If you create a birth plan, it gives you the opportunity to research the delivery process and make critical labor and breastfeeding decisions in advance. The plan will also give you an opportunity to discuss your preferences with your medical team in an organized way. Many expecting mothers also feel less anxiety going into the birth when they have a detailed birth plan that their doctor agrees with entirely.
When to Create a Birth Plan
It’s never too early to start thinking about your birth experience. If this is your first birth, you may need some time to research some of the information included in the plan, ensuring that you make informed decisions for yourself and your baby. While your due date serves as a guideline, you never really know how much time you have before your baby arrives. It’s best to complete the plan early so that you aren’t caught off guard.
How Long Should a Birth Plan Be?
Length isn’t as important as format when creating a birth plan. The goal is to provide as much information as possible in a condensed space and in a format that is easy to scan. Your doctor and other hospital support staff are less likely to read the pan thoroughly and remember the details if you bring in a plan that contains long paragraphs or that lacks clear category separations.
If you want to write in complete sentences and paragraphs, separate the plan into multiple categories and try to condense it into two pages. If you complete a questionnaire style birth plan that allows you to check boxes, up to four or five pages is reasonable. This is the best format because your doctor can quickly scan for the needed information before, during and after your delivery.
Pack a few copies in your hospital bag, which allows you to hand a copy to your doctor, nurse or others of importance when it’s time to deliver the baby. Keep a copy for yourself and your partner to refer to as well because deliveries are sometimes stressful and you may want to refer back to decisions made at an earlier date if something goes wrong.
Breastfeeding & Your Birth Plan
Your birth plan should clearly state that you want to breastfeed exclusively, but that isn’t where your decisions stop. You should also include your desire for your baby to receive your expressed milk rather than formula if complications prevent you from breastfeeding. If you would like to see a lactation specialist or you want your doula or birthing partner to help you with the first feeding session, this is something to specify in the plan as well.
The breastfeeding section may also include guidelines for skin-to-skin contact, which is comforting and healthy for your baby immediately after birth. You may also want to include instructions for your partner to cradle your baby skin-to-skin if you’re unable due to complications. Make sure that you also discuss this desire with your partner so that they can speak up on your behalf and ensure that your preferences are respected in the delivery room.
It’s also a good idea to go into the delivery with a clear understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact. This will give you some added confidence and talking points if you have to talk to doctors, nurses or other medical professionals about your desire to breastfeed exclusively or cuddle your baby immediately after the birth.
Stand your ground and insist on what’s healthiest for your baby unless there are legitimate complications that make it impossible. You can also ask your partner to do much of the speaking on your behalf because they’re likely just as passionate about doing what’s best for the baby.
Natural Birth vs. C-Section Birth Plans
C-sections and natural births are different technical processes, so the decisions that you have to make before, during and after the birth also differ. It helps to understand the standard practices observed by your birthing facility so that you know what to expect and see your opportunities to personalize the experience.
For example, many hospitals don’t automatically place the baby on the mother’s chest for skin-on-skin contact but that doesn’t mean your hospital won’t agree to do so if you request it in advance. As long as there are no medical complications that make immediate contact with the mother dangerous, many doctors now understand the benefits of allowing direct contact regardless of the birthing process utilized.
If your pregnancy is considered high risk or you have experienced pregnancy complications that may lead to concerns during the delivery process, your doctor may not negotiate much on the procedures followed. Their goal is to take precautions that may save your life and preserve the health of your baby despite the risks.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t educate yourself on the birthing process and create a birth plan that is unique to you while covering the most important decisions for a natural birth or c-section. Just go into it knowing that your high-risk status could lead to alternations to that plan once the delivery begins. This includes the possible transition from a natural birth plan to a c-section birth plan, so make sure that your preference for both procedures are included if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
Premature Birth & Complications
If your baby is born premature or there are other complications during the birthing process, how do you want your medical team to handle it? This includes your preferences surrounding breastfeeding in the face of these obstacles, but you may also have strong opinions on other issues related to premature births. Do some research to see what your potential complications are, and then mention your preferences clearly in the birth plan.
Every facility hosting live births will have its own practices and policies, and you may not agree with all of them. Prepare for this by getting a copy of their birth policies in advance. You can discuss any concerns with your doctor to see if they will accommodate alterations to certain policies if you don’t agree with their routine. Note these changes and expectations in your birth plan and bring your doctor’s attention back to them on delivery day to make sure that they remember your previous discussion.
A good example of this is the antibiotic ointment that most hospitals squirt into the baby’s eyes shortly after birth. The goal is to prevent infections that are commonly passed to the baby through vaginal delivery, but the infection typically comes from mothers who have sexually transmitted diseases. All babies will receive the same treatment, assuming that those with STD-infected mothers will get what they need in the process.
If you know that your baby isn’t likely to get such an infection, you may want to discuss your preference not to subject your baby to the antibiotic after birth. This should go in your birth plan.
How to Handle the Unexpected
While your birth plan should include cover your preferences for many of the most common birth complications, you never know what may happen once you go into labor. While your medical team should take your preferences seriously, a birth plan is not a binding contract and there are no guarantees that everything is going to flow just as you expect. Create your plan with an open mind, knowing that you will more than likely need to make some last-minute changes as the birthing process plays out.
Your best defense against confusion and choas in the delivery room is strong communication with your partner. If you have discussed what you do and don’t want in detail, then your partner is more likely to make decisions that you will agree with even if you aren’t able to participate in emergency situations or rush decisions. These detailed discussions will also help you make decisions when you’re in labor and don’t have time for research.
For instance, if your medical team wants to use a medication to assist in a difficult delivery, early discussions about not using medication unless medically necessary will help in the decision-making process.
You can also ask your doctor or midwife if there is anything you’ve left off your birth plan. This gives the professionals who know your medical history a chance to apply their knowledge of the birthing process to your plan. They can help you think about possibilities that you may overlook because you don’t have their years of experience with births. This can reduce the number of unexpected events that can come your way once the delivery day arrives. The more you know, the more you can research and prepare.
How Do You Know Your Birth Plan Is Complete?
Using a birth plan template will help you cover all of the most important information. You should include important decisions regarding the type of birth that you expect to have plus your preferences that will apply if your planned natural birth turns into a medically required c-section. With that basic information, you can consider your birth plan complete unless your birth partner, doctor or midwife ask you to include additional information.
If your anxiety or fear regarding the approaching delivery force you to go over and over the birth plan, try turning your attention to packing the perfect hospital bag instead. This will channel your anxiety in a new direction, allowing you to set the birth plan aside for at least a week or two. If you still find yourself going over it and wondering what’s missing or what could go wrong, try packing the plan into your hospital bag. This sends a message to your brain that the plan is complete, packed up and ready to go.
If you continue to read about breastfeeding and issues related to deliver, there’s nothing wrong with adding to your birth plan if you come across new issues that you want to include. Just make sure that you’re focusing on issues that require you to make a decision or state your preference. Covering basic procedures that your medical team is going to do no matter what will only clutter the birth plan. The doctors and nurses don’t need to know that you understand the birthing process. They just need to know your preferences on key issues so that they can serve you and your baby well.
Modern Additions When You Create A Birth Plan
Mothers now have more options than every before, so it’s worth some time researching how technology has changed the birthing process. For instance, if you want to collect your baby’s umbilical cord blood and store it in a bank just in case your baby needs the stem cells in the future, you should add this to your birth plan and make sure your doctor is aware of your preference.
If you want to keep the placenta for later consumption, this is another request that should make it into the birth plan. The same goes for delaying cord clamping so that your baby can get a few extra pumps of blood to support the beginning of their life. Talk to the doctor in advance is essential, and it helps to have your partner speak up with a reminder during the birthing process because these aren’t requests that every mother will make.
Quick Birth Plan Checklist
Birth plans are unique to each new mother, but most will cover a lot of the same categories of information. In addition to using birth plan templates for breastfeeding mothers, you can use this quick checklist to make sure that your plan includes all the information you will need for a successful birth day.
- Where you intend to give birth
- Who you want in the room when you’re in labor
- Who you want in the room when you deliver
- Who will cut the cord after the baby’s birth
- Who you want to visit after the baby is born
- Allowances or limitations for videos and photos taken before, during and after the delivery
- How much private time you want before loved ones are allowed to visit
- Feeding preferences, including instructions not to give the baby a pacifier if that concerns you
- Request to breastfeed immediately after delivery
- Preferences for skin-to-skin contact after delivery
- Ambiance for the birthing room (music, lighting, etc.)
- Tools for labor and delivery (exercise ball, pillows, bathtub, etc.)
- Pain management plan
- Preferred positions for labor and delivery
- Plan for potential complications (episiotomy, slow progress, c-section, breech, etc.)
- Episiotomy vs. natural tearing when there are no complications
- Use of medication to control delivery (inducing labor, speeding up the placenta, etc.)
- Religious requirements and desires
- Preferences regarding circumcision
- Chosen pediatrician to see your baby after the delivery
This list is a good starting point, but it helps to have birth plan templates to guide the process. We’re created two templates (coming soon!) that cover all of the information commonly included in a plan.