From the first positive pregnancy test, many moms-to-be fret over labor. Writing a birth plan can help relieve your anxiety, and—like Kegels! —it’s a valuable pre-delivery exercise. A birth plan is not actually a plan, per se, but a short document sharing your delivery desires with anyone helping to welcome your baby. Much of your birth experience will be dictated by the setting you select and the caregivers assisting, so it’s important to learn your options before penning your preferences. And make sure you’re not writing your birth plan in stone, since it’s impossible to completely control how your bundle of joy will make his grand entrance.
Here’s what to ponder when creating your birth plan:
• Birth setting policies. You may want to chow down on hamburgers during labor, but many hospitals limit your consumption to ice chips. Get familiar with your delivery location’s policies ahead of time.
• Procedures of your healthcare provider. If you want to have a water birth, for example, make sure your doc is willing to reach into the tub.
• Delivery room crowd. Medical students may observe in hospitals, but you can ban them from your room if you feel like a floor show. Also, decide if your MIL gets to hold your hand or if your husband and doula are a sufficient support crew.
• Wardrobe. Hospitals might assume you’ll don the standard gown, but this may not be the chic outfit you want captured in your baby’s first photos. (Remember that whatever you wear, it’s going to get messy!)
• Atmosphere. Do you want a high-energy ambiance with jazzy music or a quiet, softly lit setting for your baby’s big debut?
• Prepatory procedures. In earlier eras, a woman arriving at the hospital to give birth was given an enema and a trim (down there). Ask if these are still routine procedures where you’ll be delivering. They likely won’t be, but it’s better to know so there’s no surprise on labor day!
• Pain management. Is your strategy “Get an epidural ASAP!” or do you want to avoid pain medications if possible? What pain management techniques will you use?
• Monitoring. Many hospitals use constant electronic fetal monitoring, but if you don’t want to be bedridden, intermittent monitoring may be an option.
• IV. Most laboring women are tethered to IVs, but your healthcare provider may allow you the option of consuming liquids orally instead of intravenously.
• Episiotomies and assisted birth. If your baby is being bashful, your caregiver may wish to perform an episiotomy—an incision between the vagina and anus—or use forceps or vacuum extraction. Discuss the pros and cons of each in advance.
• C-section. In what circumstances would you want a Cesarean to be performed? Does five hours of pushing grant a ticket to the OR or is your baby’s distress the only call for surgery?
• Photos and videos. Do you wish to document every moment from the first twinge through baby’s first bath, or hold the flashbulbs until all are clean and content?
• Crowning. Some non-squeamish mothers request to have a mirror positioned so they can see the baby crown (when his head first appears) or even reach down and touch his tiny noggin.
• Cutting the cord. Indicate when you’d like baby’s umbilical cord to be clamped, and specify whether daddy wants to take part in the snipping ritual.
• Postbirth. After a vaginal delivery, you may want baby immediately placed on your chest. For a C-section, indicate who should bond with your baby while you recover.
• Nursing. You may wish to start breastfeeding right away; you can also ask the hospital staff not to offer baby a bottle or pacifier, which could interfere with nursing.
• Additional info. Mention factors that may affect your delivery, like if you’re blind as a bat without glasses, have gestational diabetes, or wish to bank baby’s cord blood.
Don’t forget: While creating a birth plan is a great idea, don’t get so attached to it that you won’t allow any flexibility in the delivery room. Birth is different for every woman, every time, so no matter how much you plan there’s a good chance things won’t go exactly the way you envisioned them. Remember to expect the unexpected!