Have you written your birth plans yet? If not, you should! (Unless you really don’t want to make the decisions in this transitional life experience, and really, really trust the rest of your birth team to do that for you – in that case, this prolly won’t be worth your time. Otherwise, trust me, putting in the work to prepare your birth plans and preferences will pay off!)
Before you do anything else, though, let’s get clear: birth is a notoriously unpredictable experience, and, frankly, you’re not going to control/fix that by making a birth plan. Nor do you need to prepare for absolutely everything, or think through every possible emergency situation (that’s your midwife/OB’s job!). Point is, the “perfect” birth plan doesn’t always manifest itself into your birth universe – and getting a perfect birth is not why we’re here. (Right? Where are my fellow perfectionists at??)
Why Birth Plans are Valuable
So… birth is crazy unpredictable… but you’re saying that pretty much everyone should have a birth plan?? That it’s still valuable? Wouldn’t it be better to just say, “give me a healthy baby,” and go for the ride?
Well, if you’re thinking of birth plans in the traditional, I’m-want-to-be-in-control, this-is-the-only-best-birth feel, then yes, I can see that. (Plus, the mountain of options and possible outcomes feels mighty overwhelming – especially to first-time parents!) BUT, it’s all about the journey, not the destination, friend. (5 points to Gryffindor if you can figure out who I’m quoting there. Hint: they’re fictional, and their name starts with a K.) Believe it or not, the most valuable part of having a birth plan is the process of creating it, not the actual plan itself.
Sit with that a bit. The value lies in the journey of pulling together your birth plans, not the actual (maybe even pretty) paper you get at the end. It’s taking the time to purposefully think and learn about yourself. Refining your values and expectations around this vulnerable life experience. Figuring out what helps you (and your partner) feel comfortable and safe. That’s the good stuff.
AWESOME-SAUCE side bonus: all that good stuff starts ripple effects on your birth experience. You’ll be able to communicate more clearly with your birth team, know if you have the right people on your birth team, receive more meaningful support, process and prepare for some circumstances ahead of time (vs making decisions in the hormonal flux of the moment). Virtual high-five – doesn’t that sound amazing!?
Birth Plans, Birth Preferences and Words
Quick side note: some prefer “birth preferences” over “birth plans.” Those words do have different feels, don’t they? Here, your plan is a collection of your personal preferences and values. If using one over the other is helpful, use that!
Wait, you said birth plans. I should have more than one?
YES, I said birth plans (that’s plural!). Aside from thinking through and clarifying your ideal birth plan (the plan A, what you expect and hope to happen), you should also think through at least 2-3 of the most common or important ways your birth experience could shift. (Remember, you don’t need to mentally walk down absolutely every possible path; the key here is to focus on just the most important/probable ones.)
So. At the end of this birth plan preparing stuff, you should have your:
- Ideal birth plan: the OG, everything goes pretty much as expected
- Backup plan(s): if you decide to change course, your new expectations
- PLUS, your postpartum plan: what care, boundaries, and support resources you can (and would) use to support yourselves as you transition into parenthood and recover from birth
What you should include in your backup plans depends a lot on what your ideal looks like for this birth and pregnancy. (For example, someone planning on a scheduled cesarean doesn’t really need an induction plan.) Here are some common backup situations:
- Induction (you prefer to have labor start by itself, but choose otherwise later)
- Backup Comfort Measures (planning unmedicated, but decide on an epidural; or you’re planning on an epidural, but don’t get it/it’s not effective)
- Transfer Birthing Locations (if you’re birthing out-of-hospital, you need to think through this)
- Cesarean (if it’s emergent, and/or if it’s not; if a scheduled cesarean is your plan A, this most often looks like an emergent cesarean plan – so if labor starts before your scheduled date, medical stuff happens beforehand, etc.)
- Bereavement Resources (the plan we hope you never have to use, but can be helpful to prepare for if you must walk the road of grief and loss)
How to Prepare Your Birth Plans
Ok. So now you know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it; how do you actually prepare those birth plans? The logistics aren’t actually too complicated: first, brain dump all your thoughts and feels, then organize it.
The brain dumping can feel a bit overwhelming; remember, you don’t have to do this all at once! Start a note on your phone to compile your thoughts, grab a piece of paper and bullet out important thoughts, snag and print out the journaling tool (it’s free!) – do what you need to to make this attainable! Also remember that you don’t have to have definitive answers about everything, and you can always change your answers later as you understand yourself more clearly, or as your values change. Childbirth classes, books, and talking with trusted friends and support people can all help here, too.
Many will start brainstorming during the second trimester, and refine their values and vision right up until about 32-36 weeks. I recommend having at least your core values or a “rough draft” pulled together by about then (earlier if you know preterm birth and/or complications are likely).
Not sure where to start? Try asking yourself some of these questions:
- Imagine yourself, postpartum thinking back on your birth experience. What are you most grateful for? How do you hope you feel?
- When/where have you felt safe and supported? Peaceful? Comforted? Confident?
- What do you do to comfort yourself when you’re in pain or uncomfortable?
- How does your partner comfort you when you’re in pain/uncomfortable? Do you like it? What do you wish they would do?
- What foods might you crave/want during and after birth?
- Are there any words, phrases, or topics that you prefer your birth team avoid? Use?
- What traumas and stressors might impact this birth? What coping tools are most helpful to you?
- Who do you want with you throughout this birth? Why? Are you confident that they can fill that role for you?
- What’s your provider’s standard care in early labor, active labor, pushing, and during the golden hour postpartum? Would you prefer anything different?
- If baby or the birthing person needs additional medical support at any time, who would stay/go with baby (NICU)? With you? What would be comforting for everyone?
Are those helpful? Snag my Birth Plan Prep Guide (it’s free!) for 30+ more of these deep questions to ask yourself and your partner in this brainstorming phase.
Organizing the Official Birth Plans
Once you’ve dumped your feels (and hopefully gained a lot of insight into yourself and your partner!), organize the most important points into your official birth plans. Start with collecting and organizing everything into a more detailed list for each situation, just for you – no limit on length here, stick everything you feel is important! Then, pull out what’s most important in your sharable plans – this is what you share with your provider and birth team, your communication tool to help them help you best.
- Less is more here! Think bullets and phrases or pictures for clear and concise communication (especially important with hospital staff; aim to keep it all on one page for each situation)
- Try organizing your preferences by where you are in the birth process (for example: early labor, active labor, transition, pushing, birth of babe(s), birth of placenta, golden hour, early postpartum)
- Need to simplify things? Ask yourself: what does my birth team need reminding about? (Do you want to do something that’s a bit different than what they normally do?) What’s most important to me?
- Talk through your birth plans with your partner, provider (ideally for one of your 32-36 week visits), doula, photographer/videographer, and any family members that might be there. Their feedback can be super helpful in refining both your plans and your birth team; if someone can’t support what’s most important to you, they don’t belong in your birth space.
- Print out and keep your birth plans in your birth bag (for home birth families: make sure you have your backup birth plans in your emergency transfer bag)
- You don’t have to share all of your birth plans with everyone upfront; you get to decide what would be helpful to share with each member of your birth team.
Last Notes from Kaitlyn
When things get overwhelming, remember – your goal isn’t to have the perfect, most beautiful, marvelous birth plans (nor to have a picture-perfect birth experience)! (Yes, this photographer just said that you don’t need to have a picture-perfect birth. And you don’t!) Instead, focus on and embrace the process of learning about yourself; after all, it’s THAT journey that supports the empowered, supported birth experience you truly crave.
Also remember that I’m here for you! If this has been helpful (or you’re still feeling overwhelmed and need a birth nerd friend to talk things through with), connect with me over on Instagram or Facebook, and reach out! Your thoughts and feels are always welcome here.