The Trouble With Birth Plans
Have you pictured it? Your perfect birth?
Are you dreaming of gracefully bobbing in that birth pool? Looking forward to the sweet relief of that epidural? Do you picture your partner close by as you're prepped for your planned Cesarean; or your baby being placed on your chest as soon as he's born?
Every woman will see a different picture of "perfect". And every woman hopes that what is most important to her will be heard and honored.
This is where birth plans have come into play. The idea is that the entire birth team - the physician(s), nurses, midwife, doula, partner - all know what events will and will not make a mother feel her best during labor. Her preferences are written down so that all can see and reference so that she can birth her baby in as much peace as possible.
But what happens when the labor process goes a little sideways? When labor deviates from "The Plan"?
A birth plan is about giving you a starting point; a blueprint.
It's not about ensuring outcomes - even with the most supportive birth team on board, birth is sometimes unpredictable and no one can control what happens. Is making a birth plan, then, even worth it? We think it can be. But we also think there can be troubles with them. Read on to find out what those troubles are and what makes a good birth plan instead.
Birth Plan Trouble #1:
Unnecessary clutter and unrealistic expectations.
What to do instead: Ask yourself if what you want is possible.
Knowing your hospital's policies, the health status of you or your baby, and the practicality of your preferences will largely determine what should be included or ommitted in your birth plan. For example, if your birth facility already routinely implements intermittent fetal monitoring during labor, there's no need to include this on the birth plan. Or if you're planning an epidural, walking around the room simply won't be a request that can be followed for safety reasons. If your facility does not regularly have women asking for their placentas to be saved for encapsulation, your wish for this to be done would be helpful in including, especially if it is not already in your chart.
Discuss your options with you physician or midwife during your prenatal appointments to learn about what limitations or policies you need to be aware of to best prepare for the big day.
Birth Plan Trouble #2: Long and wordy.
What to do instead: Keep it short (and maybe visual!)
Every detail of the birth and delivery process will likely be of utmost importance to you; but not every detail belongs on the birth plan. If you feel strongly about avoiding pain medication, mentioning that would be good; including which playlist you want during the pushing phase? Better keep that a separate request for just your partner or doula to take care of. A birth plan longer than a page will likely be overlooked - not because care providers don't care about what you want; but because they get busy - you're probably not the only laboring woman they'll be caring for at once, and reading several paragraphs (let alone memorizing them) for every woman would be near impossible. Prioritize your preferences and condense them to make for a quick and easy-to-reference tool for your team.
Many people remember pictures better than words, so a visual birth plan can be an especially helpful way to communicate your wishes to the staff caring for you. When shift changes bring you new nurses who are getting to know their patients, having this simple format available is often appreciated and welcomed. We offer all our birth clients these visual birth plans, or as an individual service - and the care providers I've worked with in the area love them!
Birth Plan trouble #3: Stubborn attachment.
What to do instead: Be flexible to change.
Knowing what you want (and being able to stick to it) is often an important factor for women in having a positive experience. But as previously stated, birth is unpredictable at times. When you've figured out what things to officially include on your birth plan, think of what your preferred alternatives will be if the original plan changes, whether by choice or necessity. Being willing to accept that not everything may go as you hoped - and having a Plan B - not only helps your medical team do their best to help you in the moment of change, but it can help you avoid panic in the event that you need to take a different route because you already thought ahead to its possibility.
At VOICE Birth Options, we really believe in the power that a birth plan can have. For many women, it helps them feel empowered, knowing they can excercise their ability to make their wishes known and that they matter. For others, it's simply a helpful tool to sift through the sometimes seemingly endless options available. Some women don't feel the need to make one at all, and we think that's ok too! - because we know birth plans aren't necessary to have a satisfying experience.
If you're a planner, we can help you plan; and if you're a wait-and-see kind of person, we are happy to guide you along in the moment.
Either way, our hope is that you feel heard, respected, and supported!