Although you can't predict exactly how your baby's birth will happen, having a birth plan can help you be ready for just about anything. So, what is a birth plan, you ask? It's a document that lists your hopes and preferences for your labor and delivery. This is a one- or two-page reference sheet meant to be shared with your health care team, it's a one- or two-page reference that can help you feel more confident and prepared. Birth plans for first-time moms can provide reassurance, but if this isn't your first baby, a plan is just as valuable—because every labor and every baby are different.
A birth plan can be a helpful tool in communicating with doctors, midwives, and nurses—but it's important to remember that labor and delivery are unpredictable, and you can't control how events may unfold. That's why it may be helpful to think of your birth plan as a general guideline, not a guaranteed "run of show."
A month or so before your due date, you'll want to use a hospital packing checklist and start writing your birth plan. Being flexible and courteous, both in your written plan and in person, will go a long way to ensuring you have the healthiest, best possible experience. Using phrases like such as "If medically possible sound, I'd like to…" and "Unless there's an emergency, I'd prefer to…". You may wish to share your birth plan with your doctor in the weeks before your due date, and you'll definitely want to take a copy with you when the big day comes. Here's a birth plan checklist—complete with questions to ask yourself—to help you create your own helpful document.
Who are you?
Start by listing all of your important personal details: your name, your baby's due date, the names and contact information for your obgyn, doula, partner, and/or midwife. Be sure to list any medical issues (e.g., gestational diabetes or (vaginal birth after cesarean)VBAC) as well.
What does your ideal labor environment look like?
Think about how you feel most comfortable, then write down your preferences. Do you want to listen to Bach, Beyoncé, or no music at all? Would you like to walk around, use a birthing stool, labor in a tub, or stay in bed? Lights bright or turned down? Write down whatever makes you feel most at ease.
Who do you want with you during labor?
Think about who you'd like in the delivery room for support. Is it a partner, a family member, a doula, or a friend? (Since the start of the pandemic, some hospitals have limited the number of people who can accompany a woman in labor laboring woman—so be sure you know what's permitted before your due date.) Teaching hospitals often have medical students observe or participate in deliveries, so if you're giving birth at one, note whether you're okay with that.
What kind of pain relief do you prefer?
You may want an epidural, or you may prefer an unmedicated birth. (Some people wind up changing their plans during labor, and that's fine—your birth plan is a reference, but nothing has to be set in stone!) In case of a cesarean section, what type of anesthesia would you prefer?
What are your preferences during delivery?
Some women prefer intermittent external fetal monitoring, which allows them to move around while laboring. Others like continuous monitoring, which means staying in bed. Also, think about whether you'd prefer an episiotomy (an incision beneath the vaginal opening) or not.
What would you like to happen after delivery?
Once the baby is born, a few decisions need to be made about cords, routine care, circumcision, and rooming in.
- Umbilical cord: Would you like to delay cord clamping? Do you or your partner wish to cut the umbilical cord? Will you bank your baby's cord blood?
- Routine care: Would you like to hold your baby immediately, or wait until they've been weighed, bathed, and measured?
- Circumcision: If you have a boy, will you have his penis circumcised?
- Rooming in (the practice followed in hospitals where the baby's crib is kept by the side of the mother's bed): Would you prefer to have your baby with you at all times, or would you like them to rest in the nursery?
A final note on birth plans
The most important thing to remember about birth plans is that they're just that: plans. Labor and delivery will be different for every baby, and sometimes it's necessary to be flexible. Going into your labor with preferences and guidelines is immensely helpful—just remember to bring an open mind as well.
Not sure what you'll need for labor, delivery, and postpartum? Use this hospital packing checklist to know what to take (and what to leave at home).