Many expectant parents make a birth plan so they can plan for what they would like to happen during labour and birth. Birth plans help to give a sense of control and assist maternity care providers in understanding what is important to the labouring mother. While birth plans are not a guarantee of outcome, they clearly outline how a pregnant mother wants her labour and birth to take place.
What is a birth plan?
A birth plan is a written record of what you would like to happen when you are having your baby. You have choices about what you’d like to include, although templates can be helpful as a prompt. Birth plans can be simple or complex — there is no one right format to suit every woman.
What’s valuable about birth plans is that they give the expectant mother a ‘voice’ for her body and a say in the decisions that are made. Birth plans can also be useful in supporting people so they feel included in the baby’s birth and they play an advocacy role for the woman if she cannot communicate clearly for herself.
Birth plans often change over the course of a pregnancy. It’s fine to change your mind about what you’d like to happen when you’re having your baby. Even when you’re in labour and your baby is close to being born, you’re entitled to vary from your original plan.
Do I need to have a birth plan?
Birth plans aren’t essential, so don’t think you have to have one. Speak with your midwife or doctor about what’s important to you and they can make notes in your records. Most women are asked during labour how they can be supported to have the type of birth they’d like. Conversations between you and your midwife and/or doctor give insights into the labour and birth which is important to you.
One of the main advantages of a birth plan is that it helps you prepare for having a baby. Sitting down and making a written record can help you focus attention on what’s really important. And they can also be a good way to initiate conversations between a labouring mother and her maternity care provider if they’ve not met before.
When should I think about making a birth plan?
There’s no preferred time during pregnancy when a birth plan needs to be written up. Ideally, you won’t be trying to make a plan after your labour has started. Speak with your maternity care provider about what, in their experience, is useful to include. And check to see if you need to include any factors due to specific conditions, like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.
How to get started making a birth plan?
Some women have long-standing ideas about the type of labour and birth they would like. This helps when it comes to writing out a birth plan because they’ve done research into their options.
Aim to write up a simple birth plan which highlights what’s important for you. Too much information can be overwhelming and confusing. Make sure if you’re writing your birth plan by hand that your writing is clear. Alternatively, perhaps use an app or keep a digital copy — which would be easier to share with multiple people. Keep a spare copy and ask your maternity care provider to include this in your notes.
What should I include in my birth plan?
Think about your preferences and what you would like to avoid. Importantly, remember that your labour and birth may not proceed as you would like — a birth plan is not a contract. There needs to be room for flexibility in case of unforeseen events. Sometimes interventions are necessary to avoid complications that can affect a mother and/or her baby.
What to include in your birth plan:
- who you would like to be with you for support
- culturally important factors
- where you would like to have your baby
- the type of examinations you’d prefer and frequency of checks
- pain relief options
- positions for labour and giving birth
- your preferences for skin-to-skin contact with your baby
- how you would like to feed your baby if you’re planning to breastfeed — include your preferences for breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth
- how your partner can support you
- what you would like to happen after your baby is born — for example, staying with you and not being separated