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A birth plan is a document pregnant women and their partners can write, to inform their healthcare providers about their care preferences during labor, birth and the postpartum period.

Birth plans have become popular over the last decade or so, and although not every hospital will accept them, they can certainly be very helpful tools. How do you write a birth plan?

Before writing a birth plan, it is obviously important to research your options and to form preferences. If you have already given birth before, you are likely to have a good idea of what you do and do not appreciate during your labor and birth. If this is your first baby, reading about various hospital procedures and options will help you. It is best to keep your birth plan short but sweet no longer than one page, covering the issues you personally feel most strongly about. The way in which you word your preferences can leave a huge impact on your healthcare provider's reaction to your birth plan. They've seen birth plans "from hell" that are full of refusals to consent to procedures, and that leave most hospital staff angry, or feeling like the mother is a little crazy.

What to include on your birth plan

There are many things that you may feel strongly about, but that do not need to be included on your birth plan. You may like to have dimmed lights, or music, to wear your own clothes, or to use contact lenses. Go ahead and address that during your labor, without writing these things down. Your birth plan is there to focus on medical preferences that you feel truly strongly about. Some of the things that moms include on their birth plans are:

  • I would like to be mobile during my labor
  • I would prefer to avoid induction or augmentation of labor with Pitocin
  • I would like to keep the number of vaginal exams during labor to a minimum/I do not wish to have vaginal exams during labor (this is possible but unusual, and it may help if you specify why you refuse)
  • I plan to have an unmedicated birth/I do not wish to be offered pain relief during labor
  • I would like stay hydrated with water during labor (as opposed to IV fluids)
  • I would like to wear my contact lenses during labor and birth
  • I prefer to tear naturally and do not want an episiotomy
  • I would prefer not to have medical students watching my labor and birth
  • I would like to be free to choose the position in which I give birth

After the baby is born:

  • I would like to commence breastfeeding immediately
  • I would like skin-to-skin contact after delivery
  • I would like my husband to be with the baby at all times, including during medical exams
  • I would like to cut the umbilical cord

Did you notice the positive wording of that? You can change this in accordance with your personal style, but be aware that certain wordings will put your hospital's staff off, which can make for a very unpleasant labor and birth. So...

Here's what not to write on your birth plan

I am going to have lots of friends in the room during my labor, but I don't want any medical staff present unless absolutely necessary. We will use hypnobabies and I don't want anyone talking to me during labor to disturb the mood. I am determined to have a natural childbirth:

  • No vaginal exams
  • No fetal monitoring
  • No IV line
  • No pain relief, DO NOT OFFER IT TO ME
  • I do not consent to an episiotomy
  • I do not consent to a c-section
  • Do not cut the umbilical cord, we are going to have a lotus birth
  • I am going to use homeopathic medications. Do not use any medications.
  • Do not give my baby formula

Believe me, I've seen birth plans just like this floating around the web. That's what you get when you have several homebirths and hang around the online natural childbirth community. Women who have previously had a bad birth experience may be especially likely to formulate a list of things they wish to avoid. This is entirely understandable, but you will achieve much more if you reword your initial feelings into a birth plan that sounds positive as well as sane.

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