What to Remember when Writing a Birth Plan
Congratulations, Mama! You’re probably feeling super pregnant, you’re preparing your hospital bag, and your birth plan is coming together nicely. Before you know it, Baby will be ready to get out of your belly and get into your arms. It’s a precious and magical time…
But it’s also crazy.
You just can’t know what’s going to happen. Labor and delivery are intense and things can change in an instant. Don’t worry. That’s what nurses, midwives, doulas and doctors are for, but we have to remember that not everything is in our control.
If you’re anything like me, you want to be as prepared as possible. That’s a good thing. But as you envision your perfect birth scenario, remember that a birth plan is more about our preference than an outline of what’s going to happen.
So instead of fixating on one exact idea of how your baby will come into the world, mentally prepare yourself for some of the circumstances that may not be in your control…no matter how much you want them to be.
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My Real Life Example of How a Birth Plan Can Fall Apart
I recently gave birth to my second baby boy. When I was pregnant, I fully expected him to come early. I figured my body knew what to do this time and we just had a “hunch” he’d be here before my due date.
Due date came and went and I became more miserably pregnant by the day. Thinking he’d be early made it seem sooo much longer. I felt like it could be “any day now” from about 37 weeks on. Ugh.
Birth plan in mind, I couldn’t wait to go into labor naturally. I intended to labor at home for as long as possible, then head to the hospital.
At 40 weeks and 5 days, a 30-minute-long ultrasound revealed that my baby was only scoring a 2 out of 8 on the Fetal Distress Scale. That’s bad. His heartrate was ok, but my midwife recommended induction. I was super bummed, but I wanted to make sure he’d be ok, so off to the hospital we went.
Long story short:
The nurses started the induction meds around 5 a.m. Contractions started around 7:30. At 8:30 the Midwife on call checked on me and said she’d be back around lunch time to give us a better idea of how things were progressing. She said that after that time she could tell us how long we could expect it to be from there.
By 9:30, my nurse was advising me to go ahead and ask for the epidural if I wanted it. I DID. I had done this before and felt no shame at all about getting meds. She could tell I was in a lot of pain and ready. I nodded fervently mid-contraction.
By 10:00, my nurse informed us that there were still two ladies ahead of me waiting for epidurals. My contractions got more intense. They grew closer together. The nurse had compassion and “broke the rules” by slowing down the Pitocin (induction meds) and then she started me on a strong IV pain medication in hopes that it would help with the pain a little…
It just made me kind of confused. So confused that I didn’t understand why it felt like my baby was coming already. I screamed. A lot.
The nurse finally spelled it out for me that my baby wasn’t waiting on an epidural. He was coming NOW. By 10:45 the midwife ran through the door, threw on her gloves and caught my baby just in time.
No pushing, no time to get into my preferred birthing position, no affirmation cards, I wasn’t even wearing the cute bra I’d brought to wear during delivery. It just happened. That. Fast.
So take it from me, girl…you can make a birth plan…but prepare for anything.
Birth Scenarios to Prepare for:
Prepare for Natural Birth
As you can see from my story, just because you want an epidural doesn’t mean you’ll get one. So, prepare yourself for laboring and delivering without it. Just in case.
Practice labor techniques like breathing and concentrating. Consider options like walking, changing positions, a warm bath, etc.
Read up on how to give birth naturally. Be ready so that you’re not TOTALLY thrown by the unpredictability of childbirth…like I was.
Be Prepared to Accept Medication
On the other hand, if you have your heart set on a fully natural birth, remember that the same rule of unpredictability is true.
My good friend’s birth plan included laboring at home as long as possible, then delivering in a birthing tub with no pain medication and no epidural. Once she got to the hospital, her labor completely stalled. She tried everything, but her body just wasn’t progressing. After over 18 hours of labor, the doctors and her husband finally convinced her that an epidural was necessary. Her body was just too tired from so much laboring to progress further.
After the epidural, things sped up and she had a healthy delivery. It wasn’t what she expected, but everything turned out fine.
So, if you are planning on going natural, at least consider the idea that medication or anesthesia might be necessary. If you mentally prepare now, the idea of steering away from your birth plan won’t be quite so heartbreaking.
Prepare for a C-Section
You may have already considered this, but you never know when a c-section might be necessary. Even if it’s a LAST resort in your mind, have a plan in place to deal if it happens.
Another friend of mine was in labor for almost TWO DAYS. After hours and hours at the hospital and tons of fruitless pushing, the doctors and nurses agreed that they should try a c-section to safely deliver her baby. It was a really difficult choice for her, but she had to focus on what was important: her baby’s health and safety.
If an unexpected c-section goes down, you will be glad not to be blindsided. Have some idea of how the process goes. Know about how healing and postpartum may be different for you if that has to happen. Just in case.
Prepare for an Emergency
You never know how birth may go. Hopefully, everything takes its course and goes according to plan. BUT. Emergencies happen.
Have a plan in place in case things go awry. Have your bag ready weeks in advance, talk with your birth partner about contingencies in case a decision has to be made quickly, and remember that the important thing is your baby…not a perfect birth.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily an emergency, but it’s a major change in your idea of how things were going to go. Like in my case, I DID NOT want to be induced. This was one of my main preferences. I had heard that Pitocin makes contractions way more intense and it makes labor more difficult for mama (and now I can confirm that it’s TRUE.) But when my baby scored a 2 out of 8 on the Fetal Distress Scale, you can bet we were ok with induction. It’s not the way I planned for things to go, but I would rather know my baby is safe than stick to my rigid birth plan.
6 Tips for a flexible birth plan:
Now that you are mentally preparing for the wild ride that is childbirth, I’ve got some more practical tips to help you prepare. These are simple things to keep in mind so that you can remain calm, flexible and prepared for anything when it’s go time.
1. Remember it’s just a “plan”
When I was in labor with my first, my nurse said something that stuck with me. She said, “Have a birth plan, but don’t write it down.” I was surprised to hear that after seeing sooo many cute written birth plan templates on Pinterest. But she had a point. Once you write it down, it feels REAL. It’s hard to let go of it.
Now, I’m not saying definitely don’t write your plan down. I can totally see why it’s useful and I did have a written plan with Baby #1, but remember not to grow too attached. It’s just a plan. Birth is unpredictable and messy. It’s not meant to be a strict series of events that mother plans precisely. Let Baby make some of the decisions. Trust your body and roll with the punches.
2. Let go of Expectations
This one hit me hard. Especially on Baby #2. I expected him to come early, to go into labor naturally at home, to have a labor that was generally the same length as my first, etc.
Nope, nope and none of the above. One of the hardest parts was how surprised I was! Next time, I’ll try not to “expect” so much.
Different baby = different birth.
Try to be open-minded when it comes to how you, your baby, and your body will respond to different labors. Your pain tolerance may be higher than you anticipate. Maybe you could totally rock a natural birth and you’re just psyching yourself out. I was shocked that I made it through a natural birth, but I did.
Don’t compare births either. My first was somewhere around 14 hours of labor. My second was not even 4 hours. I also thought I’d want to move around a lot and use a birthing ball. Buuut I hated the ball and wanted to stay in the bed. I had been so upset about being on an IV and monitors, but it really didn’t bother me once everything went down.
So, don’t bind yourself to your expectations. It might go very differently than you anticipate…and it’ll be just fine.
3. State your Mind, but Trust your Nurses
After reading tons of blog posts about how to defend myself against the nursing staff, I thought I was going to have to get firm and really fight for what we wanted during labor. Maybe that’s true for some, but in both of my babies’ births, my nurses were amazing. They were so helpful and compassionate. They helped me do things the way I preferred and helped me cope when my preferences weren’t an option.
So, yes, make sure your nurses know your plan and are on board. BUT trust their experience and wisdom. They have seen A LOT of different circumstances and they know what they are doing. Plus, they’ll be a lot more generous in working with you if you play nice. Make friends with them, because you’re going to go through something incredible together and you’ll remember it forever.
4. Prepare your Birth Partner
This is my favorite tip. Girl, when you’re getting towards the end (whether with or without an epidural,) it’s hard to remember all the things. Make sure your birth partner knows to help you remember your birth plan.
Before I truly understood that my epidural wasn’t coming, I was a mess. I was confused and in so much pain and just out of it. My husband got me a cold towel to put over my forehead.
(Funny side note: that little cool towel was my best friend. He tried to take it away to get me a fresh one, but I would not let go of it! I became verrry attached. Labor makes you crazy.)
I used the towel to cover my eyes and help with the nausea. The contractions got more intense really quickly and without my realizing, my husband started massaging my hands with the essential oils I had brought. By that point, I had totally forgotten I brought them, but it was sooo helpful and relaxing. This is my favorite memory from my labor. He anticipated my needs and remembered what I wanted, even when I didn’t.
Have your partner ready to offer you some of the comforts you bring from home. Put your oils, affirmation cards, scripture, etc. in a little bag next to your bed and make sure they know to offer them to you when you can’t think straight. You’ll be sooo glad you did.
5. Remember What Matters Most
When all else fails, focus on the really important thing: your baby.
Yes, a birth plan is important and special. Your desires for labor and delivery definitely matter. But not as much as the health and safety of your little one. Try to keep this perspective throughout the process. If you need to, make this the first thing on your written birth plan. Priority 1: Do what is best for Baby.
So, if things start to go awry, remind yourself (or have your partner remind you) that we can’t control every aspect of birth, but we can make choices to keep our little one safe…even if that means sacrificing our preferences along the way.
6. Prepare to be Unprepared
Ok, so this whole post is about being prepared, but you know what? It’ll be ok if you aren’t.
If you go into labor before you have your birth plan ready…you will do just fine. I have a friend who is due soon and she is stressin’ over not knowing all the different positions and options she has for labor. I tried to remind her that even if she goes into labor tomorrow…it’ll be ok. Our bodies know what to do. Our babies will come when they need to come. Our midwives and doctors are ready. We aren’t in control.
Creating a Flexible Birth Plan
If you find yourself in labor and things are not going according to plan…take a deep breath. Try to remember that you are only a short time away from meeting this new little life you created. Believe that everyone in the room wants the same thing. Listen to your birth partner as they remind you of what truly matters. And get ready, because this is all just preparation for the bumpy ride that is motherhood.
Being prepared is super helpful, but it’s not the most important thing. Before you know it, you’ll be holding your baby and trying to find some comforts during postpartum and the newborn months. If you’re reading this, you obviously care a whole lot about how your baby comes into the world. You’re a great mama. You’re going to rock this.
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