Have you heard of a birth plan? What about birth preferences? What’s the difference anyway?
When you’re expecting a baby you’ve probably put a lot of thought into what labor will be like. Where will you give birth? Who will be there with you? Will you want an epidural as soon as possible or do you want to try to go without?
You’ve also probably heard lots of stories of how other women gave birth and they’re more than happy to pass their advice on to you:
“A birth tub is the best thing during labor, it’s so relaxing!”
“Don’t get in the water, there’s no traction and you’re just flailing!”
“You don’t need an epidural, I had 5 big babies without ever getting one.”
“Get an epidural as soon as you can, it’s a life saver!”
All of it is meant well. We want to help others by telling them what worked for us. The problem is that something that worked wonders for one person during labor may be counterproductive for the next person. So how can you figure out what will work for you?
Here are some things to consider when you’re making your list of preferences:
- What’s normal for my chosen birth place and what will I need to ask for specifically?
If you want dim lights and no beeping monitors, for example, is that something that needs to be specifically requested or is that the norm?
- What kinds of pain medications are available at my chosen place of birth?
If you know you don’t want an epidural but would like to try nitrous oxide/gas & air/laughing gas, make sure you ask your birth place whether they have it.
- What kinds of tools for natural pain relief are available at my chosen place of birth?
It’s good to know what tools they have for you there and what you may want to bring from home. Examples of what they may already have at the hospital/birth place for you to use are birth balls, wash cloths to cool you down, or a birth pool. For things that are potentially limited like birth pools, make sure you tell them your preferences ahead of time and again when you check in during labor.
- What does the research say about _________?
There are a lot of options around birth which can be very empowering, but also very overwhelming. What are the pros and cons of induction, the benefits of skin-to-skin immediately after birth, or the effects of fetal monitoring? How soon after birth should I cut the umbilical cord and why does it matter? It’s easy to find opinions and personal anecdotes on these topics, but the best thing is to find some evidence based research using sites like Evidence Based Birth. You can also use an app called Motherboard that has the different options along with the research for each one laid out for you. More on that here.
In the end, labor often doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would. So why bother making a plan or even writing down preferences when birth can be so unpredictable?
It’s true, nobody can guarantee that you will get to have the birth that you envisioned, whatever that entails. That’s also a great reason in and of itself to research and look into all the possibilities and know what might be coming your way. Even if you don’t intend to use pain medication, it’s good to know what the options are and the pros and cons of each. That way if you change your mind during labor you don’t need to start researching your options between contractions or just take whatever they’re offering you. The same goes for a cesarean – if you’re not planning a cesarean you should still spend an evening looking into the options so that you know what to ask for if it does happen.
When it comes to labor, everyone wants a healthy baby and a healthy mom in the end. That’s important, but it shouldn’t end there. You should not be in the passenger seat during your child’s birth. You should be an active participant in your labor and that includes having the final say on decisions regarding your labor and your baby. Of course it’s great to have advice and information from medical experts and those with years of experience, but in the end it needs to be your decision. That is a lot easier if you have already looked into your options beforehand and have an idea of what’s most important to you and why.