Were you told that writing a birth plan is pointless? That your healthcare provider will not read it anyway and that you can’t control the outcome of your birth? It’s kind of true. Kind of because yes, you can’t control the outcome, that part is true. But birth plans are not useless if you approach it differently. It’s not about prediction, it’s about feeling heard and respected no matter how things go. That’s why I prefer to call it a birth preferences sheet instead. It’s a great opportunity to explore your options, learn more about birth and have your voice heard. Going with the flow sounds great in theory, but things during labour can go fast and you might feel overwhelmed and like you don’t understand what is happening. So, let me give you 5 tips to write your birth plan that will *actually* be read and make you feel empowered.
1 – What V.S. How
Don’t write about WHAT you want to happen, write about HOW you want things to happen. If, for example, you wish to have an unmedicated birth, don’t just write: no epidural. You can write about things like; I will ask if/when I want pain medication or I would like to go in the shower for at least 30 min before I get an epidural to see if it will relieve the pain first. You could even write about how you want the epidural administered in case it would become necessary (being talked through the procedure, partner holding hands, special song playing, etc.) This way, if you change your mind about pain medication after labour has begun, you have a plan. Even an unplanned belly birth can be positive if you feel heard and respected. It is your body and things should happen on your terms.
2- Consider different scenarios
It’s good to explore your options and what you’d like to do in different scenarios. Maybe you aren’t planning on a caesarean birth, but if it became necessary what would make that experience better? You can start discussing those options during your prenatal appointments or childbirth education classes. Having a plan B is great because again, things can happen fast. You should ALWAYS give informed consent before any procedure or intervention, but you might feel more pressure to make decision faster and might not feel like you could really weigh in all your options as they come up.
With that being said, writing your birth preference sheet shouldn’t only be about preparing for the worst-case scenario. Feel free to picture and envision your dream birth. Build that trust in yourself. I am sending out an email this week about that! Sign up to receive it and learn more:
3- Short and simple
When actually writing it down, it’s best to keep it to 1 page. You can put the most important things at the top and a bullet style list is usually easier to read. I give my clients a template that is separated in 4 quadrants for the different stages of labour and birth. Make multiple copies to share with your doctor ahead of time and you can even tape it to the door if you’d like or somewhere visible in the birth room. This way, your healthcare provider has no excuse not to be aware of your preferences
4- Share it with your support people
Get on the same page with your support people. Let them know what you wrote on there. Your support team can only advocate for you and ensure that your wishes are respected if they’re aware of them. You can even role play some scenarios ahead, so they feel prepared and ready to speak up if they notice that some of your items are not being respected.
5- You can always change your mind
If you could remember only ONE thing from this blog post, please let it be; your birth plan is not a consent form. You can always modify it and change your mind as things progress. Explicit consent is still required before EVERY procedure suggested by your healthcare provider, even if you wrote a plan about it on your birth preference sheet. You can also include your preferences regarding routine procedures and interventions like vaginal exams and newborn procedures. It’s not because they are routine that they are mandatory.
Having healthy expectation is really the key here. If you are too strict with following your birth preferences, you might end up disappointed, because truth is, things will need to be adjusted. On the other hand, if you have no preferences, you might feel like you were only a passive participant in your experience. Be warry of people who tell you that writing a birth plan is setting yourself up for disappointment or useless because it ‘’won’t go according to plan’’. Are they telling you this because they would rather you follow their plan? Just saying…;) If your healthcare provider is fussing about your birth preferences, consider changing provider if you can. Your team should trust and support you. If you can’t change healthcare provider or working with rotating staff, consider hiring a doula that can support you and advocate for you.