Monday, April 23, 2012

The Importance of a Birth Plan

A birth plan is a brief, but detailed document that describes you and your partner’s wishes for how you would like your birth to be handled, and how you would like the staff at the hospital or birth center to care for your newborn. Your birth plan is the most important and crucial piece of information to prepare you for the childbirth experience and to protect your philosophy of birth and medical preferences.

Know Your Stuff
First, writing a birth plan requires you to educate yourself on the birth process and the procedures you may encounter at the hospital, birth center, or even at a home birth. You simply cannot make decisions about whether or not you wish to receive continuous electronic fetal monitoring until you know when and why it’s necessary, as well as the risks and benefits of it. I believe that education reduces fear about the birth process, and this is one of my top goals in assisting women in writing birth plans and assisting them during childbirth as a doula.

Take Back Your Birth
Secondly, birth plans empower families to feel ownership over their birth experience. The information gap between doctors and their patients often causes birthing women to feel they are at the mercy of the hospital staff and must follow orders based on fear of maternal or infant harm. This doesn’t have to be the case. Often, even in the case of emergencies, a mother and her partner can still request procedures be performed in a way that preserves the integrity of their experience. Birth is a rite of passage, and one of the most important events in life. Understanding that you have a choice about every aspect of what happens to your body, your environment and your child during childbirth is revelatory. Keep in mind that this is your journey, and the beginning of your baby’s life, no one else’s. No one should have more decision making power in such an important life event than you! Many clinical studies show that when mothers have a positive view of their birth experience they have less instances of postpartum depression, more success in breastfeeding, and are less likely to view their baby as fussy or colicky.

Communication Is Key
Not only is it imperative that you know your own philosophy of birth and your wishes for your birth experience; it’s equally important to discuss these wishes as well as any concerns and questions you may have with your doctor or midwife, and communicate your decisions to the nurses and staff at your place of birth. Having a simple and organized document printed and at hand gives you a crucial communication tool. I encourage my clients to condense their birth plan onto one page, in table or bullet form, and have printed copies for myself, their health care provider, and two copies for the nurses on staff if they are birthing at a hospital (in case there is a shift change). It also may be helpful to give a copy to members of your family so they are aware of your wishes in case of an emergency, and so they are able to support you in the way you wish to be supported.

How to Write a Birth Plan
Penny Simkin, author of many books and articles concerning childbirth and doula work, shares in her article The Win-Win Birth Plan, “Your birth plan should contain an introduction, your most important issues, fears, or concerns; a general description of the approach to birth you prefer; and sections on normal labor and birth, care of the newborn, and unexpected events (a prolonged labor, cesarean birth, a premature or sick baby, even death of the baby).” As you research and document your wishes for birth, keep in mind that things don’t always go as planned. While you ultimately have a right to make decisions regarding every aspect your birth, do remember that your doctor or midwife, and hospital or birth center staff have experience and expertise that is to be respected. Remaining open and flexible in your expectations and in your tone as you write your birth plan will set the tone for positive communication and a balanced partnership between you and your healthcare providers.

In conclusion, a birth plan creates an incomparable opportunity for a mother and her partner to feel prepared for and feel ownership of their birth experience. A mother should be well educated on the mechanics of childbirth and the procedures she can expect while in a hospital, birth center, or at home in order to successfully write her birth plan. The document not only prepares the couple for the various events that may occur, but also gives them a tool through which they can communicate their wishes to their healthcare provider, doula, family and friends. Developing your own beliefs about birth, while also remaining flexible about possible outcomes is valuable to the relationship between you and your healthcare provider and will also help you have a more positive view of the experience after the fact.

At Honeybee Mama, I'm committed to getting you the tools and resources you need to make informed decisions about your birth. If you need assistance with your birth plan, contact me about my childbirth training manual and The Birth Experience Childbirth Training, or schedule a consultation today!

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