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Birth Plans: What, Why, and How

by Jane Wangersky | September 25th, 2012 | Pregnancy
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A birth plan is a short document stating your preferences in choices you have during labor and just after the birth. It can be very useful to have these written down in one place, and not just for your own reference. As Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn (byPenny Simkin, April Bolding, Ann Keppler and Janelle Durham) says, “your nurses likely won’t know much about you before you arrive at the hospital in labor.”

There’s no standard form for a birth plan, though your doctor or hospital may have their own for you to fill out. If they don’t, you can follow the form of the sample birth plans in Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn or find one online. Whatever form you use, the book advises you to keep it to two pages and use bullet points.

A sample birth plan from the Department of Defense/VA Pregnancy and Childbirth Book goes through the choices in chronological order and checklist form. For example, you start by planning your environment — dim lights, music, aromatherapy (but no candles), etc. Next, you decide things like how mobile you want to be (I was walking around the room 20 minutes before my second child was born and was glad I had been), how the baby will be monitored, and what you will want for pain relief, medicinal or non-medicinal. That’s one area you may change your mind mid-stream.

The sample plan goes on to cover who you want in the room with you, whether you want a mirror to watch the birth (good luck seeing over your stomach, though), what position you want to take as you push, and what exactly should happen right after birth (do you want the baby cleaned up and checked, or given to you right away?) as well as many other things. It also covers your rooming arrangements in the hospital, and care for the baby all the way up to circumcision (or not).

There are a couple of things to remember about a birth plan: It’s not a binding contract. The hospital staff won’t necessarily be able to do everything the way you want it, for medical or other compelling reasons. The plan doesn’t restrict you, either — you can change your mind anytime.

Also, not all health care providers are on board with birth plans. They may have had bad experiences with overly restrictive or unrealistic birth plans. Whatever the reason, if your doctor,midwife, or hospital staff doesn’t like the idea, you’ll have to consider whether to drop it, try to persuade them, or switch to someone else.

If everyone’s on board, though, a birth plan can make things easier for all of you.

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