We all know that pregnancy and birth are unpredictable and uncontrollable situations. Those two words alone can drive many of us to a brown bag for breathing support. But being faced with an uncontrollable situation does not need to send you into a panic. Many situations in life are ones that we cannot pre-define or micro-manage but we get through them by planning for eventual outcomes, understanding our own needs and desires and making sure those needs and desires are understood by those important to us.
Birth is much like any situation that is unpredictable which is why many maternal healthcare providers recommend writing a birth plan. A birth plan is a simple statement about how you wish, if the situation allows it, for your birth to progress. Typical elements of a birth plan are “I wish to labour naturally without induction” or “I wish to have an epidural when requested”. Much like any legal document or contract, a birth plan sets out what the parties (i.e. the birthing person or the parents) wish to have happen during labour and delivery. Just like any good contract there is always, of course, the possibility that things don’t work out as planned. By writing a birth plan you can also consider what might happen if things take a turn and your ideal birth just isn’t possible. How you want choices to be made or issues to be dealt with in those situations is also important.
Writing a birth plan during pregnancy can help you set realistic expectations. By discussing your birth plan with your healthcare provider, you can understand if your wishes match or can match with your hospital or birthing centre’s policies. For example, say you wish you have a water birth but your chosen hospital does not have a birthing pool available. Maybe you want to have a water birth and an epidural but this goes against hospital policy. Even something as simple as wishing to bring in your favourite snack so that you can eat during labour can go against hospital policy. By discussing these issues in advance you can understand how you can write a birth plan that fits within the policy or perhaps even choose a different birthing centre that does allow for the type of birth you’re looking to have. Once you know that your birth plan has been written in a way that is achievable if your labour conditions are ok, you can feel confident that you won’t be entering a situation where you’re asking for the hospital or birthing centre to go against its own rules. One hurdle taken care of!
While writing your birth plan and discussing it with your midwife, doctor, partner or doula, you may learn more about what is and what is not possible during birth which will prevent disappointments or confusion. For example, you may write on your birth plan that you wish to have a “natural birth” but in your mind, you’re expecting some kind of pain relief. To your doctor or even your birthing partner, a “natural birth” may mean that you intend to labour without any drugs. By talking about what you’re expecting, you may decide to write that you wish you have a “vaginal birth” with the possibility of pain relieving drugs being used if necessary. As with any plan, language is key and you’ll want to make sure that you understand the terms being used and that those terms are understood in the same way by those around you.
Writing a birth plan can also help you deal with the reality that birth is not controllable before you head into the delivery room. It can bring those concerns to a place where you can discuss them with your partner, doctor, support person or even your friend. By talking about them, you can hopefully discover which aspects of your birth you are adamant about, any issues that you can deal with before giving birth and any emotions or previous trauma that is being triggered due to your upcoming birth. Confronting your fears and worries on paper, in a relaxed and safe environment, can reduce any unnecessary stress during your actual birth.
Your birth plan can be written in simple language, even as bullet points. If you’re looking for a template to take to your healthcare provider or hospital, send us an email by clicking here. For more information on our birth courses, check out our upcoming class here.