Prepare for birth while you’re still pregnant by writing a birth plan. This little bit of paperwork will get your head around the process and help make sure you get the best experience for you.
Get inspiration from the experts
You can fill in an online birth plan at nhs.uk
If you run your life via your iPhone, download the mybirthplanapp.com, which not only stores your birth plan, but also organises your medical records and pregnancy diary.
While there’s a long list of practical decisions to be made about what sort of birth experience you want to have, we don’t very often think about labour as a personal journey.
‘And what unites positive birth experiences – no matter what kind of birth the mother has had – is that she feels like she has been in the driving seat, and so in control of what’s taken place,’ says Sheena Byrom OBE, a midwife consultant, leader of the Midwifery Unit Network and author of Catching Babies.
Think about writing three separate birth plans:
- A birth plan for your medical requirements
- A birth plan for your birth partner
- A birth plan for yourself
‘Having different directives for the different people in the room could help make sure that your wishes are articulated and acted on to the greatest extent possible,’ says Sheena.
When should I write my birth plan?
‘You’ll want to start thinking about your birth plan at around 32 weeks,’ says Gail Johnson, from the Royal College of Midwives. ‘This gives you the chance to consider your options and ask plenty of questions about labour and birth in advance.’
What’s your perfect birth setting?
Use visualisation to help you decide – this mental imagery trick will help link your feelings and experiences.
‘Imagine you’re in labour and see yourself looking good, feeling great and full of confidence,’ says hypnobirthing teacher Judith Flood. Then look around you and note what’s going on. Put this in your plan.
Consider pain relief
Whether you want to give birth as naturally as possible, or you think you’d prefer every kind of pain relief available, it pays to stay open-minded.
In your birth plan, rate your preferences in order – for example, say you’ll start with gas and air, followed by pethidine, then an epidural if things get more painful than you’d like.
Visit the delivery suite
Pain relief options depend on where you give birth. ‘There’s no point asking for a birthing pool if your chosen hospital doesn’t have one,’ says Gail.
Similarly, if you’ve elected to give birth at a midwife-led unit, an epidural won’t be an option, because it needs to be administered by a hospital anaesthetist. Chat to your midwife about your options, as she’ll know what’s on offer.
Think about a C-section
25% of babies are born by C-section, so while it might not be top of your wish list, it’s wise to get clued up on what it involves.
Think about whether you’d like a spinal block or a general anaesthetic. Do you want a running dialogue from the doctors who are delivering your baby, or would you prefer to just talk to your partner?
Pick your giving birth music
If you feel soothed by music, listening to your favourite album may help you relax during a C-section. Many operating theatres have CD players or iPod docks, so check if you can play a soundtrack you’ve put together. A lot of obstetricians will be happy to oblige if it will make you feel more at ease.
Discuss your birth plan with your birth partner
Don’t underestimate the dad-to-be’s role – research from the University of Toronto recently showed that a supportive birth partner reduces the need for medical intervention and pain relief.
And, if your partner understands what you want, they can speak up for you during labour, as well as encouraging and reassuring you.
So, make sure your partner is clear on what he needs to do come delivery day by writing your plan with him. ‘You may find you’d both benefit from some extra support, say, with your mum at the birth, too,’ says Gail.
Write a mini plan for your birth partner
You might want to write a mini plan for your partner, reminding him what to bring to the hospital in his own labour bag – high-energy snacks, drinks, a book and a fully-charged camera with a new memory card.
Final stages of labour
‘Most hospitals give you an injection to speed up the third stage, when your placenta is delivered,’ says doula Adela Stockton from Mindful Doulas. ‘If you’d prefer to deliver it naturally, make it clear in your birth plan.’
After you’ve given birth
A birth plan is not just for labour – it’s also a good way to outline how you’d like to spend those precious few minutes after your baby has been born. Do you want to see the sex for yourself or be told? Does your partner want to cut the cord? Do you want your baby to be cleaned up or placed straight on you? Write it all down.