Not sure what to expect from labor? Prepare yourself with this birth plan advice and handy questionnaire
By Emily Lovely
Like Kegel exercises and reading the final chapters in that massive pregnancy manual beside your bed, writing a birth plan is worth the effort pre-delivery—and it can also help ease your anxiety about labor.
Of course, you can’t control how your bundle of joy makes his grand entrance, so a birth plan isn’t actually a plan. Instead, think of it as a short list of requests for anyone helping to welcome your baby, including your partner. In a page or less, a birth plan typically includes your choices for pain management, your opinions about interventions, and details about who’s cutting the cord.
Before penning your preferences, you’ll need to know your options, because much of your delivery will be dictated by where you give birth and who’s assisting you. For example, many hospitals require an IV and constant fetal monitoring, meaning you’re obliged to deliver in bed, stirrups and all, so it would be futile to write that you wish to labor in a bathtub or pacing the halls. Talk through potential scenarios in advance with your care provider, such as what might lead to a C-section, keeping in mind that birth plans are a new concept: Before presenting your written delivery desires, it’s best to get on the same page—literally!
Birth plans may also include specifics such as who is welcome to witness the birth and if you’d like to see the baby crown. Busy nurses don’t have time to read three pages, so be succinct (one page or less), and emphasize what’s most important to you.
It’s also important to stay flexible. A birth plan isn’t a contract, so feel free to say “yes” to an epidural even if you wrote “no pain medication,” and be prepared that your ob/gyn might suggest a procedure that isn’t on paper. You might need a plan B, and possibly even a plan C—as in, C-section. The priority is a healthy delivery! Ease your mind and get started on the next page.
Emily Lovely recently welcomed her second baby using “birth plan C.” Prior to kids, Emily was a travel writer. Now her work appears in pregnancy and parenting magazines.
Things to Consider
What type of pain relief do you plan to use? Is your strategy, “I want an epidural ASAP!” or would you prefer to avoid drugs? If it’s the latter, what other pain management techniques will you use?
Who do you want to be there at the birth? Do you want your mom holding your hand, or just your husband and your doula in the room? If you already have kids, will they be there?
What type of atmosphere would you like to have? Do you prefer a high-energy room with upbeat music, or a quiet, softly lit setting?
What do you think about photos and videos of the birth? Do you wish to capture every moment from the first labor pain, or wait until your tyke is cleaned and content before the flashbulbs begin?
Do you want to avoid an episiotomy or assisted birth? If your baby is being bashful, your provider may wish to do an episiotomy—an incision between the vagina and anus—to make room for baby, or use forceps or vacuum extraction. Ask about pros and cons of these procedures before you decide.
How do you feel about having a C-section? Surgical deliveries are sometimes performed due to “failure to progress”—does pushing for five hours send you to the operating room, or does your doc schedule the OR only if baby is in distress?
How would you like your baby monitored during labor? Many hospitals use constant electronic fetal monitoring via a big belt, but you may be able to request “intermittent” monitoring if you wish to escape the bed.
How would you like to stay hydrated during labor? Most laboring women are tethered to an IV, but if you’d like to sip water or juice you may be able to request just a more mobile hep lock—an IV part that allows it to be easily disconnected.
Does where you’re planning to deliver have any other policies that will affect your labor? For example, you may want to munch on a protein bar during your labor, but most hospitals limit your consumption to ice chips.
Do you want to see the baby crowning? Some mothers request to have a mirror positioned so they can see the baby’s head appear or even touch his noggin.
Who will cut the cord and when? Does daddy want to do the honors, and do you prefer to wait until the baby has taken her first breath to clamp the cord?
What do you want to happen immediately after the birth? After an uncomplicated delivery, the baby typically is placed on the mother’s chest. And if you’d like to breastfeed, you may want to start right away and request your baby not be given a bottle or pacifier, which may interfere with nursing.
Is there additional information that might affect delivery? For example, you may wish to note if you are blind as a bat without your glasses or that you plan to bank your baby’s cord blood.