We often speak to women who don’t know where to start with their birth plan and have even been told more than once not to bother, but if you’re choosing to birth within the maternity system then we have a few tips for you!
Writing your birth plan isn’t just an opportunity to put clear instructions in writing for whoever attends your birth, but the process of writing it will bring up questions for you that you may not have considered before.
If you’re not sure where to start, or you have written your plan but want to make it solid, here are a few things that might help;
1. Plan for your ideal birth
If you’re not planning for your ideal birth, then what are you planning for and why? If you start at the end, you can work your way back, figuring out along the way what will make your ideal birth more likely, and what might become a barrier. When you figure out those barriers, you’ll notice that most of them are within your control. By doing this, you will work out what your hard lines are and under what circumstances you might move to plan B (if you have one).
2. Remove the barriers at the earliest opportunity
Knowing what barriers might come up in pregnancy (especially around 36 weeks) and during labour is a really good starting point. If you are seeing a midwife and/or intend to have one at your birth, you can ask them what THEY would consider a reason to transfer to hospital. You can then look at that list and decide for yourself what your reasons would be. Growth scans, for example, are a big one towards the end of pregnancy so deciding for yourself how reliable you think they are, and whether that information is useful for you and would have a bearing on where you want to give birth – if it wouldn’t, then remove the barrier by declining the scan. Use the BRAIN acronym to decide what is working for you and what isn’t; BRAINsign
3. If you say no, you can always say yes later
Lots of women find that when it comes to vaginal examinations and monitoring, it’s much easier to say a firm no to all of it in your plan and at your appointments, knowing that if at any point you do change your mind the option is always still open to you. If you say yes to something you don’t feel comfortable with, you can’t undo that vaginal examination or doppler reading and it becomes much harder to then change your mind and find the strength to say no. It’s also always okay to take more time to think about something before you make a decision. The same goes for saying no to birthing in hospital, if you plan for a home birth then all of your options are still open to you, you can decide to go to hospital any time you like. It’s much harder, however, to decide last minute that you’re having a homebirth if you are inviting midwives to attend.
4. It’s good to be specific
If there were ever a time to be really clear about your needs, it’s during pregnancy. You might have really specific wants and needs – you’re not being fussy or awkward – express them! If it is important to you then it should be important to the people you are inviting into your birth space. For example, if you want a silent birth space, don’t say “please keep the noise to a minimum” because that isn’t actually stating what you need, and a midwife’s ‘minimum’ might be very different to yours. Phrases like “if possible”, “kept to a minimum” and “only if necessary” are incredibly open to interpretation, and makes it an almost pointless sentence because you’re then leaving it up to someone else to decide.
5. Write your plan for the worst midwife you’ve ever heard of
We hope that your interactions with midwives have been positive ones, but we also know that some do not respect birth as a bodily function that needs patience and privacy to go smoothly. Aim your birth plan at that midwife who is tired, twitchy and looking for any excuse to transfer you to the hospital. That way, if the midwife you’ve met a few times who is supportive and respectful turns up, she’ll totally get why you’ve written it that way. It’s a set of clear instructions on how you expect to be treated. You don’t need to ask permission (“please” and “if possible” are hinting at seeking permission) and you don’t need to be polite.
These are just a few ways you can write an effective, assertive birth plan. If you would like any support in writing or implementing your birth plan, or book in a holding space session to chat about your plans, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find our birth planning templates and examples here;
These assertiveness phrases may come in handy either in writing your birth plan, or implementing it if you come up against resistance; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxGBEwFAGho
If you are struggling with having your wishes heard and respected, AIMS has a really good helpline and have some template letters that might come in handy; https://www.aims.org.uk/campaigning/item/template-letters