What is a birth plan?
A birth plan is a document that lets midwives, doctors and birth partners know your delivery preferences and how you want to be treated during labour. Whether it’s a written birth guide, or just a few important things that you have discussed with your midwife, a birth plan is there to help you feel prepared for labour.
Although it is difficult to plan for every eventuality, it's good to keep an open mind. It’s not possible to note down what you would like to happen if your circumstances change, as this can be due to many different reasons and can result in many different outcomes. But there are a few things worth considering though. For example, if you’re planning to have your little one at home, make sure you have a home birth checklist, but also make a plan in the event you have to go to hospital.
Preparing for birth
Although you have been preparing for labour for nine long months and you’ve probably got a very clear idea of what kind of birth you want, when it’s time for your little one to enter the world, even some of your best-laid plans can go out the window. Once labour is underway, it’s pretty hard to remember your birth preferences, let alone tell them to your doctors, nurses and midwives. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to write a birth plan, even if that could change too!
Your birth plan is never set in stone: it should be flexible and acknowledge things could change during labour. Give your birth plan some thought and try and write down how you would like your ideal labour to unfold. The key thing for any birth plan is for you, your midwife and your doctors to plan your labour together so it’s right for you and your little one! Of course, things can change along the way, but this serves as a good guide for what you would like to happen during labour and in the immediate hours following your baby’s birth.
How to write a birth plan
Before writing a birth plan it's useful to find out about your different options from your midwife and other reliable sources like NHS choices. Talk to your midwife and doctor - your birth plan is as much for them as it is for you. They need to know your birth preferences and how to best prepare you for your labour, so ask them plenty of questions.
Another great source of ideas for your birth plan are other parents. They have been through this, too, and will be able to give you some good insights and handy tips to help prep you for your little one’s arrival. However, everyone's medical history and individual circumstances vary, so while relationships with other parents can be valuable, it is not always best to base decisions on others' experiences. More than anything, they will tell you a birth plan is there to help you prepare for labour. Antenatal classes are also a great opportunity to speak with practicing midwives and other expectant mothers about their birth preferences and what their birth plans are.
Some mums-to-be can find writing a birth plan a bit daunting, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Have a look at some birth plan examples to get a better idea of what they involve, and take a look at our downloadable birth plan template. It’s just a guide, though, so don’t worry if some of the suggestions aren’t relevant to you!
What is a birth partner?
Your birth partner is going to play a key role in shaping your birth plan and, more importantly, during the birth of your child. You can choose anyone you like, from your partner or the father of the child to one of your parents or even a friend. It is up to you. Crucially, they will be there to act as your primary support, but also to make sure as much as possible that your birth plan is going the way you want it to.
What should I include in my birth plan?
Below are some important things to include when planning for labour and writing your birth plan:
- Your name. Seems fairly obvious, but midwives see a lot of birth plans so they need to know whose they are looking at.
- Where you are planning on giving birth. This needs to be thought through ahead of time. It might be your local hospital, or you could be opting for a home birth, but wherever you choose, this needs to be clearly specified on your birth plan.
- Your birth partner’s name and their relationship to you.
- Although not everyone has a designated midwife, if you happen to have one, make sure you write down their name.
- Pain relief. This is a key one. The clearer you are on this the better, but remember, your birth plan is not written in stone, and things can easily change during labour.
- Birthing position. Do you want to be squatting, kneeling, on all fours or sitting up? There are lots of options, so it’s worth considering what will make you most comfortable during labour. If you’re a little unsure, have a chat with your midwife.
- Do you want a water birth? Just because they are called birthing pools doesn’t mean to say you have to give birth in them. Many women use them during labour to help relieve pain but choose to get out of the pool for the actual birth. If you decide you want to give birth in water but you have specified otherwise in your birth plan, or vice versa, it’s ok to change your mind. Remember your birth plan is just a guide and things can change. If all is well the midwife will follow your lead during labour.
- While most mums-to-be don't tend to want an assisted birth, some may consent to their use if necessary. Towards the end of labour many women find themselves in need of assistance, and devices like forceps or ventouses are used. If you have a preference in the event they are needed, write it in your birth plan. Don’t worry if you don’t know - your doctor on the day will be able to advise you as to the best course of action for you and your baby, but it is always your decision to make in the end.
- Afterbirth considerations. It might seem strange, but you need to think about this. For example, do you want an injection to speed up the delivery of your placenta? Do you have a specific desire for someone (like your birth partner) to cut the umbilical cord? If you do, then jot it down in your birth plan - it gives the midwife a steer.
- Skin-to-skin contact. Many mothers want their baby to be placed on them as soon as they are delivered; if so, you should specify this in your birth plan. Often the midwife will want to check your baby over before placing them on you, but you might feel strongly otherwise.
- Breastfeeding or formula feeding. It is a good idea to make it clear in your birth plan which you are aiming for.
- Specific needs. These could be anything from religious beliefs to dietary requirements or even allergies. The more information you can give, the clearer the midwife can be about the care they are giving you.
- Vitamin K. This is an injection that midwives like to give to babies soon after birth to help their blood clot. If you do not want your baby to have this injection, then make this clear in your birth plan.
- C-Section. In your birth plan you should consider how you would like a possible cesarean to play out. For example, do you want your partner to stay with you during surgery?
What if my birth plan changes?
It is perfectly natural and probably likely that your ideal birth plan might change during labour. Just because you have written something in your birth plan does not mean you are committed to that and that alone. Many women decide ahead of time that they do not want any pain relief during labour and clearly state this, but it’s understandable (and very common) to change your mind. As much as possible, your midwife and doctors will want you and your baby to be safe and comfortable, so do not worry about your birth plan if things happen to change on the day.
Have a question about writing your birth plan?
Remember, if you'd like to know more about writing your birth plan and preparing for labour, why not give one of our friendly experts a call on 0800 977 8880. Or, ask us a question online, instantly, using Live Chat Monday to Friday, 8am - 8pm.