I remember being pregnant with my first baby and getting a folder full of hospital paperwork from my OB around 36 weeks along. One of the pages was titled, “My Birth Plan.” Birth Plan? Can you plan a birth? Doesn’t it just happen when it happens, the doctor delivers your baby, and that’s the end of it?
Being a soon-to-be-first-time-mom at only 22 years old, I had no idea that I could have a say in my birth experience or the care that I would receive. Knowing what I know now and having the experience that I did with my first birth; I wish I would have had someone to help guide me in creating a birth plan that focused on the kind of experience that I wanted and the care that I wanted for myself and my baby.
I decided to reach out to local birth doula, Chelsey Mackenzie to guest blog on this topic. Chelsey is part of a St Louis based birth doula partnership called, New Life Doulas. Their team includes, Emily Bruce, Emily Reigelsperger, Chelsey Mackenzie, and Carrie Gilbertson.
Chelsey wrote an excellent blog post giving us 10 tips for developing an effective birth plan. She explains what it means to have a birth plan, tips for creating a birth plan, and the benefits of having one.
Creating a birth plan is a tremendous way to help you uncover your birth goals and values. A birth plan (when approached in a positive and flexible way) can outline your preferences and communicate your birth vision with everyone involved in your journey. They can become helpful when you enter the “labor land” mindset, and have more difficulty advocating for yourself in the moment.
Having worked as both a labor nurse and a birth doula, I’m a huge proponent of birth plans when they’re done well. These steps aren’t all easy boxes to checkmark, but they each hold such value in getting you to your own victorious birth story, whatever that looks like.
I also want to start this discussion with a note of caution: birth plans are great tools, but don’t get attached. Allow yourself grace in the moment. A birth plan is a means to help you decide and communicate your goals, but it’s not meant as a benchmark of success. Plans can and often do change as labor progresses, and that is ok! Don’t let your birth plan make you feel like you somehow failed if things don’t go as you thought they would. All births are beautiful!
Here are my top 10 tips for developing a strong birth plan to help guide your support team on you and your baby’s big day:
Take time to envision what you’d like your birth to be like, how you’d like to feel throughout the process, and what personal values you’d like to carry over to your labor experience.
It’s ok if your dream birth is anything from giving birth on a bed surrounded by medical professionals to giving birth in the ocean surrounded by dolphins. This is more of an abstract step, and the ideas generated here can be modified and applied to whatever setting you do choose for your labor.
Hire a doula well versed in the type of birth you’re hoping for. This person can be your sounding board, help you know what questions to ask, and guide you as you narrow your focus for your birth goals. A doula can help you make sense of the information and advice overload, that pregnancy generally triggers. They can guide you through the remainder of these tips in your prenatal meet-ups.
Take a tour of your birthing facility (if not planning a home birth), as well as other birthing facility options in the area. Do this even if you know those won’t be where you give birth. Touring other facilities can help you learn about different policies and protocols and guide your questions to ask of the facility you have chosen.
For example, some hospitals allow eating and drinking in labor – and some do not. Some facilities allow birthing in water – and some only allow laboring in water. Some offer intermittent Doppler monitoring of baby – and some insist on continuous monitoring. You get the idea.
Take a quality childbirth education course – typically non-hospital based classes are less biased and will present a wider array of options (No knock to hospital birth instructions. Many that I know are phenomenal with such a heart for helping families learn! However, they are often restricted by the facility that employs them!). If possible, choose a class that is spread out over the course of several weeks, so that you have time to process and think of points you need clarification on.
Use the phenomenal resources available from Evidence Based Birth (ebbirth.com) to learn more of the research-based benefits and risks surrounding many common birth practices.
Rebecca Decker and the Evidence Based Birth team have put out a wealth of information for parents. Including the Vitamin K shot for newborns, what happens when a woman’s water breaks before labor begins, group B strep in pregnancy, IV fluids during labor, and much more. Their unbiased reporting of the research and numbers can help guide you in making truly informed decisions about your own care.
Be open with your provider about your preferences for your birth. Don’t be afraid to ask them hard questions about their own practice to make sure your values align. Let them know the hard work that you are putting into your preparation for this birth, communicate your determination to do your part, and thank them for their support of your goals.
Remember, your provider works for you. If at any time you get a sense that your provider may not actually be supportive of the birth you want. You are well within your right to fire them and find someone new. I’ve never met anyone who decided to switch care providers (even late in pregnancy) and regretted their decision!
Surround yourself with stories of positive births, even a variety of birth types. This can be beneficial and give a base to draw on no matter which direction your birth story goes. Our culture has a tendency to share the gritty, scary details of a minority of births. Rather than fully communicate the beauty and power of the majority. It’s ok to put a protective bubble around yourself. It’s ok to ask people not to share negative birth stories. Soak in all the uplifting birth stories you can get. This will go a long way in helping you learn to trust your body and the birth process.
Keep the actual written plan simple. Start by researching what the standard care is at your facility. Leave that information off of the written birth plan. This will help your birth team easily see the items that might be different from the standard care they may otherwise offer moms.
Write a birth plan and give this copy to your partner and doula to help guide them further in their support. You may even want to write out contingency plans for things that you would like to happen, should the plan change. This might include the care you’d like to receive if a surgical birth becomes necessary or if you transfer from home/birthing center to a hospital. This extra information can just overwhelm staff at a hospital or birthing center.
For example, if your facility regularly allows moms to eat and drink in labor, wear their own clothes, or labor in water, then it’s not necessarily something that needs to be noted on your birth plan.
Make several copies of your birth plan. Give one to your provider to look over at a prenatal appointment. Give one to each nurse, and keep extra copies in your birthing room. Also put someone else in charge of this information, either a family member or your doula. This will allow you to focus on each contraction as they come.
Approach your birth team with positivity and respect. Don’t think of it as an “us vs them” mentality. Expect your nurses and doctors or midwives to be on the same team as you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout your labor and be sure to request more time before making decisions. Stand your ground when you decide what the best decision for you are. Try to encourage your partner to advocate for you. Help prepare him or her to play this role when you are in labor, as you may not feel up to it in the moment!
Those are my top 10 tips as a labor nurse and birth doula, for developing an effective birth plan. With all that being said, approach your birth plan with flexibility, too. Birth is unpredictable and often takes unexpected turns. You are not a failure if you change your mind throughout the process or your plans don’t come to fruition. A birth plan will prepare you mentally and emotionally for the journey ahead. A birth plan will help surround you with a team that is wholly supportive. Allowing them to guide you towards a feeling of being informed and empowered, in whatever decisions you make.
LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER, CHELSEY MACKENZIE
In nursing school, Chelsey knew she had a passion for women and the reproductive life cycle. Her career as a RN took a detour through critical care medicine before she took a leap of faith and transferred to a Labor & Birth unit.
A wise area midwife suggested she look into becoming a birth doula in order to further expand and develop her skills in labor support. It wasn’t long before she realized doula work lit a extra special passion in her as she was able to support families on an on-going basis throughout pregnancy, during labor and birth, and then follow up in the postpartum period.
There is nothing quite like walking along side a family through the challenges and joys of bringing a baby earth-side, and Chelsey is dedicated to helping each family find their own victorious birth story.
Chelsey strives to offer evidence-based guidance to help families make choices that best line up with their own goals and values. Her clients often comment on her positive, calm, encouraging presence at their births.
Outside of doula’ing, you can still find Chelsey working as a labor nurse, hosting the local group Wine & Gyn, and finding adventures with her husband Kyle and their lively preschooler Reed.
Want to see more birth stories like the ones shown above? Check out our birth story portfolio. Are you looking for a birth photographer and delivering in a birthing facility or at home in the St. Louis or surrounding area? Contact us for booking details! We’d love to capture your baby’s birth story for you.