Giving birth is a momentous occasion, but it isn’t always a simple or predictable one. Many expectant mothers are making the choice to be proactive by understanding their options and creating a birth plan in preparation for the big day.
What is a birth plan and who should create one?
A birth plan is a statement in which an expectant mother expresses her preferences, wishes, and vision for the birth of her child. It can address a variety of topics – from the ambience of the room to the use of pain medication to limitations on medical interventions. Birth plans can be as informal as a handwritten list of hopes for labor, or more formal in nature, such as a statement that would be included in a woman’s medical chart. Birth plans are as unique as the mothers who create them.
“Women today like to feel more in control of their experience and are very confident sharing their wishes,” explained Erin Neu, RN, BSN, an OB Nurse Navigator at Franciscan Health Family Birth Center. Indianapolis mother of two, Stacey Stover, is an excellent example. She chose to have a birth plan “just to make sure that I’d thought through all my options and my preferences.”
Despite the widely held belief that birth plans are only useful for certain types of births, there are options and decisions to consider in every scenario. “Birth plans are not only for non-medicated births but for all situations, in some cases even a planned c-section delivery,” Neu said.
How to get started
“Have one big goal in mind,” Stover advised. “Keep that as your goal and create details that support that goal.” There are a lot of “what ifs” when it comes to having a baby. Focusing on the things that are most important to you will keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
Also, be sure to communicate your plan to all parties involved in your care ahead of time. Neu suggests meeting with a nurse navigator or similar health professional to start creating your birth plan and to help make decisions consistent with your delivery location. She added that this also allows you to find out ahead of time if any items on your birth plan cannot be accommodated, giving you time to consider other options.
What to do when plans change (and they will)
Neu likes to “work with parents on a birth ‘wish list’ instead of a birth plan.” As she pointed out, “Wishes are what a family hopes for, and plans can sometimes go astray.” She urges parents to not feel defeated when the plan changes and to remain flexible.
Neither of Stover’s births went according to plan. She had to be induced with her first child and required more intervention than she hoped she would need. Her second daughter was born about 20 minutes after she arrived at the hospital. Two daughters and two very different birth experiences later, she is still happy she created a birth plan to help guide her.
Focus on the end goal
“I encourage all those moms to remember that they are amazing no matter how their birth went. Growing a kid and getting them into the world is quite an accomplishment no matter how it happens!” Stover said. And although both of her births were different than what she imagined, she said, “I am proud and happy that I achieved my overall goal.”
Neu acknowledges the importance of birth plans to help parents feel in control and also reminds new parents of the end goal, which is “always a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and a healthy baby and mom.”
Common Birth Plan Requests*
- Low lights in the delivery room
- Calm music playing
- No medication
- No running IV fluids
- Intermittent fetal monitoring
- Mobility during labor
- Bathtub during labor
- Use of labor ball and alternative positioning
- No episiotomy
- Delayed cord clamping
- Skin to skin contact immediately after birth
- Significant other to cut umbilical cord
- Delayed weights, measurements, and bath
- Exclusive breastfeeding
- Infant to “room in” with parents
*Remember, each birth plan is unique and should be discussed with a doctor or provider.
Source: Input from Erin Neu, RN, BSN and sample birth plans