What Is a Birth Plan? Plus, How to Create Your Own

A birth plan is kind of an oxymoron: While there are some things in life you can plan for, the birth of a baby isn’t exactly one of them. Babies are infamous for disregarding their due dates, right along with all of your hopes for a specific kind of delivery or birth experience (ugh, they’re so rude).

At the end of the day, the birth you have is more dependent upon your body and your baby, not any plan you wrote down while 7 months pregnant.

That said, there is value to creating a birth plan — even though it might get thrown totally out the window once labor actually starts!

Think of it as a goalpost for your ideal delivery: You might not get there in the exact way you imagined, but having a strategy in mind helps you prepare. We have the tips you need to get started on one of your own.

The important thing to know about a birth plan is that it’s more of a blueprint or rough sketch of how you envision your baby’s delivery, not a set-in-stone commitment. It needs more flexibility than its name implies — enough, in fact, for you to change the plan completely on the spot if needed.

The best birth plans help you answer some important questions before you’re too overwhelmed by labor pains to think straight. Do you hope to have an epidural or a medication-free delivery? Who do you want in the delivery room with you? What interventions are you open to receiving and which would you like to avoid?

A birth plan also helps you communicate these preferences clearly to the labor and delivery staff.

You might be committed to a natural birth until you hit the transition stage of labor, at which point you start begging for pain relief. But if the staff knows about your birth plan, they may be able to suggest alternative options so you can still have the delivery you originally wanted (even if you lose your nerve at 9 centimeters, and who could blame you?).

There’s no right way to create a birth plan, but you should try to keep it as clear and concise as possible. Here’s an example of how a complete birth plan might look:

MY INFORMATION
My full name is:Katelyn Jones
I like to be called:Katie
My doctor/midwife’s name is:Jean Martin, MD, from Baptist Hospital
My due date is:August 3
I’m expecting:It’s a delivery room surprise!
You should know:Group B strep negative; no preexisting conditions
I’m planning to have:A vaginal delivery
DURING LABOR
would/would not like to move around freelyWould
I would like continuous fetal monitoring:Not unless necessary
I would like to use these birthing tools:Birthing pool, birthing ball, shower
I would like to use these pain medications:Nitrous oxide only
I would NOT like to use these pain medications:Narcotics or epidural
I will be bringing:A portable speaker and aromatherapy oils; I would like to dim the lights and listen to music until I begin the transition phase of labor
Person/people joining me in delivery room:My husband Joe
We will/will not be taking photos and/or recording video:Will (both)
DURING THE DELIVERY
Please do not use the following interventions unless medically urgent or necessary:Pitocin, episiotomy, amniotic sac rupture, membrane stripping, cesarean section, forceps, vacuum
would/would not like to try alternative birthing positions like squatting, lying on my side, getting on my hands and knees, or using a birthing ball or stool:Would
would/would not like to reach down and touch my baby’s head as it’s crowning or look in a mirror to see the baby’s head emerging:Would not
AFTER BIRTH
Once my baby is born, I would/would not like them to be placed immediately on my chest for skin-to-skin contact:Yes
I would like to breastfeed within _______ of giving birth1 hour
You may/may not give the baby sugar water or formula without my permission:May not
When I would like the baby to be weighed and given a bath:At least 1 hour after delivery
Person who will cut the umbilical cord:My husband Joe
When:At least 2 minutes after delivery or when it stops pulsating
We are/are not cord blood banking:Are not
would/would not like the placenta preserved:Would not
You may provide newborn interventions like vitamin K, heel sticks, and eye ointment:Yes, but please inform parents of all procedures and medications being given to baby beforehand
I would like my baby to stay in my room:As much as possible, only removed at my request
If my baby is a boy, he will/will not be circumcised:Will not

As you develop your birth plan, there are some things that are important to include. Here’s a checklist for easy planning.

Identification

Your name, the name of your doctor, and the hospital where you’re planning to deliver. Also include your expected due date and, if known, the sex and name of your baby.

You should also make note here of any known medical conditions for either you or your baby, including positive group B strep resultsgestational diabetes, and preeclampsia.

Pain interventions

You’ll need to decide if you want to go medication-free or receive an epidural. If you’re hoping to avoid the epidural, there are other medication choices to make, too, like whether you would be willing to receive narcotics or nitrous oxide for pain relief.

Emergency interventions

Unless you have a scheduled C-section, there’s no guarantee what kind of delivery you’ll ultimately have. You need to think about how decisions will be made — and who will take the lead on making them — if something unexpected happens. This may mean:

  • needing a C-section instead of a vaginal delivery
  • requiring an episiotomy to avoid tearing
  • using forceps or a vacuum to help baby through the birth canal
  • being given Pitocin to speed up a stalled labor

Indicate when and how you would like these decisions presented to you and what information you want to receive in order to make an informed choice.

Laboring options

Your labor could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days (it’s unusual, but can happen!).

  • How do you want to spend that time?
  • Who will be with you as you labor?
  • Would you prefer not to be hooked up to 24/7 fetal monitoring?
  • Do you want to be allowed to walk the halls?
  • What about non-medication options to ease the pain, like using a birth pool, hot shower, birthing ball, or acupuncture?

Lots of questions, we know! Also think about what will be soothing to you during labor, like music, lighting, certain foods or drinks (if permitted), or other comfort items, and whether someone will be documenting the process via video or photography.

Delivery options

When it comes time to actually start pushing, it will be all hands on deck. You’ll need to consider how involved your partner or the other people in the room with you will be as the baby is born.

Speaking of which, who will be with you to support you, and who do you want physically delivering your baby — a doctor or a midwife? Also think about:

  • what positions you want to try birthing in (on your back, on a chair, squatting)
  • how you’d like to be coached in pushing and breathing through contractions
  • whether you want to see or touch your baby’s head as it crowns

Newborn care

The big moment has arrived — your baby has been born! The really hard work is over, but there are still many things to think about.

  • Who will cut your baby’s umbilical cord, and are you participating in cord blood banking?
  • Do you want to do skin-to-skin contact right away?
  • How soon after birth do you want to try breastfeeding?
  • Are you hoping to preserve your placenta?

There are also a number of medical interventions given to newborns, often right in the delivery room. So you’ll need to think about vitamin K, antibiotic eye ointment, heel sticks and vaccination, and the timing of your baby’s first bath and weigh-in.

If this all seems intimidating and you have no idea where to start, that’s OK. There’s a lot to think about and you may not have easy answers to all of these questions. Let’s take it step by step:

1. Make some notes

When you’re feeling calm and clear-headed, start making some preliminary notes about how you imagine your labor and delivery.

This is the time to indulge all those soft-focus, dreamy images of the happiest, most peaceful labor ever — there’s no shame in thinking about what your ultimate best case scenario is! In fact, it’s the perfect place to start. Describe your ideal birth experience — then set it aside.

2. Talk to your birth partner

Talk to your partner (or whoever will be joining you in the delivery room). Without sharing your own ideas yet, ask them how they envision your labor and delivery. What preconceived notions do they have about birth? Are there a lot of things they don’t know or are worried about? What role do they see themselves playing in the delivery — how hands-on are they comfortable being, or what tasks would they like to handle?

3. Start formulating a plan

Begin to formulate a specific, realistic plan with your partner. Ultimately, it’s your body going through labor and delivery, so you should be comfortable with all of the decisions made.

But the more you can include your partner’s input and suggestions, the more naturally supported you’ll feel. Sketch out a basic draft of a plan that you’re both satisfied with, knowing that it’s okay if you still have unanswered questions or concerns at this point.

4. Bring your plan to your healthcare provider

Bring your tentative plan to your doctor or midwife. Go through it completely, asking for your doctor’s input. They should be able to resolve any lingering questions or concerns, suggest alternative options for coping with pain or complications during labor and delivery, and flag areas where you will need to be prepared to make last-minute changes.

Your doctor should also be able to tell you if your birth plan is realistic; they know your medical and pregnancy history and can steer you in the best possible direction for a successful and healthy delivery.

5. Finalize the plan — keeping flexibility in mind

Finalize everything! If your doctor suggested changes, now’s the time to make them. If you were still deciding between options, do your best to come to an agreement. If you’re still uncertain about something or willing to go with the flow during labor, you can make note of that, too. (Remember, flexibility is a good thing here!)

Nope. It’s in your best interest to create one — and some doctors strongly suggest their patients do it — but it’s not like the hospital won’t admit you without a birth plan in hand.

If you go into labor before you’ve written or finalized a plan, it’s up to you how to move forward with the birth. If you feel up to it, you can write one down on the fly (in between contractions!). It can be as simple as saying “I would like a medication-free delivery with my husband in the room, no unnecessary interventions, and as much skin-to-skin contact right after birth as possible.”

You can also communicate this verbally with a nurse or your doctor when you get to the hospital, since most staff will ask laboring moms anyway what their plan was when they’re admitted.

Or, you can just forget the whole “plan” and wing it… honestly, it might be good preparation for parenthood!

You don’t need a birth plan to have a baby, but it often helps. Just remember to keep it flexible and fluid, not rigorous and rigid.

If creating a birth plan makes you feel less stressed about birth or gives you peace of mind, you should do it. Having a written plan may also help you avoid unnecessary interventions and treatments.

If making a plan is causing you stress, it’s OK to skip it or keep it casual. Ultimately, babies make their own birth plans… we just don’t get to know about them until the big day!

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