A birth plan helps you to define and express these birth preferences.
Birth plans are not contracts. Writing it out and giving it to your healthcare provider, doctor or midwife, doesn’t make it true.
The birth plan is mostly there for you. It shapes your labor and birth only as much as you use it to shape it. Your baby’s birth is important and should be planned for.
Why Write a Birth Plan?
Birth plans express that you have preferences about how you (and your pregnancy and baby) are taken care of and treated by healthcare professionals, hospital or birth center staff.
It will help you, your support person and birth team stay on the same page, even if you are faced with some unexpected events.
As Diana Korte (author of the VBAC Companion) said, “If I don’t know my options, I don’t have any.” Part of writing a birth plan is researching and learning about what it is you do and don’t want.
Spend the time to contemplate your choices and write a list. Once you have a handle on it, talk about it with your partner, doula, and provider.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Birth Plan?
A good birth plan is one that works for you and fits your needs. If you need one just for you and your partner to remember what to ask for, anything goes. If you intend to use it as an advocation tool with your medical providers, it should suit their needs, too.
Tips for Writing Your Birth Plan:
It’s a good idea to only include the items that you or your provider think of as special requests. For example, if your provider has a standard practice of delayed cutting of the umbilical cord, you don’t need to include it on your plan. A pdf birth plan is great to have so you can email it and send it to your birth team.
Visual or bullet-point heavy.
Use phrases, not sentences, and put them in large font with bullet points. You may also consider using images to help the providers read at a glance. Remember, this should only be a reminder—your preferences should be in your chart as well as on your lips.
You are dealing with health care professionals who are now co-responsible (with you!) for the well-being of you and your baby. Working with laboring families is intense, and many birth workers work long hours, doing their best. Therefore, use phrasing that is firm but not forceful.
Birth plans get made fun of in labor and delivery wards because so often the people who make them are rigid and unprepared. You take a birth class, learn all you can, develop your preferences, but remember that birth can take you a lot of places. Your acknowledgment of that should be in your birth plan.
Do I need a Birth Plan B?
Part of the benefit of birth plans is also one of the drawbacks: You know what you want and you know when you don’t get it.
The stress of holding a vice-like grip on your birth wishes will inhibit your hormones and hamper your experience. If you want to have a low-intervention or easier birth, don’t become attached to one way.
Plan for the best. Expect the best. Prepare for everything.
There are two ways for things to go awry, and they aren’t always distinguishable, even to professionals. The first is when your wishes are not being taken seriously. The second is when something occurs that calls for your birth to go off-plan.
Taking a good birth class and reading prenatally will help you distinguish between being pressured to do something the provider normally does and being offered sound medical advice about your situation.
You need to be open to going where birth takes you, but you still get to make the decisions about your care.
Prepare for things that you think of as bad. What don’t you want to happen? What can you do if it does? Can you get to a place where whatever needs to happen is OK?
If you are planning a home birth or a birth center birth, do you have a mental pathway for if it goes to the hospital? The operating room?
If you are planning on an epidural for pain management, do you have an alternate pain relief plan if it doesn’t work?
Outline (in your head at least) a Plan B and C.
Example Plan C:
If a c-section is necessary:
- Please allow us a few moments alone before transfer
- My doula and my partner will attend in the OR
- I will hold my baby skin-to-skin immediately following the c-section
Who Needs a Birth Plan?
Everyone should have a birth plan, if your a first time mom, having a high risk pregnancy, or preparing for VBAC.
The hope is that your birth plan brings helps you with choosing a provider and place that meets your goals for your birth beyond just having a healthy baby.
Ideally if you have a provider that you trust implicitly, who respects your bodily autonomy and regularly attends the kind of birth you want to have, you may not need much of a plan. Anything that’s an unusual request can be written on a card or mentioned as a reminder on the day of your birth.
If you haven’t been able to find a provider or birth place that fits that description, you will want to have the conversations with your provider and partner before and during the birth. The birth plan will keep everyone on the same page.
What Things Should I Consider when Writing a Birth Plan?
- Consider writing your imagined birth story in detail (for yourself, not providers)
- Take a birth course
- Research your choices and birth options
- Talk with your doula about her recommendations
- Keep a running list of things to remember
- Consider your options for going into labor, pushing, immediate postpartum, and what happens with the baby
- Ask all the questions long before you are due to make sure your birth provider, birth place and birth team are the best fit.
- Read Why Birth Plans Fail
Sample Birth Plan
The best birth plan looks something like this:
I will make all the decisions about my body and that of my baby after considering advice from you as my hired medical professional.
It doesn’t matter how much research you’ve done, how many classes you’ve taken, or how much you understand about birth. You get to make the decisions.
If you don’t want that responsibility, a doctor will gladly take over for you. This is part of what you pay them for, and it is a load off of you. But it’s important to remember that whether you want them to make the choices or not, you do not give up your bodily autonomy just because you are pregnant.
A more detailed plan can help you experience that autonomy.
What Do I Do With My Birth Plan?
- Make sure you and your partner basically have it memorized.
- Discuss every point with your provider ahead of time.
- Give a copy to your doula.
- Give a copy to your nurse.
- Consider posting a copy on the door or wall of your laboring room.
Disclaimer: Pregnancy by Design’s information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always ask your healthcare provider about any health concerns you may have.
Free Video Guide on Creating Your Birth Plan!
The Complete Guide to Writing Your Birth Plan is a step by step walk-through of the most important aspects of creating an effective birth plan. The guide covers everything you need to know from interviewing a provider, comfort measures and additional 1-page birth plan to talk over with your provider. Get free access today!