Everything You Need to Know About How to Write a Birth Plan

So much about bringing a child into the world feels uncontrollable, so we’re all about learning to control what you can. Writing a birth plan gives you a little of your control back. It won’t necessarily guarantee a smooth labor, but it will ensure your hospital or birthing center knows your preferences about important issues like pain relief.

While many soon-to-be parents focus on post-delivery choices, such as breast or bottle, cloth diapers or disposable, co-sleeping or crib, the birthing experience is not one to be overlooked.

Whether it’s choosing whether to get an epidural or explaining your preferences about labor-inducing drugs, having a birthing checklist that outlines your preferences can help you organize your thoughts about labor and delivery. 

Your birth plan helps convey your care and treatment preferences to the doctors and nurses who are assisting you, and it gives your support person more power to advocate for your needs and wishes.

So please, keep trying working on installing that damned car seat properly, choosing a cute coming home outfit, and finding comfortable clothes for the hospital. But while you’re at it, we highly suggest that you create a birth plan!

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Writing My Birthing Checklist

I can be honest with you, right? 

The truth is, I’m a bit of an “over-planner.” Whether it’s organizing a trip, throwing a party, or planning a trip to the grocery store, I’m a girl who loves her lists. 

Imagine my delight when I was expecting our first daughter and realized that putting together birth plans for first-time moms was a “thing!” 

You mean to tell me that the hospital staff will not look at me like a crazy person when I show up with an overly-notated and bulleted document discussing all of my labor wants and needs?

Cheers and giggles may have ensued. I was in Type-A Heaven!

The problem was, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a birthing checklist. I mean, I loved the idea of putting one together, but what exactly should it include, and why was it important?

Thankfully, in addition to my love of lists, I’m also a total sucker for research. 

I spent many hours scouring the internet, talking to my doctors, and developing my own collection of must-have information my care team. By the time I was finished, I was basically the ultimate resource for expectant parents writing a birth plan.

woman with pregnant belly sitting on couch holding notebook with the words birthing plan dot dot dot on an otherwise blank page
A mom lies on her couch, staring at a blank notebook, wondering how in the world to get started writing a birth plan.

What is a Birth Plan?

So what actually is a birth plan? Is it as complicated, or unrealistic, as it sounds?

While movies might have us believe that the birthing experience involves little more than sitting around in bed for a few moments before you scream and push a baby out of your vagina, there’s a little bit lot more involved.

Every labor and delivery situation is unique.

A birth plan delves into the nitty-gritty of what you want during your labor, delivery, and postpartum care.

While some women might not have strong opinions on how they want to labor, many others have given the experience a significant amount of thought. They’ve taken the time to educate themselves on different available options and decisions they might need to make.

A birth plan allows expecting moms to put that education to good use.

She can take everything she’s learned about the various labor and delivery options and create a plan to be shared with her partner, support people, healthcare provider, and hospital team.

This document will include a wide variety of information that touches on various subjects, such as pain management, delivery, and baby care.

Is Writing a Birth Plan Important?

While there’s no rule stating that you have to write a birth plan, many women have found the process to be helpful.

Putting together your birthing checklist is not only a way to organize your thoughts and preferences about labor and delivery, but it’s also an ideal framework for meaningful conversations you should have with your doctor.

Say you’re putting together a birth plan, and you’re not sure what options are available for managing labor pain. Convey this question to your doctor, and you open a discussion on various pain management techniques you haven’t considered.

Some hospitals offer nitrous oxide before or in lieu of an epidural; others give narcotics, like fentanyl. Many hospitals offer a variety of options. And while birthing centers don’t perform epidurals, they do often have less invasive pain management options.

By outlining what you are and are not comfortable with, you save yourself the need to make uneducated choices on the fly.

It’s always possible that everything in your birth plan won’t work out, and we strongly suggest going into labor with a flexible mindset.

If you want an unmedicated water birth but a c-section is required to save yours or the baby’s life, we don’t want you mourning your birth experience.

That said, learning how to write a birth plan is an excellent way to take a proactive role in your labor and delivery experience. It will allow your care team to know all your preferences, and it will give your support person the opportunity to advocate for your desires, should such advocacy be required.

How Do I Write a Birth Plan?

We know it’s overwhelming. You can’t just type the words “Go to the hospital & have the baby” at the top a word document and print it off for your doctor.

Although, wouldn’t it be nice if things were that simple?

When you’re putting together a birth plan, there are several key areas for you to consider. This is especially true for first-time moms who might not be aware of the various options available to them.

The following sections dive into the most common topics covered on most birth plans. 

(1) General Information

You know those fifty million medical record forms you’ve already filled out for your obstetrician, hospital, ultrasound techs, and more? 

Well, get ready to do it again!

The general information section of your birth plan should include things like your name, your partner’s name, birth dates, phone numbers, and addresses.

Basically, anything the hospital or your labor team might need to help identify you during your stay.

(2) Delivery Room Requests

Whether you’d like to use an essential oil diffuser, dim the lights, or have your favorite album blasting in the background, this section should cover the things you feel you’ll want and need to make your birthing experience a success.

It should also include information on the individuals you’d like to stay with you during the delivery. Don’t want parents or in-laws busting in? This section helps prevent that from happening!

Be sure to check with your healthcare facility, however, to find out how many people they’ll allow to stay during your baby’s birth.

(3) Managing Labor Pain

There’s something you should know that we don’t talk about enough. There are more options for managing labor pain than just getting an epidural.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the epidural is undoubtedly a fan-favorite among expectant mothers, but it’s not the right option for everyone. Also, many women choose to delay an epidural in hopes of hastening their labor by moving around.

When I was in labor with my first daughter, I had a bad experience with my epidural. Because of this experience, I chose a drug-free childbirth during round two.

Don’t be fooled or persuaded by public opinion. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing pain management techniques for labor.

All you can do is educate yourself on the options available and decide which one feels “right” to you. There are many options, including:

(4) Monitoring

In most situations, your hospital birth team will use electronic fetal monitoring throughout labor to keep track of your contractions and the baby’s heart rate.

If you would like more freedom to get out of bed and move around during labor, you can ask your nursing team and doctor whether intermittent monitoring is a reasonable option. Read how Katy advocated for wireless monitors after researching how to make induced labor easier.

This information is an essential part of any birth plan.

(5) Medical Interventions

Allow me to reiterate for a moment – the most critical factor in any labor and delivery situation is bringing your baby into the world safely.

With this in mind, however, there is no harm in letting your doctor know if there are specific medical interventions you would like to avoid, such as:

And just so we’re clear, if you ARE okay with these interventions, that’s fine too. The point of a birth plan is that you have the opportunity to do your own research and express these opinions.

(6) Umbilical Cord & Placenta Care

Many individuals don’t even realize that there are options available when it comes to your umbilical cord and placenta, but there definitely are!

If you’re interested in practices such as delayed cord clamping or saving your placenta (yes, some women do keep their placentas to ingest later!), these should be included in this section.

This part of writing a birth plan should also include any information on whether you want to bank your baby’s cord blood or have a particular person cut the cord after delivery.

(7) Baby Care After Delivery

When you’re trying to figure out how to write a birth plan, you’ll also need to consider any specific care requirements you have for your baby after birth.

This includes things like having skin-to-skin contact after birth, and if you plan on breastfeeding or using formula. If you’re having a boy, you should also note whether you’d like to have him circumcised.

(8) Spiritual Traditions

Some religions or spiritual traditions have particular customs relating to the birth of a child.

If there is something specific you’d like to happen, it’s important to discuss these things with your doctor and birth team ahead of time.

Writing a Birth Plan for C-Section Deliveries

While many c-section deliveries aren’t planned ahead of time, it never hurts to consider the “what-ifs” and have a plan in place.

If you’re looking to create a specific birth plan for a c-section delivery, it should include specific information, such as

  • Who will join you in the operating room
  • What type of anesthesia you’d prefer
  • Whether you’d like the baby laid on you after delivery

Discuss Your Birth Plan with Your Healthcare Providers

Throughout your pregnancy, you’ll be reliant on the expertise of a team of healthcare professionals.

Whether it’s doctors, nurses, midwives, or doulas, it’s important to discuss your preferences after you finish writing a birth plan. This way, they can help better direct you if some of your choices aren’t good options for you and your baby.

By discussing these aspects of your birth plan with them ahead of time, your healthcare team can also try to have a better plan in place when the big day finally arrives.

Don’t forget to pack multiple copies of your birth plan in your hospital bag for mom!

Once you’ve checked in, you can give them to anyone who’s part of your labor team. It’s always good for your support person to have a copy, as well.

Expect the Unexpected When it’s Time to Have Your Baby

After you’ve spent all this time learning how to write a birth plan, the last thing you want to hear is that things might not work out the way you want them to.

Unfortunately, however, your labor and delivery might turn out differently than you expect.

This can be one of the drawbacks to writing a birth plan.

Parents build up an idea of the perfect labor scenario in their minds. When things don’t go as planned, it can lead to disappointment.

Take me, for example.

I went into my first labor planning on 100% natural childbirth. My birth plan stated that I wanted no drugs or unnecessary medical interventions.

By the time our daughter was born, I’d been administered an epidural, had my water manually broken, and been given a lovely episiotomy that I won’t soon forget.

[Editorial note: read more about another mom’s issues with painful sex after episiotomy, which she also didn’t approve.]

Suffice it to say; things didn’t go as planned.

When push came to shove (yeah, you see what I did there), it didn’t matter how my daughter came into the world.

All that mattered was that she was safely in my arms where she was meant to be.

*Editorial note: If you do not feel so resigned to your birth going differently than planned, your feelings are completely valid. Read more about experiencing birth disappointment.

But that doesn’t mean I regret putting together a birth plan for my first child. In fact, when my second daughter came around, I sat back down and wrote a birth plan all over again.

I appreciated the opportunity to have a voice in my pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Personally, I believe you deserve the chance to do the same.

Still unsure about writing your birth plan? Download our printable template to take with you to your next doctor’s appointment!

If you’re writing a birth plan, what do you think are the most important things you’ll want to include?

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