Getting ready to have a baby – especially if this is your first child – gives you so many things to think about. There are several people to include in planning for the day of the birth: yourself, your partner, and of course, the baby on the way – and more if you have other children.

One of the most important things to do as you prepare for the birth of your child – whether it’s your first baby or whether you’ve done this before – is to create a “Birth Plan.”

What is a Birth Plan?

A birth plan is a written document that shows your overall intentions for how you want the birth to happen. It includes your wishes for such things as what types of medical intervention or pain relief you want, who you want on your “birth team” of close family and friends to assist you during labour and how you want to handle certain situations that might arise.

A birth plan is important because it clearly spells out your expectations in advance, not when you are in the middle of labour! It gives you a sense of control over the details of your birth and helps you think ahead for possible situations that might occur.

By researching about birth and the choices available helps many women and their birthing partners feel more empowered when they go into labour. For example, it gives you an opportunity to indicate what is your desire for best dealing with labour pain? Do you want to use a bath, TENS machine, gas and air….? Do you want an epidural, or are their certain circumstances when you wouldn’t and when you would? What if you need your waters to be broken or labour augmented or even a caesarean section?

Preparing a birth plan is not meant to alarm you and, of course, no one can expect to control every little thing that happens during the birth of a child. However, writing a birth plan is a useful exercise to get a better understanding about the full extent of your options for your birth and enable you and your birthing partner to feel more in control.

Once labour kicks in it can be difficult for you or your partner to remember some of your plans or thoughts!

Get Everyone on the Same Page

It is very important to talk with your birthing partner about your birth plan to make sure that they agree and understand your wishes.

Use your birth plan as a set of guidelines and wish list and discuss this with your midwife or doctor in the appointments running up to your birth as well as on arrival to the hospital or when the midwife arrives at your house.

As part of your birth plan writing process, read and become more informed about various aspects of your preparations for labouring at home and at the birthing centre, as well as, plans for after the birth, and for breastfeeding.

Make your preferences known in writing. If you definitely do not want an epidural or an episiotomy or any other interventions, ask the hospital for their policy on foetal monitoring and eating or drinking while in labour. Be flexible though, you may change your mind on the day.

At Home: Before You Go to the Hospital

A good idea to help you think more clearly about birth is to take a tour of the hospital or birth centre and attend childbirth education classes so you know about the different stages of labour.

Consider doing a “dress rehearsal.” Pack a bag to take to the hospital well in advance, practice walking to the car, figure out multiple routes to drive to the hospital and think through any possible obstacles or issues that might arise.

At the Hospital: Understand Policies and Procedures

Think about what you want to happen once you arrive at the hospital. Do you want your partner or a friend or two to be there with you during labour?

Find out if there are any limitations on the number of visitors, or if the hospital has policies regarding advance notice of who has to sign in to enter the birthing room.

You might be spending a few days at the hospital altogether so think about what items you want to bring from home, whether it’s special snacks, favourite music, books or any other comfort items.

If you would like to get birth photos or video while you’re in labour and immediately after the birth, ask about the hospital’s policies on this first and make sure your photographer will be permitted to enter.

In Labour: Staying Comfortable and Managing Pain

Labour is an intense physical and emotional experience, and you’ll want to think ahead about what you want to do for pain management. Talk with your midwife or doctor about which devices are available for pain management and helping with labour, such as a birthing stool/balls, birthing pool, shower and anything else that you can use to stay comfortable.

Breastfeeding: Know What to Expect

Breastfeeding is such an important part of the process of becoming a mother that you should give some advance planning to the topic of breastfeeding as well.

Ideally, your baby will be placed on your chest in skin to skin contact directly after birth so that the baby can crawl to the breast and have their first feed.

Do you want to work with a lactation consultant? It’s often helpful to be aware of your options for breastfeeding support, even before your baby arrives.

With breastfeeding, as with the birth plan itself, be flexible and be prepared for your plans to change. Many new parents don’t fully know what they “want” until the baby arrives and it all becomes much more real!

The most important thing is to learn about your options and be well-informed so you can raise a healthy baby with a healthy and happy mum!

After Birth: What to Expect

Talk to your midwife or doctor about what to expect in the immediate aftermath of giving birth – such as cutting the umbilical cord, delivering your placenta, allowing the cord to complete pulsating before the cord is cut and other details.

If you would like your partner or support person to cut the umbilical cord, discuss this with your midwife or doctor early on so they can make arrangements ahead of time. Talk about what you would like to happen with the baby immediately after birth and research and discuss with your midwife or doctor the benefits of skin to skin contact.

Doing a birth plan is an important step as part of your 9-month process of getting ready for the birth of your baby. It’s important to think through the various situations that might arise so that you know your options and are prepared for contingencies. Don’t feel bad if you forget something – you have time to review your birth plan, and once the day comes you will need to be flexible and be ready for any eventualities.

No matter what else, your birth plan will hopefully give you a sense of calm, and help you feel more in control and better-informed about your options.

There are an overwhelming number of choices that a family has to make even before the birth of their child. The key is to stay calm, talk to other parents, and anticipate the situations that you can. With the details out of the way you can focus on the amazing experience of bringing a new life into the world.

Have you ever written a birth plan? Do you have any birth plan templates or tips that you would recommend? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion at the Medela Australia Facebook page.

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