When it comes to writing a birth plan, expecting mothers may wonder, “Why bother?” After all, you pick your care providers, whether a midwife or a doctor, for their training and expertise. However, parents who compose birth plans often experience safer and healthier deliveries.

A birth plan closes the gap between standard procedures and care based on research. You foster more accountability and better care from providers when options and preferences are considered. While a birth plan doesn’t guarantee a perfect labor, it does prepare you for the unexpected.

When developing a birth plan, consider the following tips.

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Begin with research. Utilize books, magazines and credible Web sites to identify the ideal childbirth practices for you. Also enroll in a childbirth class from a certified childbirth educator. Compare the practices you learn about to other standards of care you encounter. For example, many hospitals deny laboring women food and drink, even though evidence shows the practice causes fatigue on a day when a high energy level is essential. Carefully consider what practices to include in your birth plan. This ensures you’re equipped to discuss priorities with your care providers in advance.
  2. Determine the right environment. Consider whether the hospital, your home or a birthing center is most comfortable for you. Each setting has its advantages and detriments. Contemplate each on the basis of your personal desires and risk profile. Think about the amount of staff traffic, the privacy of the space and the number of machines and monitors present. Communicate your vision with your care providers and develop a plan for achieving it.
  3. Choose your team. Many women envision a labor nurse tending to them throughout labor and supporting them with each contraction. The reality is that most nurses care for multiple patients simultaneously. A doctor is not usually present throughout delivery and tends to spend the most time with a mother during the pushing phase of childbirth. Therefore, it’s vital to bring someone who will be with you the majority of the time during childbirth. A trained doula can be particularly helpful to moms in labor.
  4. Weigh options for pain relief. Listen to the important cues and information you get from labor pains. These guide you through the birth. You may plan to use one or more low-intervention methods for reducing pain that poses little or no risk to you or your baby before considering more invasive procedures. Options include movement, focused breathing and warm showers or baths. Only you have the right to decide how you want to manage your pain.
  5. Move around. Research shows that freedom of movement is associated with reduced pain and faster progress. Even in the rare circumstances when continuous monitoring of the baby’s heart rate is recommended, some healthcare personnel offer equipment to monitor the baby while the mother is free to move around.
  6. Keep your baby with you. After waiting 40 weeks to meet your bundle of joy, consider what you want your baby’s first hours to be like. Many hospitals routinely whisk newborns away for weighing, cleaning and other routine procedures. Yet, a growing body of research shows that it’s best for babies to spend as much time as possible with the mother from the start. Close and uninterrupted contact immediately following birth plays a key role in initiating a successful breastfeeding relationship.

Creating a birth plan can reduce stress and uncertainty as the birth day draws near. And choosing options that are associated with the best outcomes increases the likelihood of a safe, healthy and memorable birth.

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