Every now and again I come across a blog post or article about why birth plans need not be written. I've read birth can't be planned, making a plan just encourages disappointment, there's no benefit, choices can be made on the fly instead, and that birthing women are unqualified or even selfish to have preferences on how they will give birth. Silly women and their silly preferences!
Those arguments are all very short-sighted, miss the purpose of writing a plan, and don't place the woman at the center of birth. I think they're wrong. I think you should consider writing a birth plan and that it can be an important part of preparing for birth.
Writing a birth plan isn't about planning your birth, it's about planning for birth.
Birth Plan vs. Birth Preferences
First, let's get into some semantics. I prefer to call birth plans birth preferences. When I'm working with clients we talk about how to write a birth preference list. The purpose and intentions are the same whether you're writing a plan or a preference list, but language is important. It's true that you can't map out exactly how your birth will go, but you can always have preferences!
Your birth preference list or birth plan is an important tool for preparing for birth. It helps you to think through your options, how would I prefer to handle discomfort during labor? What position(s) might I prefer for birthing my baby? How do I feel about standard newborn care procedures? What happens in the event of a cesarean? You might not have preferences on everything, but it's a good practice to think about what is important to you and then highlight those points on your list.
Preparing for Birth
Thinking through options and electing preferences on points that are important to you allows you to think about what you will experience. How do I envision my early labor? What will happen when I arrive at the hospital? What happens after my baby is born? Thinking through the process step-by-step allows you to research and ask questions ahead of time so that you're more educated going into the birth. It also allows you to address any fears or concerns you may have. This allows you to feel more confident going into your birthing time.
Your birth plan is a tool to help you communicate with your health care providers. It conveys to them what kind of birth you're hoping to have and what is important to you during your birthing time.
Going over your preferences with your OB or midwife during a prenatal visit allows you to make sure everyone is on the same page. This discussion provides your care provider an opportunity to voice their opinions on your preferences and gives you a better idea of what to expect during the birth.
If you're hoping for intermittent fetal monitoring and your OB is going to recommend continuous fetal monitoring, this is something you want to consider before you're actually in labor. If you are envisioning birthing your baby in an upright position and your OB is going to ask you to get in the bed when you begin pushing you want to know this before you're working to birth your baby!
Likewise, if you are birthing in a hospital you can hand over a copy of your birth preferences to your nurse upon arrival. Your nurse is not likely to be someone you will have met or chosen beforehand, but they're going to be a major player in your birth team! You want to convey to them what your preferences are, how you envision your birth, and what you and your OB or midwife have discussed together ahead of time so your nurse can help support your wishes.
If your health care providers understand the kind of birth that you're hoping to have they will take that into consideration with their actions and suggestions during your birthing time.
If your nurse knows that avoiding pain medication is very important to you they may suggest you utilize a tool such as a birth ball instead of offering an epidural. If your OB knows that it's very important to you to keep your birth as quiet and intimate as possible they may not bring along the medical student who is shadowing them.
Your preference list provides your birth team with something to reference to remind them of your wishes. It's also helpful in the event of a shift change when a new nurse, OB, or midwife will be taking over your care, allowing them to quickly review your wishes.
Tool For A Positive Experience
People who are active participants in their birth, making choices that are right for them, have a more positive experience overall. You're not incapable of making decisions or communicating during your birthing time, but it simplifies things if there are as few surprises and major discussions as possible. Writing a birth plan helps with this.
During birth circumstances may change, preferences may change, you may have to make decisions on the fly; when it comes down to it you can't plan birth, but you can plan for birth. You can prepare prenatally and go into your birthing time feeling informed, confident, and supported.
A thoughtfully written birth plan, utilized with purpose, can be a fantastic tool to help you prepare for birth so that once the time comes you can focus your energy and attention on what's important: birthing your baby and having a positive experience while doing so.