For the major life event of childbirth, filling out a pre-made form as a plan may not be enough for you.
It’s your body, your mind and your birth. Every woman approaches childbirth in her own way. If you are a “planner,” then filling out a pre-made birth plan form may not feel like enough for your birth plan. While planning does not give us control over how our birth experiences will go, there are many benefits to a more in-depth planning process. You can use the birth planning process to clarify your priorities: what will help you to feel safe and strong during labor? What choices might help you to have the birth that you most want to have? What do you think you want to do if faced with circumstances that would change your plan? The birth planning process should, first and foremost answer these questions for you and the people who will be at your side.
To create a plan which involves your best thinking, your understanding of the research, and your intuition as well as your preferences, I offer ten steps. This process will clarify your thinking, give you a chance to imagine a variety of scenarios, and still create a document simple enough for busy hospital staff to read at a glance.
1. Begin by imagining your dream birth. If you didn’t have to consider cost, practicality, safety, etc., where would you labor and give birth? Who would be with you? At each stage of labor what would you see, hear, smell and feel? Credit for this approach goes to Cynthia Gabriel, author of Natural Hospital Birth. There are many more great suggestions in her book for imagining your dream birth and planning for birth.
2. Consider how you can incorporate aspects of your dream birth into your actual birth setting. For example, if you have a loved one who can’t be with you, you could bring something which reminds you of that person. Or if there is a place where you feel safe and relaxed, you could listen to music that evokes memories or feelings of being in that place.
3. Now, think about the choices you will face during labor, delivery and the hours following your birth. Consider the entire birth process:
*What are your plans for handling early labor?
*During active labor, what are your priorities for managing pain, who to have with you, which supplies you want to bring to the birth setting?
*What are your priorities for second stage (pushing) including strategies for avoiding tearing? What about cord cutting and newborn procedures?
*What is your plan for feeding your baby?
5. What questions will you ask? Who will ask them? Prepare questions you can ask when faced with a choice to make, such as whether or not to break your bag of waters, or use Pitocin, or to have an epidural? Who will ask the questions?
6. Include your preferences for emergencies. If the baby needs to be taken for emergency care, who will go with the baby? Who will stay with the mother?
7. Learn about options for cesarean birth. If you are having a surgical birth, or want to consider your options if there is an emergency surgical birth, you may want to explore “gentle” or “family centered” Cesarean section birth plans. Options for a positive surgical birth could include: *arms free to hold the baby
*immediate skin-to-skin if possible
*delayed cord clamping
*lowering the drape so mother can see birth of the baby
*the mother assisting with lifting the baby out.
8. Write out all of your preferences, so that you and your birth support team (meaning the partner/friend/family/doula who will be with you) know what they are. Keep this detailed plan for yourselves. If you have a preference which is standard procedure, you don’t need to share it with the hospital staff.
9. Next, decide on a few things which are the most important to share with the staff. If your preference is standard procedure, you don’t necessarily need to put it in this plan. The shorter you can keep the plan you share with the hospital, the more likely they are to have time to actually read it.
You may want to break it down to one or two priorities for each of the following areas:
b. Active labor
c. Second stage (pushing and birth of the baby)
d. Immediately postpartum (delivery of the placenta, newborn procedures, plan for feeding the baby)
10. Consider making your birth plan visual and easy to read at a glance. Here are some suggestions for creating a visual birth plan. If you would like to use icons, you can download birth plan icons for free, or for a voluntary donation.
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