Pregnancy can be an overwhelming experience. Soon-to-be mothers (and fathers) are inundated with advice and information, from the marketing campaigns designed to convince you of all the “must-have” products you need to buy to the friends, relatives, and random strangers who feel free to shower you with unsolicited advice.
When you’re expecting, you will also more than likely be on the receiving end of at least a few inevitable questions about the supposed holy grail of birth preparation: the birth plan.
Do You Really Need A Birth Plan?
There is no definitive answer as to whether or not pregnant women truly need a birth plan. Some care providers, birth activists, and experienced mothers will tell you that, yes, writing a birth plan is absolutely the best way to prepare for your baby’s arrival. Others will insist that trying to plan an event as unpredictable as childbirth can only set you up for disappointment.
In reality, there is no black and white answer — which new parents will soon find to be true for just about every aspect of parenting. In my recent article Do You Really Need A Birth Plan? you will find a more comprehensive discussion of what exactly a birth plan is, as well as further exploration of a birth plan’s benefits and limitations, and also my experience in choosing not to write one.
What Do Pregnant Women Need More Than A Birth Plan?
You read that last line correctly — I have never have written a birth plan. And after two positive birth experiences, it’s a decision I don’t regret. For women who are about to give birth, there are three things that are far more important than a simple piece of paper.
1. Childbirth Education.
If you don’t know your options, you don’t really have any. In order to receive the care you expect and deserve, you have to take the initiative to educate yourself. Read books such as Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, and watch films such as The Business of Being Born. Invest your time and money in childbirth education classes, preferably those taught by independent instructors who are not affiliated with any particular doctor or hospital.
Birth is unpredictable, and you can’t plan for every possible scenario. But if you understand how labor works and are knowledgeable about the risks and benefits of various interventions, you will be better prepared to make informed decisions. More importantly, you will be prepared to cope if your actual experience deviates from any plans you may have written.
It can be difficult to advocate for yourself and your choices when you are in active labor, so an effective support system is crucial. And, I’m sorry, but a piece of paper pales in comparison to having a real live person beside you who understands your goals and can advocate on your behalf. The presence of an extra support person whose sole purpose is to protect your best interests can have a huge impact on the outcome of your birth.
For some women, a husband, partner, mother, sister, or close friend can fill this role. Other women choose to hire a “doula” — a professionally trained labor support person — to join them at their birth. Doulas are experienced at providing a variety of support measures to laboring women, and many are also excellent at facilitating communication between patients and care providers as well.
3. The Right Birth Attendant.
You can write the best birth plan in the world, but if your birth attendant won’t read it or doesn’t agree with what you’ve written, it won’t get you very far. Take the time to interview several potential doctors and midwives, and choose one who shares your birth philosophy and truly respects your goals.
If you discover during the course of your pregnancy that you have chosen the wrong individual to attend the birth of your baby, make the effort to find someone new!! It’s almost never too late to change providers, and when you don’t have to fight for your choices or second-guess the motives of your doctor or midwife while you’re in active labor, you’ll be happy you made the switch.
Preparation Is More Important Than A Plan
Writing a birth plan can be a great way to start thinking about the kind of labor and delivery you hope to have, and in some circumstances, a written summary of your desires really can be beneficial. But you simply cannot plan all the details of your birth, and a birth plan will never be some sort of magic bullet that will ensure a “perfect” scenario.
Giving birth is one of the hardest things you will ever do, and it’s also an experience that can hardly be contained on a sheet of paper. Write a birth plan if you find it helpful, but do yourself a favor – make sure that you also possess the knowledge and the personal and professional support that you need in order to achieve the birth experience you deserve.
Did you write a birth plan? Was it helpful? What do you think pregnant women need to do to prepare for a positive birth experience?