If you are pregnant, chances are you spend a good amount of time thinking, worrying, and learning about what labor and birth will be like. And for all the time that women spend preparing mentally and physically for this significant event, one would think that it would simply play out just as we want it to. What most women learn from their birth experiences, however, is that the real life experience of labor and birth was somehow not what they expected.
So let’s talk about birth plans – what are they good for? And how can you get the most out of your childbirth preparation?
What is a birth plan?
Most birth plans that women and their partners bring to their birth are lists of things that they either do or don’t want to happen during their labor. Some couples now create a list or document with birth ‘wishes’ constructed in a similar manner but focusing on what they DO want instead of the DON’Ts.
The problem with trying to plan your labor and birth is that we have very little control over how it proceeds. We can’t know in advance how long labor will last, all the feelings and sensations a woman will experience, how the baby will cope with the labor and birth, or many other eventualities that may happen along the way. Trying to plan forbirth is like trying to tame a wild animal. No one can predict how an individual woman’s labor and birth will proceed. Even if she has given birth four times, each one of those experiences is as unique as the baby who was born.
However, when it comes to communicating with birth attendants, birth wishes are one way for a woman to share how she wants to be treated during her labor and birth, and may help her receive more individualized care. To enable better communication, you’ll want to be as specific as possible. Rather than simply creating a wish list, use birth wishes to convey specifically what is different about you. For example, “I have a phobia about vomiting, if I am feeling nauseated, please give me anti-nausea medication.” It is important to keep in mind that many women change their preferences during the labor process. Some women who usually enjoy massage and touch find these physical sensations overwhelming or irritating during labor. Many women look forward to soothing warm baths during pregnancy, but they feel hot and stifled in the bath when in labor.
It is helpful to cultivate flexibility during your preparations for birth. Physical flexibility – preparing your body for the physical work of labor – can give you the stamina that may be demanded of you. Just as important is the mental resilience to cope with the unexpected twists and turns of labor. The metaphor of the labyrinth can be helpful in your preparations (Read “Walking the Labyrinth of Birth”).
How can I prepare for childbirth?
- Choose a birth provider with whom you establish a trusting relationship. You want to feel safe with the decisions that are made.
- Take a Birthing Class. These classes cannot tell you exactly what will happen during your labor, but they can give you information about the range of different events that may occur.
- Form a support team. It may be just your partner, or a few close, trusted friends who know you well and can provide the physical and moral support that you’ll need.
- Remember the postpartum period. It takes a village to raise a child – and childbirth is just the first step.
Krista Nickerson, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife in Obstetrics and Midwifery at University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont.