If you are interested in writing a birth plan you may be wondering how to go about it. What should you include? How detailed should it be? How do you make sure it’s effective? Here is what we suggest to our clients.
We like to start by calling it your birth preferences rather than your birth plan. Words are powerful. They create our thoughts and beliefs about a thing. We all know that birth can be unpredictable so it can help to be open to the unknown right from the start of the writing process.
Does this mean you shouldn’t envision what you want or how you would like things to go? No. But it does mean cultivating trust in your own ability to do what needs to be done in each moment, even if that means the best thing in the moment is a change of plans.
1. Consider why you want to write your birth preferences – Your first step is to figure out WHY you want to write out your birth preferences. This will help you decide on format, length, tone, and content. Whether it’s to take the time to research and consider your options or to create a communication tool to use with your medical care team, your birth preferences will be more effective if you are crystal clear on why you are putting pen to paper.
2. Consider your audience – It can be tempting to treat your birth preferences like a decree. After all this is your body, your baby, and your birth. You have the right to make the decisions that are best for you. That being said, the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” is true. Treat your birth preferences as an opportunity to share a bit of yourself and what is most important to you for your birth, while simultaneously inviting your medical care team to be a part of that vision. Aim for assertive and confident rather than dictatorial.
3. Consider that it’s only the beginning – Your birth preferences is one way of introducing yourself and your preferences to your medical support team, some of whom you may be meeting for the first time while you are in labour. But it does not take the place of informed choice discussions or the need for you to make decisions on the fly throughout the course of your birth. You, and your partner or primary support person, will still need to be prepared to ask questions, understand the options being offered you, and advocate for yourself as you go.
As we’ve already discussed, we all know that birth is unpredictable, and even the most thorough birth preferences will simply not be able to cover every single possible contingency that may arise. Not to mention that if complications DO arise, your preferences may change as new potential benefits and risks emerge.
4. Consider keeping it short and simple – Keeping your birth preferences to a page or less increases the likelihood that it will be read. Bullet points, rather than long paragraphs, also help. Focusing on the “big picture” or those 3-5 things that are most important to you, while also including a sense of flexibility for unexpected circumstances, creates the opportunity for collaboration.
This two sentence birth preferences for an unmedicated, low intervention vaginal birth from Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds by Cynthia Gabriel masters short and simple:
“Dear birth team: Please help me achieve the most natural birth possible. I’m so grateful for everyone who is helping us on this wonderful day. Sincerely, [your name]”
5. Consider bringing it to a prenatal appointment – Bringing your birth preferences to a prenatal appointment to discuss with your primary care provider in advance of labour will provide a foundation for discussion and collaboration. This is a great time to practice asking questions, understanding the options being offered you, and advocating for yourself – skills that will also come in handy once labour begins. And if there are any sticking points, you have time to sort them out before the big day.
6. Consider not writing one – Taking the time to research your options and figuring out what you want and need to birth your baby is always worthwhile. But you don’t necessarily have to write it down. Writing down your birth preferences doesn’t guarantee a certain kind of birth or outcome. If writing your birth preferences becomes an exercise in maintaining control over what is, at its heart, an uncontrollable process, you may find your anxiety and fear increasing rather than decreasing.
If you decide that writing your birth preferences is right for you, your doula can help. She can provide resources, help you suss out what your top priorities are for your birth, and support you while you get it all down on paper. LEARN MORE >>
Did you write a birth plan? What was most useful to you about the process? Would you do anything differently next time?
Rachel is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula, Birthing From Within mentor, and mother of three. She is passionate about helping women and their partners discover their own inner strength and wisdom so that they can begin their parenting journey with confidence. With a focus on supporting her clients as they determine what their own priorities and preferences are for their birth while giving them the tools they need to realize those priorities, she feels fortunate to witness her clients come into their own and become their own best advocates.