One thing you are likely to hear when you are pregnant is the phrase, “there is no point having a birth plan”. This simply isn’t true. Is it true that not all births go according to plan? Of course. But then, in life we plan a variety of things which also don’t always go exactly how we have envisaged them – that is the nature of the unpredictability of life! However, it doesn’t stop us having a plan...we plan weddings, parties, holidays, meals, travel... the list is endless. Sometimes things go awry or there is something unexpected we haven’t accounted for, and we have to adapt a plan, but for the most part, we all plan all the time.
It is useful to think of the birth plan, not as a ‘wish list’, but rather your view on the approach and preferences you have around your birth.
One of the biggest beneﬁts of writing a birth plan is that it can give you both the opportunity to research and understand all the different options and choices available. From where you would prefer your baby to be born, to whether and for how long you would like delayed cord clamping after the birth – a birth plan isn’t just about pain relief or type of birth.
Sometimes aspects of a birth plan are only more likely to be fulﬁlled if you take actions before your birth itself.
Decisions we make during pregnancy can impact a mother’s birth experience, and therefore being aware of these can dramatically change how likely the plan is to be fulﬁlled.
For example, if your preference is to give birth without using drugs, then it can be helpful to think about what you DO want to do to support you to achieve this in labour.
This is all part of your birth planning – this might mean doing antenatal classes which teach you speciﬁc skills to use in labour and then during your pregnancy, practicing those skills. Then instead of your birth plan saying “I don’t want an epidural” you could choose to write “I will be using mindful breathing and relaxation practices to cope with labour, so please support me and remind me to use these”. This then signals to the midwife, not just what you don’t want, but how you actually want them to support you. While this doesn’t guarantee your preference, it makes it more likely to happen.
Something we have heard a lot over the years is parents-to-be saying, “I’ll go with the ﬂow”. We ﬁnd this interesting and always ask – “whose ﬂow?” The ﬂow of your own body and baby during labour? The ﬂow of the medical environment? The ﬂow of the preferences of the speciﬁc midwife you have looking after you by chance?
The reality is that these are likely to all be different ‘ﬂows’.
A midwife who is more comfortable with supporting women to have active births, might have a different ﬂow to a midwife who is more comfortable with supporting women who have epidurals. None of these are right or wrong, but ‘going with the ﬂow’ suggests you have no preferences as to what happens, and usually this isn’t the case.
Even if you think you are going with the ﬂow, you will have chosen where to have your baby, what antenatal education you are doing and who you wish to support you through the birth – these are still critical parts of a birth plan even if you don’t think you have one just because you haven’t written it down!
Birth is a powerful thing. It affects mothers on many levels. It has physical impact and emotional impact. How you feel about your birth can affect so much, from how you feel as a mother, how you feel towards your baby, how you feel about your body, how you are able to feed your baby, and much more. It isn’t just a hurdle to be overcome, it does matter. And for something that matters so much, it is something worth thinking about in advance.
When it comes to a birth plan, many men feel, at ﬁrst, as though it’s something that doesn’t have much to do with them; birth is something their partner goes through, so surely it is her preferences which matter? While this is true, it is still important to get involved for the following three key reasons:
- Birth impacts on what happens after the birth, on the relationship and on the bond with your baby and each other.
- Showing interest in the birth plan and supporting your partner can only be positive for your relationship.
- If you are going to be the birth partner, a key part of your role is to try and support, as far as is reasonably possible, the birth plan to be respected. It follows that you can only fulﬁl this role if you have a plan to work with!
There is value in the process of writing a plan together; you will greater understand the wide range of choices open to you both. If a father plans to be the birth partner, a birth plan is an incredibly useful tool for his role as advocate.
It makes sense that in order to be able to put forward the birth plan, you need to know and understand it. The added bonus you have is that you alone really know your partner.
You have had time to discuss with her the birth preferences, and understand what motivates them. Your midwife is likely to have just met you for the ﬁrst time, and you can be a great support to helping him/her understand what you want from the birth.
You might be tempted to complete your birth plan by downloading a template or ﬁlling in a birth plan preference tick box in your maternity notes. If you feel this adequately covers everything you wish to highlight, then this is ﬁne. However, these are often very limited in their scope as they are generic, and so they may not be worded in the way you would word them, or they may miss aspects which are important to you. Your birth plan, like your birth, is unique to you, so you can create it anyway you wish.
We would suggest, to make sure your birth plan reﬂects your wishes, once you have both researched and are happy with your preferences, just write them out clearly, concisely and in a logical order – that is now your birth plan.
Dean and Steph Beaumont are antenatal educators and founders of the DaddyNatal classes for expectant fathers and MummyNatal birth preparation programme for mothers. This article is an edited extract from their new book The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, published by Vermilion.
Key options to consider when writing a birth plan:
- Where do you want to give birth?
- Who will be the birth partner/s?
- What do you want to use in your birth (equipment, techniques)?
- How do you feel about induction?
- What about pain relief?
- Any preferences in positions and mobility for labour and birth?
- What happens after your baby is born?