When I was expecting my first child, I was asked regularly by friends and family whether or not I had written a birth plan – a plan of how we wanted our birth experience to be.
We had taken on a LOT of information during my pregnancy about what to expect during labor, the different options for pain relief during labor, and what happens during those first few moments after our baby entered the world. I knew roughly what I wanted to happen – I didn’t want to have a cesarean unless I needed one, and where possible I wanted to have as natural birth as possible but I hadn’t got something set in stone.
Whilst I was encouraged to write our thoughts and preferences down, we decided against this, instead accepting that we would see how we got on – after all, this was our first baby and we didn’t really know what to expect.
Two children on and neither of my labor and birth experiences were the way I hoped they would be, and for this reason I have to raise the question – is it time to ditch the formal birth plan?
Here’s my thoughts on why birth plans aren’t helpful:
Births very rarely pan out the way we envisage them to, and being a very fluid process, labor is very very hard to predict.
In my opinion, having a very detailed complex birth plan about how you want your birth to be, particularly if this is a completely natural, no pain relief and no intervention birth can lead to disappointment. It can also has the potential to make you feel like a “failure” if you aren’t able to have the birth you wished for, for example if complications lead to an emergency C-section or you weren’t able to cope with the pain threshold as well as you expected.
Having a written birth plan can mean that pride gets in the way of what’s important, with many women not wanting to accept that they’ve simply changed their mind. Whilst they may have originally said they wanted a completely natural birth, they may find the pain far more intense than they expected. You can never predict fully how your body is going to react – and it’s ok to accept that sometimes your preferences can change in the heat of the moment.
Birth plans can also imply that there is a right and wrong way to have a baby – e.g. that having pain relief or an epidural makes you somehow weaker or your birth somewhat less impressive. Some wishes may also not be possible to fulfil.
Even on your 2nd, 3rd or even 4th baby, there is no guarantee that your labor will be the same as the last and therefore you need to expect the unexpected. Instead of a documented birth plan, my view would be to talk through your preferences with your birth partner, and make sure they fully understand your wishes so they can advise on your behalf if necessary. Accept that whilst these are your ideal scenario, they are not set in stone and subject to change.
At the end of the day, your baby and your body will make the decisions and it is somewhat out of your control. At times that may mean some significant deviations from your birth plan!
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