Getting ready for having a baby – especially if this is your first child – gives you so many things to think about. There are several people to include in planning for the day of the birth: yourself, your partner, and of course, the baby on the way – and more if you have other children. One of the most important things to do as you prepare for the birth of your child – whether it’s your first baby or whether you’ve done this before – is to create an official “Birth Plan.”
A birth plan is a written document that shows your overall intentions for how you want the birth to happen. It includes your wishes for such things as what types of medical intervention or pain relief you want, who you want on your “birth team” of close family and friends to assist you during labour, and how you want to handle certain situations that might arise.
The birth plan is important because it clearly spells out your expectations in advance, not when you are in the middle of labour! It gives you a sense of control over the details of your birth and helps you think ahead for possible urgent situations that might occur. For example it gives you an opportunity to indicate what you want to have happen if your own doctor is not available due to emergency and is unable to attend your birth. Who would you prefer to take over? What is your desire for pain control? Do you want an epidural, or not? What if you need a caesarean section?
Preparing a birth plan is not meant to alarm you, and of course, no one can expect to control every little thing that happens during the birth of a child. However, writing a birth plan is a useful exercise to sort through some possible contingencies in your mind and have a better sense of what your ideal birth circumstances would look like. If you’d like to see a great example of a birth plan template that you can use, check out this thorough, easy-to-follow birth plan from The Bump.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
It is very important to talk with your partner about your birth plan to make sure that they agree and understand your wishes, and also to share the birth plan with your “birth team.” This is your inner circle of the few close girlfriends or relatives who will accompany you during labour. By all means, be prepared to be flexible – the birthing centre might not be able to accommodate all of your ideas – but use your birth plan as a set of guidelines and wish list.
As part of your birth plan writing process, get informed about and give some thought to various aspects of your preparations at home, at the birthing centre, in labour, after birth, and with regard to breastfeeding.
At Home – Before You Go to the Hospital
In creating your birth plan, do some research. Make sure you know what to expect about the birth experience. Take a tour of the hospital or birth centre and attend a childbirth class so you know about the different stages of labour. Know your options. Get educated about the various “what ifs” of childbirth – what if you need a caesarean procedure, do you want an epidural, do you want labour-inducing drugs. Consider doing a “dress rehearsal” of labour – pack a bag to take to the hospital well in advance, practice walking to the car, figure out multiple routes to drive to the hospital, and think through any possible obstacles or issues that might arise.
At the Hospital – Understand Policies and Procedures
Think about what you want to happen once you arrive at the hospital. Do you want your partner or a friend or two to be there with you during labour? Find out if there are any limitations on the number of visitors, or if the hospital has policies regarding advance notice of who has to sign in to enter the delivery room. You might be spending a few days at the hospital altogether, so think about what items you want (and are allowed) to bring from home, whether it’s special snacks, favourite music, books, or any other comfort items.
If you would like to get birth photos while you’re in labour and immediately after the birth, don’t assume that will be ok. Ask about the hospital’s policies on this and make sure your photographer will be permitted to enter.
Consider whether you have any preferences for preparations prior to giving birth. Most hospitals no longer require enemas or shaving before delivery. Make your preferences known in writing, if you definitely do not want an epidural or an episiotomy or any other interventions. Be flexible though, you may change your mind on the day. Also ask the hospital for their policy on foetal monitoring and eating or drinking while in labour. Some foetal monitoring devices make it difficult for you to move around the room, but many women appreciate the reassurance they give.
In Labour: Staying Comfortable and Managing Pain
Labour is an intense physical and emotional experience, and you’ll want to think ahead about what you want to do for pain management. Talk with your doctor and hospital team about which devices are available for pain management and helping with labour, such as a birthing stool, tub, and anything else that you can use to stay comfortable. Decide which pain medications you are willing to take, and whether you want any medical assistance for pushing while in labour.
Breastfeeding – Know What to Expect
Breastfeeding is such an important part of the process of becoming a mother, that you should give some advance planning to the topic of breastfeeding as well. Ideally, your baby will be placed on your chest directly after birth so that the baby can feed and bond with you. Talk with your partner about breastmilk feeding. Do you want to work with a lactation consultant? It’s often helpful to be aware of your options for breastfeeding support, even before your baby arrives.
With breastfeeding, as with the birth plan itself, be flexible and be prepared for your plans to change – many new parents don’t fully know what they “want” until the baby arrives and it all becomes much more real! You still have 9 months to get things figured out; the most important thing is to learn about your options and be well-informed so you can raise a healthy baby!
After Birth – What to Expect
Talk to your doctor about what to expect in the immediate aftermath of giving birth – such as cutting the umbilical cord, delivering the placenta, banking the baby’s cord blood, and other details. If your partner or support person wants to cut the umbilical cord, please ask for this to happen and make arrangements ahead of time. Talk about what you would like to happen with the baby immediately after birth. Do you want to have the baby cleaned and weighed first, or do you just want to hold the baby immediately? Do you want the baby to stay with you the entire time in the same room?
Doing a birth plan is an important step as part of your 9-month process of getting ready for the birth of your baby. It’s important to think through the various situations that might arise so that you know your options and are prepared for contingencies. Don’t feel bad if you forget something – you have time to review your birth plan, and once the day comes you will need to be flexible and be ready for any eventualities. But your birth plan will hopefully give you a sense of calm, and help you feel more in control and better-informed about your options. There are an overwhelming number of choices that a family has to make even before the birth of their child. There are so many questions to answer, so the key thing is to stay calm, talk to other parents, and anticipate the situations that you can. With the details out of the way you can focus on the amazing experience of bringing a new life into the world.