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Building a Birth Plan: What Expectant Parents Should Include and Consider

A birth plan is an excellent document to help healthcare professional know what parents want from delivery. Here's what to include.

Birth plans are becoming crucial as expectant parents are given more say in what happens in the delivery room. Creating a birth plan, either from a birth plan template or from a well-considered birth plan checklist allows partners to have a sense of control and stability during birth. Birth plans are also excellent tools to help dads and moms-to-be advocate for their care around issues like labor augmentation or pain management. And while there are a variety of birth plan templates to choose from, there are some guidelines to follow regardless of what the final birth plan looks like.

In the modern era of obstetrics, there are tons of options regarding how a baby is born. While some expectant parents prefer to just leave matters in the hands of the hospital, birth center or midwife, a birth plan allows partners to take a more active role in the birth of their baby. In other words, the birth plan helps dictate what the birth will look like, feel and perhaps even sound like.

A Basic Birth Plan Checklist

  • Who will be in the room?
  • Will you have a doula, or do you wish to have a doula present?
  • Is there a position you or style of birthing you plan to use? (water, Lamaze, hypnobirthing)
  • How do you plan to manage pain?
  • Do you want fetal monitoring prior to birth?
  • Do you have requests for the atmosphere of the room, including music and lighting?
  • Do you plan to wear special clothing?
  • Are you be willing to have an episiotomy? 
  • Do you plan to delay cutting the umbilical cord?
  • Do you want the father to “catch” the baby if possible?
  • Who would you prefer to cut the cord?
  • Do you have special plans for documenting your birth?
  • Are you requesting immediate breastfeeding and skin to skin contact?
  • Do you have any expectations for the mother’s care immediately after birth?
  • Do you have any requests for your baby’s care?
  • Are you planning on banking cord blood or keeping the placenta?
  • In the case of cesarean, do you have any special requests?

In its most basic form, a birth plan is a simple one-page document that lays out what expectant parents desire from the birth process. Birth plans cover a slate of options from a wide-ranging checklist of options including who is allowed in the room, what, if any, pain meds will be accepted, the atmosphere of the room (lighting, music and essential oils for instance) and how the father or birth partner will be involved once the baby is born.

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How to Create a Birth Plan

  • Join your partner in a discussion of the options. Offer support, not demands or opinions
  • Clearly lay out your wishes about how involved you’d like to be in the delivery
  • Build your plan and go over it with your doctor to make sure it’s both safe and doable
  • Print out at least four copies: One for the doctor, one that stays with your partner, one for the birthing center and one for your pocket

Importantly, there is a hard deadline for completing a birth plan, according to Dr. Elizabeth Sauter, a Connecticut OB/GYN with 30 years of experience. “The plan should be completed by 34 weeks,” she says. “That would be the earliest we’d allow the birth to take place rather than stopping the birth.”

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Happily, that leaves expectant parents with plenty of time to get their bearings. Those who are involved in birthing classes will likely be given access to a birth plan template filled out with requests pertinent to their birthing method — such as hypnobirthing or Lamaze. However, there are plenty of birthing plan templates available online that can also provide a good starting point for parents.

The biggest focus for moms-to-be will likely be related to the birth process itself. Birth plans can include requests to have certain birth positions, the presence of a doula, or to forego episiotomies and pain management, though Sauter notes, “About 90 percent of them fold on that.”

Fathers-to-be also have a place in the birth plan. They can request to “catch” the baby at the moment of birth, cut the cord, weigh and measure the baby, and even give them their first bath.

Once the birth plan is complete it’s important to share it with the birth center or hospital. “The most important things a parent can do with their birth plan is to go over it with their obstetrician during one of their office visits,” Sauter says. “The second most important thing to do is bring it to the hospital. The last thing you want to find out is that you have this big plan in your mind but you can’t discuss it.”

On the big day, parents should make sure that the delivery room nurse is aware of the birth plan. It will act as a guide as labor progresses. That said, it’s very important for expectant parents to be flexible. “We’ll agree to abide by all your desires except for those that aren’t good for the mom or the baby,” Sauter says. “Every labor is different. You can’t predict what will happen. We recognize this your ideal plan, but things change and the point is that we have to talk about why.”