So you’ve heard it time and time again. It’s been so drilled into you that you’re now with your pen and paper ready to go with one small problem….
You have no idea what to write.
That’s ok, it happens to the best of us. Considering all that we have to remember preparing for baby, what to and what not to eat, it’s no surprise that when it comes to yet MORE planning, we’re a bit lost.
For those who are stuck at ‘Birth Plan’ I’ll just explain quickly that it just means that you have HOW you’d like your birth down on paper.
What are the advantages of having a birth plan?
Above all, having birth plan gives you a certain amount of control over the happenings during your birth. This is particularly useful if you’re planning on giving birth in a hospital.
It can come in handy at a time where perhaps you won’t have the energy or the courage to deal with the questions that medical professionals might ask you.
The more prepared you feel, the more relaxed you can be
That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t use one if you choose a birthing centre or a home birth. Quite the opposite – the more you feel prepared, the more relaxed you can be when the day arrives.
Note: when it comes to the day of your birth, you are likely to feel anything but in control, which is a good sign as it means that you’re letting your mind go and allowing your body to do its work.
That’s why it’s important that if you have things clear on paper, you won’t have to come out of your bubble and your birthing partner will be able to vouch for you.
Who needs a copy of the birth plan?
It’s a good idea around the 6 month mark of your pregnancy, to sit down and have a chat with your midwife, partner and doula if you’re having one. Discuss your preferences, don’t be afraid to ask questions – better now than later.
- One copy for the hospital/birthing centre to put with your files
- One copy for your partner
- One copy for your doula if you’re having one
- One copy to have spare should a friend or relative need to take you to the hospital
Now I say the 6 month mark as you want to be prepared for the unknown in case you end up having a premature baby or you’re having a false labour. You can do it sooner if you feel more at ease that way.
What should I include in my birth plan?
What you decide to include in your birth plan is entirely based on your own choices and decisions when it comes to you and baby. The main things that you want to consider and that we’ll go over quickly are: pain management, medical interventions, support team and after care.
Whether you’ve made the decision to have a natural labour or not, it’s always best to be well informed about pain relief that could be available to you should you request it on the day.
I’m a firm believer that our bodies produce natural pain when they are in a relaxed and calm state, which is why a good preparation for labour is important.
However, when we are not able to control the circumstances around us, we can get nervous and limit the possibility of the hormone-producing process.
Common medical pain relief options that you can have at a hospital include the following:
- Nitrous oxide – otherwise known as laughing gas, used with a mask
- Pethidine – injected directly into the muscle of the buttock
- Epidural anesthesia – injected into the spinal cord through the back
Touching very briefly on each:
Nitrous oxide is your best option to go with you don’t want your baby to be affected by the drugs remaining in your body. It requires little procedure and you have control as can use it when you want. The snag being that a prolonged use could mean a headache or nausea for you or not feel any pain relief at all.
Pethidine is a very strong pain relief that can be helpful in case of a long labour, the downside being that it is directly linked to baby as it crosses through the placenta which can have an affect on her respiratory system and make baby drowsy, making breastfeeding more challenging. It also leaves mama feeling drowsy.
An epidural is the most common form of pain relief and can be used in vaginal birth or cesarean as it works as a local anaesthetic from the waist down. Some women find it works quite well for them and they are still able to push out their baby, some quite the opposite – which is especially the case when it is given towards the end of labour as it takes a while to ‘kick in’.
A spinal epidural also reduces the birth hormones – one of which, oxytocin is what helps you have effective contractions, initiate breastfeeding and fall in love with your baby. There are also negative effects for baby.
Please note: I am not a medical practician or am trained in any way. The information I just provided here I purely obtained from discussing with my midwife and extra research on the subject. You can find the sources here and here. I highly recommend you do your own research BEFORE going into labour.
Assuming that you’re planning a natural birth, there should be no need for medical interventions but just as I mentioned in pain management, it’s good to know what the hospital might offer you and what you may want to say yes or no to.
Now any kind of intervention is supposed to be used in the unlikely case that you or your unborn baby are in danger and birth needs to happen quickly, though today there is a lot of argumentation on the over-medicalisation of births.
It is worth mentioning for example, that the number of interventions that hospitals currently perform has increased throughout the past two centuries, with the current rate of cesarean section being 20% across the United States, Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom. (source)
What is an intervention?
An intervention is also known as an assisted delivery and the most common types of interventions are an induction to kick-start labour if you are past your due date which normally consists in a distribution of oxytocin so the uterus will start contracting (though there are other more natural ways to induce labour)
Other types include delivery via vacuum, forceps or an episiotomy. If you’re planning a home birth or in a centre, these will not be available to you. Check with your midwife on what terms she performs an episiotomy and how often she performs them.
Usually if you’re healthy and labour is progressing well, you won’t need an intervention but you can inform yourself here.
I would say this is the most influential factor on whether you’re able to get through a natural birth. If you and your partner have discussed your options and are committed to having a natural birth, it’s important to know that you will need support – especially emotionally.
If your team already knows your wishes, they will be able to guide you better and listen to you during labour . Remember exactly that – following your intuition, you’re the one who will know what’s right for you and your family.
During labour, the focus is on you – and rightly so, it’s a huge moment in your life that will be unforgettable. This often means that we may tend to forget how our partners may feel.
Some women like to be caressed and reassured physically during labour – a little massage, a kiss on the head for example. It makes them feel that they’re not alone. Some women, however, may feel quite the opposite – that any kind of touch can pull them out of ‘the zone’.
You will probably already know what kind of person you are, though labour can surprise you so it’s a nice idea to have a little chat beforehand and let your partner know that.
You may want to discuss his feelings too. Perhaps he’s feeling nervous assisting you, perhaps he doesn’t like the sight of blood, or perhaps he will need a little guidance (before the birth) on what he can do to help. Here are some ways your partner can help you get through labour:
- gentle back rub
- placing a cold flannel on your forehead
- supporting you physically if you need to stand up or move
- bringing you water to sip on
To doula or not to doula
Unfortunately, I can’t speak from personal experience on this one as I’m lucky that my partner was present and supporting me in every moment I needed him.
Some men won’t be able to do this – and that’s fine. Even if your partner is a great support, you may still feel like you need a little extra – especially if this is your first baby.
A doula, different from a midwife, is someone who emotionally and mentally guides you throughout your labour – this is a great, too for giving daddy a break to get some fresh air, or take a quick trip to the pharmacy if needed.
Many women who have hired a doula say that they would willingly have one again. Women who have a doula have much less chance of having complications at birth as the doula is there during the hardest part of labour – the transition – where most feel exhausted and that they can’t do it much longer.
Whether you choose to have one or not is entirely your choice but for this reason I advise you to sit down with your partner and find out how he feels about it all.
You may find that in addition to your partner, you would like for example your mother at the birth, sister or close relative.
When I think about birth, to me it’s only natural to want support from other women.
When I was a young girl, I remember having said on numerous occasions that I would have liked my mum with me on the day. Unfortunately she hasn’t been with us for quite a few years, but I’m sure she was there in spirit.
So I totally understand if you do choose that option. I had a very close friend who offered to come too, who is probably the only extra person I would have had. In the end it turned out just amazingly with my midwife, my partner and I – you can read about it here.
Alas! Possibly the lost important part of the birthing process for me yet the part we often forget about.
We tend to think that we will snap back into things, even having pushed out a watermelon and catching up on sleep with a newborn.
The infamous the trimester isn’t actually so infamous. Yet I firmly believe that it is vital to be well prepared for the post partum period as much the labour itself.
The importance of a good recovery
Think about it – labour, at worst, lasts several hours. Yet your post partum recovery takes 6 weeks minimum. During which those 6 weeks will feel like a lifetime.
I’m not saying this to scare you, I just want you to understand that a good recovery takes time and care.
Your post partum will vary according to how well your labour went, where you had your birth (whether at home or in a facility) and….
After care for you
You want to write down specifically on your birth plan what your preferences are for you after giving birth – preferably your partner to stay with you, though most hospitals don’t allow an overnight stay for dads.
Your body will most likely suffer aftershocks, as mine did. Make sure you specify what type of pain medicine you’re ok with taking, if any.
You’ll also need postpartum pads and probably something to soothe your perineum. Whether you tear a little or not, you’re likely to hurt for a few days. You can find out exactly what you need for postpartum recovery in this post.
Newborn baby handling and care
If you’re in a hospital, it is common procedure to cut the umbilical cord a couple of minutes after birth and shuffle the baby along for a bath and vaccinations. That’s why, if this doesn’t sound like something you’d like, you’ll need to specify in your plan. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:
- delayed cord clamping
- skin to skin contact with mother after birth
- in the unlikely event that mother is not able to then skin to skin with daddy
- no bath during 24 hours (or however long you prefer)
- vitamin K shot (or not, entirely up to you)
- to vaccinate or not
Note that if you are planning to breastfeed, you need to include that in your plan. At a birthing centre or hospital, you may request to see a lactation consultant for the first few tries to ensure that your latch is correct. You can also ask for one to come and visit you at home, though your midwife is likely to know a thing or two already. (Mine did.)
The reason that I say it’s important to note that you’re going to breastfeed in your plan, is that sometimes you can be offered something called sugar water to your baby to regulate his blood pressure or even formula.
Your newborn baby does not need either of the two – he will do just fine with your breasts! In fact, the more he suckles, the more milk your body will produce – though your actual milk won’t come in until the second or third day after birth.
Until then, you will have a nutrient-rich substance you’ve probably already heard of called colostrum. Baby will get everything he needs from you, but you will need a little peace and quiet to be together – which is why skin to skin is important.
Close friends can come when you feel ready
I could really tie the last point with this one, as having a good support team around you, wherever you choose to birth is essential. HOWEVER, you must decide with your partner, how you feel about having visitors after the birth. then write that on the plan too.
You may be afraid of being polite or not have the energy to deal with so many questions – let your partner take over the decision-making.
You’ll feel very tired after the initial adrenaline rush of seeing your baby and are gonna need a lot of rest and you need to respect that. If you do have visitors, a good idea is to decide on a secret code that you can signal to your partner discretely if you feel too tired and he can veer them out of the door.
A little note about your recovery
What I’m about to say you don’t have to include on your birth plan but I still think it’s valuable advice you can take away so I thought I’d give it anyway.
I know I repeat myself but I seriously cannot stress enough the importance of a tight knit circle that will care for you and chip in when needed – perhaps someone could step in and clean a little while you sleep?
A rule of thumb could be that any visitors must pass by partner first and if let in the door, come with meals ready for the freezer.
Please take it easy – I didn’t have anyone visit me during the first couple of weeks nearly. That allowed us to install a little rhythm and get used to one another as a new family.
Nutrition after birth
If you’re having a hospital stay, check out what the food is like beforehand – preferably on the tour when you’re choosing your facility. I have friends who were ravenous after labour and the amount of hospital food just didn’t cut it so their partner would run out and get their favourite snacks.
Some women, on the other hand, don’t feel up to eating at all – everybody is different but prepare perhaps a few snacks in a bag that you can easily take with you.
If you found this article useful, please don’t hesitate to share to women that can benefit from it – and let me know in the commeents below if you think there’s anything I’ve missed.
Don’t forget to grab your FREE editable Birth Plan Template and Cheat sheet below!