Think of a birth plan as a wishlist for your birth. The goal of writing one is to communicate your preference to all those who need to know them. The process of writing your birth plan can also give you a moment to reflect on and accept the fact that rarely does birth go 100% as planned.
However, what a great birth plan can do is provide you with the tools and confidence to be able to navigate the unexpected. A birth plan can be the foundation for trust and open communication with your birth partner, healthcare provider, and birth team. Having this foundation can help ease anxiety about labor and help you feel more prepared.
How can writing a birth plan build trust?
By having conversations about topics like pain management options or breastfeeding choices, you can reassure yourself ahead of time that your provider understands you and your expectations. These chats help you to feel heard and supported — what we all need to trust. And we know that patients do better the more trust they have in their healthcare providers.
With large OB/GYN practices and hospital births, many of us can only hope that “our provider” is the one who delivers our baby — we’re lucky if we see the same person twice for prenatal visits. But you can use this reality to your advantage. Having multiple conversations with different providers about your birth plan at prenatal visits can help clarify your preferences and ensure that you (and your birth partner) practice clearly communicating.
Birth plans promote healing and offer protection
Pregnant people’s lived history of emotional struggles, personal battles, trauma, or life challenges come with them into the delivery room. Researchers observe that survivors of mental health disorders, fertility struggles, pregnancy losses, trauma, and violence can all experience increased stress levels during their pregnancy, complications during labor and delivery, breastfeeding challenges, and/or postpartum depression. Other pregnant people such as immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or women of color may experience discrimination and therefore be more vulnerable to challenges along their parenthood journey. These research observations do not promise that just because you are a survivor, you are destined for a complicated pregnancy, birth, or postpartum recovery — instead they indicate a vulnerability. Crafting a trauma-informed birth plan can help protect you against potential vulnerabilities and lower your risk for problems.
A trauma-informed birth plan is one that specifically acknowledges how your life experiences may impact your pregnancy, delivery and postpartum journey. For example, telling your healthcare provider that you want to limit the number of medical students or residents in your delivery room may help you feel more comfortable.
Why is a birth plan especially helpful if I’m a Black woman or birthing person?
Regardless of your race or ethnicity, your delivery or postpartum period may not go according to plan, but Black women, are at a higher risk for experiencing complications in childbirth or postpartum due to bias within and beyond the healthcare system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes as many as 60% of these complications are preventable. What can you do to have a safe and healthy birth?
A birth plan is one way for you to start reclaiming the kind of pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience that you deserve. Experts suggest acknowledging and talking specifically with your provider about how racism could effect your pregnancy, your delivery, and postpartum experience. Working together, you can create a plan that anticipates and plans for potential impacts of medical racism.
For example, talking about your increased risk for preeclampsia (a potentially dangerous high blood pressure condition of pregnancy and postpartum) and learning about the symptoms of preeclampsia could save your life. Writing in your birth plan that your blood pressure will be checked more frequently during pregnancy and in the weeks following delivery can help you feel less anxiety, build trust in your provider, and keep you safe.
You can be more comfortable in labor with your birth plan
We also know that when we are in pain or a state of panic, it is hard to think clearly. It becomes even more difficult to understand complicated health information, such as giving informed consent to start an epidural. Having thoughtfully learned about and talked over your pain management options long before any contractions kick in reassures you that your wishes will be taken into consideration. You are therefore able to feel less anxious and more at ease.
Research has shown that the medical system undertreats Black women’s pain. Talking about your fear that your labor pain may not be taken seriously during prenatal visits with your healthcare provider will help them be conscious of this concern, help to build trust between you, and may help lower your stress level.
We also know that when we are anxious, worried, or scared we feel more pain. The confidence and peace of mind a birth plan can bring will help you cope better with discomfort. A relaxed mind helps your muscles relax, breaking the fear-tension-pain cycle and helping labor progress naturally.
Use your birth plan to cultivate confidence
Being able to advocate for yourself builds your inner confidence. From the foundation of mutual trust with your healthcare team, your birth plan forms the scaffolding for confidence in your own ability to have a good birth. Your birth plan is something you can return to whenever you feel anxious about the uncertainty or unknowns of your birth. Although your birth plan doesn’t have all the answers, you can take comfort in knowing you have considered your options and have mapped out the plan that’s best for you.