Wouldn’t it be great if we could create a birth plan for our ideal birth and then guarantee that we would experience it exactly as we specified. “I’d like a quick and easy birth please, with as little pain as possible and a really great recovery!!” Unfortunately this is not how it works. We all know that births can take twists and turns that we don’t expect so it is difficult to put a birth plan together for something that we essentially can’t plan. However, it’s important to have a think about what options you have.
When talking about birth I prefer to say birth preferences rather than a birth plan as it helps us to remember to keep an open mind. I found it incredibly helpful in my first birth to know all my options, and understand the positives and negatives of each one. As each and every decision I needed to make during my labour came up, I could make an educated decision along with my midwife. I felt in control, in a very new and intense situation , it was very empowering. It didn’t end up going how I had hoped and Alfie was born in theatre with forceps just before they were going to do a c section. It wasn’t low lighting and calm liked I had ideally wanted, in fact there were bright lights, beeping machines and about 15 people in the room BUT I had gone in with a very open mind so didn’t feel too disappointed at how it turned out.
When thinking about your birth preferences, especially for the first time, I think there are 5 main areas to consider, and discuss with your birth partner and midwife so you are both aware of your feelings and wishes.
1. Birth setting
Whether you are set on a home birth or a hospital birth it is still worth specifying some details on exactly how you would like the setting to be if all goes to plan. For example if you want to give birth in hospital, would you like to labour in the water, or would you prefer to be mobile and move about the room. If you’re at home, would you like the room to be dark, would you like fairy lights and music on, and who would you like to be there?
All these things are important for your birth partner and team to know so they can do their best to accommodate your wishes when the time comes.
2. Pain Relief
Do you know your options at any given stage of labour? Make sure you ask your midwife any questions you have about this in plenty of time so you can make informed decisions as you go along. There are plenty of good resources online to help you understand your options, and if you are doing an ante natal course they will go through these with you too. This is a useful resource by the NHS.
Make a note of any forms of pain relief that you absolutely do not want under any circumstances, then a list of the maybes and yeses so that you are all on the same page. Remember, you can always change your mind on the day, this is not set in stone, it’s just a guide to help everyone involved in your birth.
Have you been preparing for your birth in a certain way? For example let your midwife know if you’ve been practicing hypnobirthing or certain breathing techniques that you would like them to help you with throughout labour and birth. This helps them to understand what you want and it will help you to feel supported and in control as much as possible.
4. Birth Partner
It is important to state who to consult in the case of an emergency if you are unable to communicate your wishes for whatever reason. This is usually your birth partner so make sure that they have gone through all of this with you so they can discuss the best plan of action with the doctors.
5. Post birth
Many women forget that they also have a lot of control over how things go once the baby is born, assuming there are no complications. You can state whether you want your partner or the midwives to tell you the gender of your baby, to cut the umbilical chord, if you want to do skin to skin as soon as possible, whether you want to birth your placenta naturally or you would like an injection to help it happen more quickly … these are just a few of the things that you can mention in your birth preferences that helps your team make it the experience you want.
As I say, it is hugely beneficial to have a think about all of your options and what you would ideally like to happen in each situation. However, I recommend keeping a very open mind as you approach your due date and remember that whatever happens, the midwives and doctors will only ever do what is safest for you and your baby. Try not to be disappointed if your birth doesn’t go “to plan”. I certainly never planned to give birth in a theatre full of surgeons but this is what needed to happen and because I was open minded I didn’t come out of it feeling deflated or upset which sadly can be such a common feeling in new mums.
I hope that this checklist can help you to form your birth preferences and start thinking proactively about how you would like your experience to be, but always ask your midwife anything you are unsure about before you go into labour so that you feel well prepared. You can take a screenshot or download the PDF below.
You may also find my hospital bag checklist a useful blog to read.