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The birth planner

We’ve all heard of birth plans – but do they really work, what should they contain, and will your doctor be supportive?

birth planSt Francis Bay mom Zoe Henn, 32, became pregnant with her first child Frankie, and she and her husband Richard decided that they wanted their daughter’s birth to be a beautiful and memorable event. “A little over a year ago, in the early hours of a summer morning, we sped towards the hospital and launched ourselves into the maternity ward,” recalls Zoe. “Less than three hours later, Frankie was born. What a life-changing experience!”

Upon their arrival at the hospital, the couple had presented nurses and their gynaecologist with a birth plan detailing their wishes for the birth, as they wanted to be actively involved in making as many decisions as possible. “Our written understanding between the hospital staff and ourselves meant that Frankie’s arrival went according to our ideals and also headed off any unrealistic expectations, minimised disappointment and avoided conflict or miscommunication,” says Zoe.

What is a birth plan?

A birth plan is a valuable document outlining exactly how you’d like to experience birth.. It includes as much or as little detail as you wish, but the essential sections cover the type of birth, preferred method of pain relief and post-partum procedure. Childbirth is such an emotional event and there are many factors to consider while it’s happening -a birth plan provides a written reference for both you and your health team.
The plan also helps you to identify issues which may be worrying you, such as when you’ll be allowed to hold your baby or if you’re concerned about taking a certain type of pain medication.
It’s vital that your gynaecologist, doctor or midwife fully supports your birth plan, so prepare the document several weeks or months in advance, if possible, and discuss the details with your health team well before your expected due date if you can.

Robin Elise Weiss, childbirth and post-partum educator and doula, explains that people sometimes have the wrong idea about birth plans and may therefore be reluctant to use them. However, the plan is simply a list of expectations and ideas about how you’d like your birth to happen – it’s not written in stone and it serves to prevent misunderstandings between you and your medical team about your desires and wishes.

Putting it all together

What information should you include in your birth plan? Weiss explains that this is entirely up to you, and depends on what is important to you and your partner. Perhaps you have firm ideas about wanting a natural birth or perhaps you’d prefer your partner to cut the umbilical cord rather than the doctor, for example.
Consulting an antenatal instructor, browsing websites and good books, and discussing the process of birth with your caregiver and midwife should provide you with enough information. Once you have enough facts, then discuss these with your partner and envisage your ideal birth.

Structuring your birth plan

Experts suggest that the ideal plan is a single sheet of paper, typed, with information in bullet points and under headings. It’s also advisable that your caregiver sign it before you go to the hospital or birth centre.

Mothers have several options available to them which can be also recorded in the birth plan

These options must be discussed with your caregiver before birth. Do you want to:

  • move around during birth or stay on the bed for the duration?
  • wear your own clothes or the hospital gown provided?
  • use a bath or shower?
  • use your own music preferences?
  • use particular pain medication?
  • choose a position for the birth?
  • outline preferences if you’ve chosen a Caesarean section?

General birth plan ideas:

  • Basic information: Your name and contact details, as well other relevant numbers (doctor, midwife, antenatal instructor, next of kin).
  • Preferred birthing option: This covers natural (vaginal) birth, a Caesarean section, water birth or no assisted delivery.
  • Your partner: What role do you want him to play? Must he be there at all times, should he hold your baby immediately, and would you like him to cut the umbilical cord?
  • Pain-relief options: Some women prefer no pain relief, while others want gas and air, or an epidural, so chat to your doctor well in advance about the options available to you.
  • The birth environment: Do you want music and soft lighting or silence? Would you like another relative present, such as your mother or your doula? Do you wish to have any special items available, such as essential oils?
  • Post-delivery: Do you want to hold your baby and/or breastfeed immediately, or room-in or have staff take Baby to the nursery?
  • Visiting rights: Are there any close friends, siblings or particular family members whom you would like to have visit soon after the birth?
  • Natural birth: Do you want natural tearing only or an episiotomy?

Change of plans

View your plan as an ideal, but always heed medical advice, your caregiver wants the best for you and your baby, so focus on health and well-being first.

“I sincerely believe that all parents should have a birth plan,” says Zoe.

After all, it’s the most memorable day of your life and you should be able to express your ideas on how your child is brought into the world.

Understand, though, that not all things go according to plan, so be flexible. The health of your unborn baby is the most important thing.”


Text by Angela Barry. Photography by Nabila Mahomed. Article was taken from the November 2010 edition of Living and Loving.

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