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  • Kelsey Birch

to birth-plan or not to birth-plan

When I was pregnant, every book, article, blog, podcast, or social media post had a different opinion on birth plans. So why not add mine to the mix?

what is a birth plan?

A birth plan is a written document detailing a birthing person’s preferences surrounding their birth experience. It may include:

-Information on who they would like present for the birth

-What kind of atmosphere they hope to achieve in the birthing space

-What medical interventions they want to utilize or avoid

-Postpartum plans like whether to circumcise the baby or whether they plan to breastfeed

Birth plans are used frequently to help parents mentally and emotionally prepare for their baby’s birth and to communicate their preferences with their care provider.

what about arguments against birth plans?

The main arguments against birth plans seem to be that they aren’t practical because birth seldom goes according to plan anyway—or that they’re dangerous because they set a birthing parent up for serious disappointment and guilt if there is a change of plans. The idea is that if a parent can just have zero expectations for birth, then as long as they have a healthy baby they should be happy with their experience.

I find these arguments weak and ultimately rooted in patriarchal values. They perpetuate the idea that birthing people should not have any expectations for their birth experience besides a healthy baby, and that regardless of their own values, expectations, and intuition, they should do whatever their care provider tells them to achieve that end.

But here’s the thing: Birthing people are allowed to want more out of birth than a healthy baby. AND they’re allowed to be disappointed by their birth experience even if they have a healthy baby.

three birth plans

I love the way Cynthia Gabriel discusses birth plans in Natural Hospital Birth. She encourages parents to write three different versions of their birth plan. In the first birth plan, birthing parents write about their ideal birth, if time, money, and the laws of physics could be disregarded. For example, in the book Gabriel describes one parent’s wish to have a deceased relative present for her birth. This plan is meant to be a fantasy birth.

The second plan is more concrete and incorporates as many of the elements of one’s fantasy birth as possible. For example, if a parent wants to birth next to the ocean but needs to birth in a hospital due to medical complications, this plan might specify that they would like ocean sounds played over a sound machine and that they would like to labor in a tub or shower. This second birth plan to be used by the birthing parent and their support person.

The third plan Gabriel encourages parents to write is a brief bullet-point list to discuss with their care provider. This plan is phrased positively (“I would like to wait for labor to begin on its own,” rather than, “No induction of labor.”), and intended to concisely summarize a birthing person’s intentions for birth. Gabriel emphasizes the importance of having actual discussions with the care provider rather than simply handing them the birth plan.

hoping for more

I love Gabriel’s birth plan structure because it gives birthing parents permission to dream and to hope. It acknowledges that how a parent feels about their birth experience is important.

If you believe that your feelings about your birth experience are important—that they could affect how you see yourself, how you parent, and your relationship to your own body—why not write a birth plan? Take the time to carefully consider the choices that best reflect your values and your dreams for you and for your baby.

A birth plan isn’t about control or about a contract between you and your care provider. A birth plan is about intention and, more than anything, about hope.

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