Don’t make a birth plan, it’s pointless, because birth is completely unpredictable.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard a woman being given this crappy nugget of pseudo-wisdom, I’d be rich enough to start my own luxury birth centre in St Lucia.
It’s fabulously convenient to tell women this, actually, because not only does it totally discourage them from researching their birth options, making a plan and thus becoming one of those ‘tricky customers’ in the birth room who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask.
But also, once birth is over, if the birth was difficult or even downright unpleasant, you can ask her, “Did you make a birth plan?”, and if she says yes you can shake your head and say, “Oh dear”, in a way that basically implies, “I told you so”, and bingo, the whole sorry mess is her fault and everyone else is off the hook.
Actually, making a birth plan is one of the very best moves a pregnant woman can make.
Let’s be clear, a birth plan is not just an idyllic wish list lit by pretty tea-lights and trimmed with home-made bunting. A birth plan is a chance to take a detailed look at the huge number of choices and options available to you, to consider the many ways birth might unfold, and to really make sure your voice is heard in the labour room.
It basically works in two ways: you spend time learning about your choices and at the end of this, you have a clear document to convey these preferences to your health professionals.
Of course, in an ideal world, you could argue, we wouldn’t need a birth plan.
We’d all have a relationship with our midwife and she’d spend time getting to know us in our pregnancy and coming to a unique understanding of the kind of birth we want.
You could also argue that women wouldn’t need to write in their birth plan that they want things like optimal clamping and skin-to-skin, because they’d get it as standard. But – sorry folks – this is not an ideal world.
Optimal clamping? Skin-to-skin? What’s that? If you’re asking that question, you’re proving my point.
Waiting to cut the cord until a few minutes after your baby has been born and it stops ‘pulsating’ is now considered to have great benefits for your baby, and if you’re about to give birth, it’s a good idea to learn about why it matters, and in which circumstances your care providers can legitimately say: “This is not possible.” (psst: there actually aren’t very many).
Likewise the practice of holding your baby, naked, their chest on your chest, ‘skin-to-skin’ after childbirth, is known to be great for bonding, breastfeeding, feels like heaven on a stick and will soothe your baby and ease their transition into the world.
Put it in your birth plan and ask for it to happen – even if you have a difficult birth or a caesarean – it’s still possible and it’s still beneficial!
Making a plan can and should involve thinking about Plan B, C, and even D. Having a Plan A, a really strong vision of the kind of birth you really want is great, and it may well improve your chances of getting the birth of your dreams.
However, like pretty much everything else in life, you can’t have complete control over your fate in the birth room, so it’s a great idea to think through as many ‘what if’ scenarios as you can and decide, along with your partner if you have one, what you want to happen if things start to deviate from your ideal scenario.
And whether or not you’ve actively chosen caesarean birth, you still need a plan for your BPC (Best Possible Caesarean).
It’s a mistake to think that, once your birth moves to the operating theatre, that all of the choices are taken out of your hands. Many women are now choosing to have a ‘Gentle Caesarean’, where everything happens more slowly and with greater respect for the fact that you are bringing new life into the world. Music can be played, the screen can be lowered so you can see (if you want to!), and yes, you can still have Optimal Clamping and skin-to-skin.
In short, whatever kind of birth you want (or even end up with against your expectations) you have options and choices, and you can reap huge benefits from thinking about these while you are pregnant, so that, on the day itself, you have a clear idea of what you want, no matter how birth unfolds.
In the Positive Birth Book, I take you through every single one of your birth options, in detail, step by step. You can also learn how to build a Visual Birth Plan, which uses icons to represent your choices, beautifully designed by the artist Kate Evans. These icons can be downloaded online http://www.pinterandmartin.com/vbp.html and made into a clear A4 document to share with your care providers.