As part of my Lamaze childbirth classes, we talk about birth “plans.” Over and over again, I see women writing out plans for their births, and while I think these can be great tools, sometimes I think they can trip women up when it comes to managing expectations and having the most empowered birth possible. So I wanted to share a little bit about how you can use a birth “plan” to help you have the best birth possible.
Tip #1: Call them birth “Preferences,” not “Plans”
One of the most important things I teach in Lamaze classes is that every birth is different, and almost no birth goes exactly as you plan, though every birth is beautiful. Part of managing your birth experience is understanding that you have an ideal birth in mind, but that even if none of your preferences pan out, the end goal is a healthy mama and a healthy baby, period. Calling your wishes “preferences” rather than a “plan” helps to get you in an accepting and flexible mindset, which I have found goes a long way for the birth experience.
Tip #2: Use it as a communication tool
Sure, it’s nice to show up at the hospital with a neatly typed list of things you want for your birth, but it’s really more important to have these conversations with your care provider long before you enter the labor & delivery wing. You can give your provider a heads up about what you hope for your birth and find out what things are possible to include in your list, as well as what things aren’t. It’s important to know what you CAN and CAN’T ask for so that you can mentally prepare well ahead of time and avoid a conflict at your birth location. After all, nobody wants to deal with a major change in expectations while going through contractions.
Tip #3: Demonstrate flexibility
While no one wants to think about the possibility of interventions, it is important for you to recognize that they may happen, and you should know what your preferences are if they DO happen. I encourage my students to include a few lines for what they wish for a cesarean birth, even if they don’t plan for one. This does two things: first, it helps you think about how you can still keep your birth empowering even if unexpected events occur, AND it demonstrates to your care provider that you understand the need for flexibility in the birth process.
Tip #4: Make it your own
Yes, there are a million pre-written birth plans on the internet, where all you have to do is check boxes for what you want. Here’s the thing–in a string of options, it will be hard for the nurses and care providers on call to pick out what is MOST important for you. So write, in your own words, what you want for your birth. Also, see #2. If you have been talking with your care provider, you may find that you don’t NEED a whole lot of those extra lines on your birth preferences list. For example, if your care provider doesn’t use forceps or perform routine episiotomies, it doesn’t make much sense to waste space talking about these things.
Tip #5: KEEP IT SHORT
This should probably be tip #1. The best birth preferences lists are ONE PAGE, in BULLET POINTS. Anything longer screams “high maintenance” to everyone on your birth team (yes, even doulas don’t like to see long birth plans). Bullet points are easy to read and follow–with busy nurse rotations and the hustle and bustle of the birthing floor, you need to get the key details across in as few words as possible. I will repeat this: KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET. Simple plans are easier to follow and demonstrate that you have put careful thought into only the most important aspects of your birth wishes. Plus, it is a lot easier for a care provider to remember a few bullet points than paragraphs of content.
So that’s it–go ahead and get started! With a succinct and thorough birth preferences list, you can communicate with your care provider and manage expectations for a beautiful and empowering birth experience!