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The Case for a Birth Plan: 4 Ways it can Transform Birth Experiences

The Case for a Birth Plan: 4 Ways it can Transform Birth Experiences

Preparing for my second child comes with the obvious “review” of the first go-round. What onesies are salvageable? What is the one piece of gear I wished I had that I’d invested in this time? (Turns out it’s a bedside bassinet.) How can I prep my nipples for the savage decimation they will soon experience?

At the time of this post, I’m in the third trimester, so one of the most important items I’m reflecting on now is my birth plan.

You might be nodding in agreement right now or rolling your eyes wondering “how on earth do you ‘plan’ for something like birth?” I’ll say this: creating a birth plan drastically changed my first birth experience. And it’s just as important to me the second time around. Here’s why.

1. Not all births experiences are created equal.

This might seem obvious, but take a minute to think about the vast birth experiences that exist today in women’s memories. Some births are remembered with blissful pride and overwhelming joy, others with pain and disappointment, while others still are downright traumatic.

Of course, some negative birth experiences are due to unavoidable birth outcomes. But, many birth circumstances are completely preventable. If you’re giving birth in a hospital, facilities vary widely in common practices, culture and equipment. All of these can have a huge impact on your personal experience.

For example, the fetal heart monitor that constantly tracks baby’s heart rate might be wireless in some places, and not in others. Why is that a big deal? It can literally change whether you as a laboring mom are “tied” to the bed for your entire labor or are able to move freely throughout the room while you labor. Having the ability to simply move would make an enormous impact on how you’d experience labor. Not to mention, moving during labor is proven to help speed it up. Trust me, you want to be mobile!

By preparing a birth plan that requests mobility either through wireless fetal monitoring, hands-on listening or intermittent monitoring, you’re able to have a conversation with your doctor about what your hospital offers and ensure it’s available when you arrive. 

Want to learn more about fetal monitoring and what your options might be? I recommend this reading from Evidence-Based Birth.

2. There's always more to learn.

Yes, a birth plan requires you to do a little homework. I get it, Momma, our lives are busy and the last thing you want to add to it is a bunch of research on episiotomies to determine how you feel about them (be mentally prepared before you google image search that one).

The great thing about your birth plan is it’s just that...yours. You can be as thorough or general as you’d like. But I do recommend starting from some sort of template as you will undoubtedly discover a topic you knew little about. (If you’d like help to get started, I’ve included my personal plan as well as some helpful links at the bottom of this article.)

One topic that sticks out to me was whether or not we wanted the hospital to apply the eye ointment. In the U.S. it is a standard hospital procedure to give newborns erythromycin - an antibiotic ointment - that covers their eyes in a thick gel after birth. It’s used to prevent a type of pink eye that can lead to blindness. However, if you probe this topic you’ll find that this type of infection occurs most often when Momma has gonorrhea or chlamydia. If you’re receiving regular prenatal care, you likely already know if you have one of these STD’s and if your baby is at risk. Conversely, studies have shown that immediately covering a baby's eyes in ointment causes blurred vision can have a negative effect on the baby’s ability to nurse and bond through gazing.

For a bias-free look at the pros and cons of eye ointment, I recommend this source.

3. I may not be conscious.

One of the most practical reasons I wanted a written birth plan was in case I had to have an emergency c-section. There were certain things that I wanted to be sure my doctor and nurses knew were important in case I was not conscious.

By preparing my birth plan with my husband, we discussed and arrived at decisions together. This also equipped him with an understanding of my wishes so he would know what to advocate for when the time came. We both walked into labor as a united front, which made me feel stronger and allowed our birth to occur argument-free.

4. It's my birth, my baby, and my decision

You might think that birth is pretty standard and that whatever is considered the “best practice” is what your hospital and doctor will decide for you and there’s not much reason to look into it in advance.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are a LOT of choices you’re going to make from the time you arrive at your hospital/birth clinic, to the time you check out. Do yourself a favor and consider some of them in advance.

Birth is unpredictable, yes, and a plan doesn’t guarantee an outcome, of course. But it can help Mom move from a position of “this is being done to me and my baby” to “I’m choosing what’s best for me and my baby.” That is a powerful mindset shift.

With the help of a childbirth educator (I chose Bradley Method and highly recommend it), some personal research, and a well-considered birth plan, I approached my first birth with confidence, clarity and calm. So can you! #babyboldly

Getting started:
> Download my personal birth plan here
> Consider your preferred birth style
> Try an app like Birth Plan Plus to build your plan
> Explore a visual birth plan template from Mama Natural here

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