A birth plan is a simple, clear, short document which states the preferences of expecting parents for the labor and delivery experience. Birth plans are not detailed itineraries for the birth process, as labor is unpredictable, and they are also not a list of wishes and hopes; they consist of a series of expectations, clearly and politely stated. Many parents like to create birth plans to make the labor and delivery experience as comfortable and pleasant as possible, and also to ensure that their wishes and values are respected during the delivery.
Typically, a birth plan is created by the expectant parents and key members of their support crew, such as doctors, midwives, and doulas. For first-time parents, it is especially important to get the help of experienced people, as these people can raise questions about hypothetical situations and provide information about the birthing process. Many birthing classes also offer support with a birth plan. The birth plan is included in the mother's medical file, and also brought with her to the hospital, to ensure that everyone involved in the laboring process is aware of the preferences of the parents.
The contents of a birth plan can be incredibly varied, and most books and short guides on birth plans include an extensive list of questions which are intended to guide parents with the construction of a birth plan. At a minimum, a birth plan usually includes statements of preferences about the conditions in the birthing room, such as low lights and specific music, along with statements about the care the mother wants to receive as the labor progresses, ranging from a request for no pain medications to a stated preference to keep the baby in the room after the birth, rather than taking it to another location to be weighed and cleaned up.
A good birth plan also includes stated preferences about what to do in the event of an unexpected situation or complication. While everyone wants a healthy, normal, pleasant birth, this does not always happen, and it helps to be prepared. By clearing stating preferences about the level of intervention desired, parents can ensure that they feel in control. Birth plans may also include specific directions about who may be in the room, which can be an important issue for many laboring mothers.
As parents assemble a birth plan, it helps to keep stated preferences positive, rather than negative. For example, rather than saying “I do not want pain medications during labor,” a mother could say “I have researched pain management options, and I would prefer not to use medications, unless I specifically request them.” It is also important to remember that labor is never predictable, and that deviations from the birth plan may happen, but parents with birth plans tend to have greater feelings of control over what happens during labor and delivery, as the birth plan establishes ground rules about the level of intervention involved in a birth.