Like most newly pregnant women, I got all the apps and pregnancy newsletters and dutifully did as I was told, week by week, when I was expecting my daughter. When it was time to write a birth plan, I got out a piece of paper and started writing. But … writing what, exactly? Of course I knew that skin-to-skin contact with my new baby was vitally important to me, so that was a no-brainer, and I love this handy template Huggies has created for their new Hug Plan, citing the importance of skin-to-skin contact and helping women specify their skin-on-skin wishes after the baby is born.
Writing a birth plan can be pretty daunting, though. In fact, it took me some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, as well as understand how important it would be to me if certain requests weren’t respected. Like, I knew I had to have some hug time with my newborn — it’s great for regulating baby’s temp, stabilizing the heart rate, improving sleep, and strengthening the mama/baby bond — but what about some of the other stuff? Like, what if I had to be induced? Or I needed an emergency C-Section?
Ultimately, what helped me big time was taking a child birth education class. There, I learned what mattered most (things like skin-to-skin) and what areas I was willing to roll with the punches in order to keep baby — and me — safe. I spoke with the experts, and got some pretty great advice for how a birth plan should be written. It might be a good idea to check out these tips before you launch in.
1. Hire the right healthcare provider for you. “The best way to get your labor ideals met is to hire a doctor or midwife who has a birth philosophy similar to yours,” says Jada Shapiro, a doula and lactation counselor and founder of Birth Day Presence, a childbirth education center in New York City. She suggests thinking of it more as birth preferences rather than a specific plan to show your provider, and making sure you both are on the same page, early on.
2. Use a positive voice. When writing your birth plan, Shapiro encourages expectant parents to write their bullet points in a positive voice. Saying what you would prefer, and remaining courteous (rather than submitting a laundry list of what you don’t want), may be better received by the hospital staff.
3. Start with a friendly intro. Shapiro adds that another great approach is to start with a quick, friendly paragraph directed to your care provider which thanks them for their service and for taking the time to read your preferences.
4. Plan for all outcomes. Rather than creating a rigid framework — “I don’t want to labor in the hospital bed,” or, “I don’t want to have monitoring,” — think of it more as having an idea in mind of how things should go, based on all outcomes rather than one scenario, suggests Christina Wynn Pahk, CNM, a midwife in private practice in New York City. For instance, if you want to have a natural birth, take a birth class, have a doula, get to know hospital’s policies, and be sure your midwife already knows how you feel about interventions. Alternatively, if your baby is breach and you need a planned or emergency C-Section, be prepared to change your plan accordingly. Even your Hug Plan can be set up to allow for several outcomes so you’ll never feel as though you were without options for skin-to-skin contact.
5. Know your options. This is where it gets personal, as each woman knows her own body and comfort level better than anyone else. “It is important to be flexible, but not to blindly allow other people to lead you down a path which may or may not be appropriate for you,” says Jennifer Hassett, a certified hypnobirthing coach and founder of You, Me, & Baby, a childbirth education center in Cardiff, Wales. Hassett adds that it is the process of researching and writing a birth plan that will help make you as knowledgeable as possible, when the big day comes. Some specific thoughts you may want to include:
- Pain relief
Do you want an epidural or any other pain medication during your birth? What about while delivering the placenta?
- Fetal monitoring
Fetal heart rate monitors can limit your physical movement during labor. How much monitoring do you want?
Do you want your waters broken, to speed up delivery? Do you mind vaginal exams or being induced? What about the use of forceps or a vacuum?
Do you want (or mind) medical students in the room while you’re giving birth?
Will your Hug Plan specify immediate skin-to-skin contact? Do you want to wear certain garments to facilitate easier hugs? Will you hug your baby while he or she is undergoing heel pricks or injections? If you are unable to, would you like your partner to perform skin-to-skin hugs if necessary?
Would you like your baby to receive the Hepatitis B injection or Vitamin K drops at birth?
It is so easy, as pregnant moms, to get caught up in the details and create a rigid plan and vision for the birthing experience, but keep in mind that it is important to know when to let your specific ideals go. “What matters is having a live baby and having a living mother,” says Wynn Pahk. “If you want those two things, you have to plan for there to be changes.”
That may be easier said than done, but that’s exactly why it’s important to view your birth plan as a list of preferences, rather than demands, and to prepare yourself for each birthing scenario. In the end, it’s also important not to beat yourself up if things don’t go according to plan. For instance, you could wind up needing an emergency C-Section or, after twenty-plus hours of labor, you may ask for an epidural. “It’s all well and good if you get what you want out of your birth, but it is the emotional recourse of not getting what you wanted that can have a long term affect on you and your baby,” Wynn Pahk adds. Chances are, no matter how far your birthing experience strays from what you initially had planned, you will still be able to put your Hug Plan to good use, and get skin-to-skin contact with your new baby. When you look back on it, who knows how many of your birthing preferences will have worked out in your favor. Maybe some, maybe none. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you and your baby are healthy, and ready to begin this exciting journey together.