You may have heard that writing a birth plan, or summary of your birth preferences can help you to have a more positive birth experience. I couldn’t agree more; however, in my opinion that’s not the first, only, or even most important part of preparing for your birth. Here are my 5 top tips for planning for a positive birth experience:
1) Do your research.
The first and most crucial step in planning for your best birth experience is to learn what your options are, and what approach or philosophy feels right for you. You’ll want to decide where you’d like to birth (hospital vs. home), what type of care provider would be the best fit (OB/GYN, family medicine provider, midwife), what approach you’d like to take toward coping with labor (pain meds vs. natural methods), how you feel about various routine interventions, etc. If you feel lost while exploring your options, you may want to reach out to an experienced doula who is professional and unbiased in their approach— someone able to guide you through your choices, while allowing you to form your own opinions about what is best for you. You may want to read a variety of books to explore different birth philosophies, or sign up for childbirth education to learn more about your options and what to expect. It’s not necessary to have a fully formulated plan or to decide exactly how you feel about every option at this point, but it’s a good idea to get a general idea of where you are in terms of overall birth philosophy as a starting point before moving on in the planning process.
2) Choose your team wisely.
Once you have an idea of how you’d like to approach your birth, you will be better able to choose the right people for your birth team. If you haven’t already, you may interview doulas at this point to find the right one for you. If you already have a doula, you could ask them if they can recommend any providers in the community that may be a good fit for the type of birth you’d like to have. If you are looking for an experienced OB/GYN practice, skilled in handling any complication or issue that could come up— they likely have a recommendation. If you’d like to find a family doctor that commits to delivering their own patients, and practices within the midwifery model—they probably have some names to choose from. Don’t be afraid to be selective, and ask questions while meeting with potential members of your birth team. It is SO important that you feel comfortable with whomever you invite to be a part of your birth, and that they align well with your birth philosophy. Choosing carefully early on is much easier than trying to switch providers late in your pregnancy, or encountering opposition while in labor if your provider doesn’t share your philosophy. Check out this post I wrote about birthing environment and choosing a care provider for more info on this.
3) Discuss your preferences ahead of time.
As you start deciding how you feel about specific birth related options, and firming up your preferences, you’ll want to begin discussing them with your provider and other support people as well (e.g. your partner and/or doula). This should occur well before your expected due date, so that you can incorporate their opinions/ clinical or professional experience into your decision making as you see fit, while also ensuring your team understands and supports your desired approach. Going over your preferences with your care provider ahead of time will also allow them to help you understand situations that may require a change in plans, so you aren’t blind-sided in the event this becomes necessary.
4) Write out your birth preferences.
Not everyone decides to write an official birth plan. Be it superstition, desire to avoid coming across as high maintenance, or an attempt to avoid disappointment should plans change— it's a valid choice. I do, however, recommend writing your preferences down, and here’s why: I think a written birth preferences summary conveys the importance of your input in decisions being made about your care, and helps your team to clearly understand what your wishes are. Putting your birth preferences in writing does not mean everything will go as you had hoped of course, but going over this list will allow your team to adhere to your preferences as much as possible, without having to ask you a lot of questions during a time when you may not be up for conversation. Also, it is not high maintenance to take an interest in your own, and your baby’s care—it’s your right.
5) Prepare to be flexible.
It’s no secret that birth is a process that simply cannot be controlled. It can certainly be influenced, but how your birth will ultimately unfold is a mystery to everyone up until it happens. Each woman, baby and birth is unique, and so many factors go into this complex process. It is vitally important that the birthing woman understand this, as well as the need to surrender to the process and let go of any desire to control the uncontrollable. Staying “in your head” too much or worrying during labor is counterproductive, and can slow or stall progress by interfering with your body’s natural hormonal responses. You may find it helpful to practice prenatal yoga, childbirth hypnosis, or even just explore positive birth affirmations or mantras leading up to your birth to help prepare you to stay as calm and relaxed as possible. It’s also important to remember that having already researched your options, chosen the right team, discussed and clarified your birth preferences in writing— you can be confident that you have planned and prepared for a positive birth experience as best you can. With all the planning behind you, labor is a time to let go, breathe and follow your body’s instincts without too much thought or worry. You've got this.
Written by Angie Traska of Align Doula Services, providing intuitive, attentive doula support that aligns with you. Looking for doula support, birth planning guidance or lactation counseling in the Madison area? Contact me here.