Making a Birth Plan
Updated: May 14, 2023
"Your birth plan will only end in disappointment."
We hear it said so often birth is unpredictable, you can’t plan a birth, making a birth plan is just setting yourself up for disappointment and feeling guilty.
But in our experience of working with families, it is precisely because birth is unpredictable that having a birth plan is so important and can often be the thing that prevents feelings of guilt and disappointment.
Maybe people don’t like the idea of birth planning because they think making a birth plan means writing down your ideal birth and thinking positively and then all your wishes will come true.
Planning your birth is not just making a list of wishes you hope will come true.
The birth planning process we’re talking about is much different and involves realistic education not wishful thinking. Making a birth plan is a process that involves educating yourself on the main choices you will make during labour and birth and on what will be offered to you as a matter of routine. Birth planning gives you the opportunity to talk through your feelings with your birth partner or team and allow them to get to know you and how they can best support you during your labour. When we talk about birth plans we talk about choices that are inside your control and things that are outside your control and how those things interact with each other. Making a birth plan can't protect you from disappointment completely but it can allow you stack the odds in your favour and not get taken by surprise on the day.
If you can plan a holiday you can plan a birth.
If you look at the idea of making plans in any other area of life we don’t tell people not to bother because things might not go according to plan. Every other plan we make we keep in mind things may be different on the day and we’re chill with that we don’t think it makes the plan pointless.
Imagine if you wanted a holiday but rather than plan one you said well everything is unpredictable I won’t make any plans I’ll just turn up at the airport and hop on the first plane that leaves and see how things go. Well, you might have a lovely spontaneous holiday or you might find yourself on a repeatedly delayed flight that ends up being cancelled. But if you had looked up the possible destinations in advance and maybe had some idea about which airlines were more likely to cancel flights and might want to be avoided you might have had more chance of getting the holiday you really wanted. You still might have had a disappointing cancelled flight but that wouldn't be any more your fault because you planned your holiday.
And if you complained about the cancelled flight and felt disappointed with your holiday of waiting in the airport you wouldn’t expect to be told to be grateful you’re alive and healthy.
When you tell people you’re planning a holiday they don’t say “maybe don’t make too many plans your plane might crash into the sea and you might have to swim for land and then make a new life on a desert island and you will feel terrible you didn’t get your planned holiday” so why do they say “don’t make too many plans for your birth you might nearly die and need a c-section and then you will be disappointed you failed to get your planned birth”?
If it’s okay to plan a holiday knowing things might go wrong but expecting them to go to plan it’s okay to plan a birth knowing things might not go to plan but if they don’t you have other choices and contingency plans.
When a holiday doesn’t go to plan we may still feel a bit sad that things didn’t turn out the way we hoped but we don’t expect to be frowned upon for that or feel bad about ourselves for expecting things to go well. Just so when a birth doesn’t go as we hoped we can feel sad about that and our feelings are valid but we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for having made a plan.
We focus on the things that are inside our control, not those that are outside our control. We know that if we get on our plane and it has engine trouble we will rely on the captain to do a safe emergency landing but we don’t get on the plane assuming that will happen. We know our plane might be cancelled at the last minute but we also know we will have some choices like do we take the offer of an overnight hotel and flight the next day or do we decide to wait and see if we can get seats on the next available plane or do we get on our phones and find ourselves alternative flights with another airline or do we take the refund and get back in the car and go check into a seaside hotel down the road.
Just so if, for example, we plan for a home birth but are told when we call, sorry there are not enough midwives no one can come out to you, can you come in? That may be outside our control but we can look at what is inside our control. We might choose to wait and see if we get further into labour and hope more midwives come on shift or someone is found who can come out to us. Or we might choose to have a free birth. Or we might choose to go into the hospital immediately, knowing we can make the hospital room into a home from home as we already packed a bag full of lovely things to make a space our own (like fairy lights, pillows, blankets, music, eyemask, headphones, our printed out birth affirmations, photos of our pets or older children, etc). Having thought through these things before going into labour (making a birth plan) rather than having to research them while also being in labour is much less stressful.
What are our top practical tips for making a birth plan?
A birth plan doesn’t need imperative statements it needs practical plans.
Make more than one plan. Rather than say I’m having a homebirth, say my plan A is to birth at home, if x or y happens my plan B is to use the birth pool in the hospital, if z happens then I will have a cesarean birth.
One change of plan is not necessarily a change of every plan. For example, if plan C is necessary then my top priority is to have skin-to-skin as soon as possible with my baby (or whatever it is that means most to you and is still possible when you birth in the operating theatre).
Plan for each stage of labour. Think about early labour as well as active labour and about birthing your placenta as well as your baby.
Inform yourself about what you can do to help yourself. Check out this blog post for more information.
Make a postnatal plan. Birth is one very impactful day of your life but the days and weeks of being a new parent will also be a whole mix of exciting, happy, exhausting, and overwhelming. Planning to be looked after through this time can be the difference between surviving and enjoying the time. Check out this blog post if you want more info on this.
Want some support with planning your birth come along to our Zoom meet-up this month and chat with our team and with other parents about what might be in your control that you don’t know about yet and how they planned their births and what happened on the day. Click the image for the link to book.