How to Write a Birth Plan: What to Include and Why

woman packing her hospital bag and getting her birth plan prepared

Are you getting ready to deliver your baby? This can be an exciting, and stressful, time in your pregnancy. On the one hand, you are about to meet your baby face to face for the first time! On the other, labor and delivery is a difficult and painful process. There are risks to you and to your baby. Additionally, you may not be in the right frame of mind to advocate for yourself and the birth you envision. Knowing how to write a birth plan that everyone is familiar with can be a huge help.

When a Birth Plan Helps

Woman writing a birth plan

A birth plan can let those in the room know what you would like to see during your labor, delivery, and immediate postpartum period. This allows you to think through all of your options, write them down on paper, and prevents you from repeating yourself over and over again when you should be focusing on having your baby. Your birth plan will also ensure that your words speak for you if you become unable to do so (even for a short time).

When a Birth Plan Can Hurt

Even after you have crafted your beautiful birth plan, it is important to remember that things can change very quickly and you may change your mind. Perhaps you didn’t want any kind of medicine for pain – but then the pain hit and it was worse than you thought it would be. Maybe you wanted to move freely during labor, but then you needed an IV and movement became difficult. Perhaps you wanted to avoid a c-section, but your baby went into distress. Your birth experience may look different than you envisioned, and that’s ok! Knowing how to write a birth plan can be valuable as a guideline, but try not to invest so much into it that you become upset if it doesn’t work out. Birth is an intense experience, and it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality.

A Balanced View

So, hold on to your birth plan loosely. Allow it to guide you and those who are supporting you, but if things need to be adjusted as you go that’s ok too. The end goal is to have a healthy mom and baby, not to check every box on your plan. Let’s begin!

Keep it Brief

Your birth plan should be short and to the point. Put your information and desires in bullets, not in paragraphs. As providers change and people come in and out it will be much easier for them to look at your plan if it is short and condensed vs. long and wordy.

Hit the High Points

At the top, write down who will be in the room with you, who your provider is, and any other names/numbers you might want others to know about. For example, if you have a doula, include her name and contact information. If you want your mother in the room, include that along with her phone number. If you DON’T want someone in the room, include that as well so no uninvited visitors show up while you’re delivering. 

Next, include any allergies or reactions you have to medications or things like latex. This will help all of your providers know what to avoid and it will help keep you safe.

Good Vibes Only

You can also share about the environment you would like. Would you like to avoid being connected to monitors as long as possible? Would you like the lights turned down? Would you like music playing? Would you like the TV off or on? Would you like to talk to people to be distracted or would you rather everyone worked quietly? It may be hard to predict exactly what you might like (or not like) during labor, but think about your general personality and what kind of environment helps you to relax.

You can also share whether you would like to freely move into different positions during labor and whether you would like to use props like a birthing ball or birthing pool (when available).

Pain Management

Mother at the hospital in labor, with supportive staff guiding her

Some mothers want to deliver with no pain management, others want an epidural, still others want IV medications but not an epidural. You can note which methods of pain management are acceptable to you and which are not. It is ok to change your mind! Labor and delivery are tough, especially if it goes on for awhile, don’t feel like you have to stay away from pain medication because that was your original intention.

Interventions

This one can be tricky. Sometimes, even if you don’t want an intervention you will end up needing it. However, if your team knows what your preferences are they can help you avoid certain things. You can jot down your feelings about episiotomies, c-sections, regular cervical checks, IVs, and other medical assistance during delivery. 

Immediate Postpartum & Newborn Care

Mother experiencing skin to skin contact with her newborn baby

After your baby is born a lot of things start to happen very quickly, so it’s good to share your postpartum desires with your medical team. Would you like to delay the baby’s first bath or get them cleaned up right away? Would you like to delay cord clamping? Would you like the baby placed on your chest immediately after birth or taken to be evaluated on the other side of the room? Are you planning to breastfeed or bottle feed?. If your baby is in distress there may not be many options available to you, but if your baby is born healthy and well there are interventions that can be delayed until you have had an hour or two with your newborn.

For you, you can note what pain meds work for you and which ones don’t. You may also want to share when you’re ready to receive visitors and whether you’d like to hold your baby right away or get clean and settled first.

The First Few Days

On a separate sheet of paper you can explain whether you would like to be discharged from the hospital as soon as possible or stay as long as possible. You can also state whether your baby should be given a pacifier (if not, you may want to make a sign for the crib). You may want to detail whether you’d like to room in with your baby or send him/her to the nursery so you can rest.

Stay Flexible With Your Birth Plan

Remember, birth plans can be great tools but it is important to stay flexible. Things may happen suddenly and you may need to adjust your expectations. Go with the flow and focus on keeping you and your baby healthy and well.

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