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If you Google "birth plans" you will find a wide variety of templates to create one and opinions on how and when they are appropriate.
So my question today is whether birth plans are enough for a natural birth?
The purpose of a birth plan for most couples is to make their birth team aware of their wishes for birth, however, often they come across as if the laboring mother and her birth partner will not be allowed to communicate with their team during the birth.
In most cases, the more detailed the birth plan, the less prepared the expectant parents actually are for the realities of birth, and it simply becomes a rigid list of "I want" and "I don't want" about an event that cannot be anticipated by anyone in the birth room. Perhaps the biggest problem of these templates is that if something doesn't go according to the plan, the expectant couple may feel that they failed what they had planned.
Over years of teaching childbirth education, I notice that the more educated and prepared for birth a couple becomes, the shorter and less specific their birth plan becomes. In essence, it is no longer a "plan" but rather an overall approach to their birth based on their new understanding of the birth cycle and of what is important about birth for everyone involved, especially mother, baby and birth partner.
With that in mind, a templated birth plan will never supplant proper childbirth education and preparation in which expectant parents learn what approach they align with for birth and the best way to communicate their needs to their care team.
For example, an expectant couple who uses a template may specify that they do not want continuous monitoring on their birth plan while an expectant couple who is prepared will know that they will have this discussion with their care team when they arrive at their birth place and together decide if it is appropriate or not for the situation. Not only does this allow them to assess their needs as they go through the birth and openly communicate with their team, they do not need to take up space on their birth plan with details that do not need to be planned or written out ahead of time.
Though birth is not absolutely predictable, it does follow a predictable pattern, what we call the birth cycle in the Natural Birth Compass program, and knowing this cycle helps expectant parents have key insight into the path of labor and birth and even insight into what to do to handle unexpected situations that may arise during the labor. Already understanding this path means that prepared expectant parents can more easily communicate with their birth team and make decisions in the moment, without having every possible event planned out, therefore, they go into their labor and birth more relaxed, more confident and with the control of their environment in a way those with a template birth plan cannot experience.
A concise and clean birth plan is more likely to be read and followed, by eliminating those things which are unnecessary, possibly even inappropriate for a birth plan, you leave room for the aspects which do belong in your birth plan - the names of those who will be in your birth room, who will catch your baby, whether you are banking cord blood and if not, how to handle cutting the cord, requesting a long delay in taking your baby's non-vital measurements, and so on.
It is all these little pieces of information that are the most important and most useful for your birth team to know before they arrive. On the other hand, it is unlikely you will be strapped to a continuous monitoring system without noticing, or to have someone administer Pitocin without mentioning it first. They may not phrase it as a question or an option, which is where your preparation and communication skills from your education courses will serve you so you and your birth team can discuss these suggestions and you can decide if you are ready to accept them or not.
So are birth plans enough for natural birth today? My final answer is no, it is the preparation, communication, and understanding of the cycle of birth that truly makes birth flourish. Don't let your birth arrive without being prepared, find the best preparation class you can find so you feel ready for anything in birth.
If you would like to check out our online childbirth prep course, that includes a birth approach guide that takes you step-by-step through creating your ultimate birth vision, check out our membership program, which includes access to all of our course materials for expectant moms and birth partners.
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