Birth Plans: What they are and How to Use Them Effectively

Many of the clients I work with are writing birth plans at some point in their pregnancy. In fact, I try to spend time specifically exploring some of the options and choices that one might include in a birth plan during the initial prenatal appointment, and later I often spend time looking over birth plans and helping clients finalize them.

But what exactly IS a birth plan? How do you use one effectively? Are they just for those who are wanting to have an unmedicated birth, or can a birth plan benefit those who are exploring other options, including an epidural or even a cesarean birth?

What a Birth Plan Is:

A birth plan isn't a set of step-by-step instructions for labor. It's more like a map, with the preferred route highlighted, and some alternate routes laid out too. The purpose of this tool is twofold: to educate and to communicate, and we'll get more into that in a minute. But for now, remind yourself of what you already know: birth can sometimes be unpredictable, and so it is important to hold your birth plan with flexibility. The primary purpose of it isn't to direct what will happen, but to give you a sense of peace about your birth experience no matter what happens. It is a way to ensure that you feel informed, confident, and that you have communicated well with your birth team prior to and during labor.

How to Use a Birth Plan Effectively:

Writing a birth plan in and of itself has benefits to you, but don't just stop there. The real benefit of a birth plan comes in the sharing of it. Remember how I just said that the purpose of a birth plan is both to educate and to communicate? To get the most out of your birth plan you should plan to use it as a tool to:

  1. Educate yourself about your options and choices in labor and birth.
  2. Educate yourself about what you might encounter during labor and birth, even the unexpected events.
  3. Educate yourself about the alternatives in case your preferred choice isn't an option anymore. How might you preserve the felt sense of your ideal birth, even if on paper it doesn't unfold how you envisioned?
  4. Communicate with your partner about what your hoping and expecting from each other during the birth. Explore your fears and thoughts about each desire together.
  5. Communicate with your doula so that she understands the unique vision you have for your labor and birth and how she can best support you.
  6. Communicate with your health care provider. Go through your birth plan together line by line and make sure that your questions are answered and that you feel listened to and comfortable about how your health care provider will handle certain aspects of your labor and birth. Your health care provider may ask you to tweak certain aspects of your birth plan, but you should both feel respected and heard in the process.
  7. Communicate with the hospital to make sure you have a clear idea of how your birth plan fits in with their protocols and policies. Take your birth plan with you on a hospital tour, and make sure to get any questions you ask about the availability or feasibility of all the aspects of it.

Who Can Benefit From Writing  A Birth Plan:

Are you pregnant? Then a birth plan can benefit you! Sometimes people have the idea that a birth plan is only for people who are planning a very specific kind of birth, but the truth is, any type of birth can have a birth plan, including births at which you plan to have an epidural or even cesarean birth. The beauty of a good birth plan is that it really is a dynamic tool. Use it to explore your options: there are always always always options, and if you aren't sure what yours might be, talk to a doula! Use it to put your mind at ease about what to expect. Use it to facilitate communication with your partner, your doula, your health care provider: your birth team. Use it as a means to make sure that no matter what your birth looks like, you feel confident, listened to, cared for, and respected in the process.