BirthTruths: The Truth About Birth Plans

I am not a medical professional. Nothing on this website is meant to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any disease. Please research your options and discuss them with your care provider when making health decisions. This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this free resource! See full disclosure here.

 

Birth plans can be a controversial subject. Some birth professionals advocate for them, while others discourage them.

Some women choose to write out a birth plan to give to their care provider, some write one but reserve it for themselves and their support team, and others don’t write anything out but know what they want and are comfortable advocating for themselves.

Some women feel they don’t need a birth plan because they are comfortable with their care provider. Some think that writing a birth plan is just setting themselves up for disappointment or that it’s foolish to plan something as unpredictable as birth.

I don’t know, dear expectant mama, where you fall on the birth plan continuum. I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t write one. But there are a lot of misconceptions out there about birth plans, so I want to give you some truth to counteract all those lies, so you can know if a birth plan would be a beneficial tool for YOU.

Truth #1: A birth plan is an education tool.

A birth plan is first and foremost a way for you to learn about birth, learn about yourself, learn about your options, discern what’s most important to you about birth, and then to prepare both for the birth you want and for the unexpected.

In this way, a birth plan is very much about the process. The process of educating yourself, the process of uncovering your beliefs and values and desires around birth. Some women will go more in depth with it than others. What matters to you might not matter to your best friend.

But knowing what IS important to you about birth and then making choices that align with that is a healthy thing for any mother. And writing a birth plan helps to facilitate that learning.

Truth #2: A birth plan is not a guarantee.

You don’t hand your care provider a birth plan as if it’s a legal contract, nor can you predict exactly what will happen in your birth. Almost every mother I’ve talked with has had something unexpected happen during birth, maybe a little thing, maybe a big thing. Whether or not she had a written birth plan, she did have expectations.

It’s important to have a care provider you really trust, so that in an emergency or when something comes up that presents you with unexpected choices, you can still have confidence that the choices being made are the best ones for you.

Truth #3: A birth plan is not a substitute for face to face communication with your care provider.

As you’re learning about your options, bring up any questions you have to your care provider and talk to them about your hopes and fears for your birth well before you’re in labor. Sometimes it can be hard to have these conversations in the typical short appointments we’re accustomed to, but at least ask about the most important things. The process of creating a birth plan should help facilitate communication with your care provider, not shut it down.

Your care provider has a valuable knowledge of birth, and you have a valuable knowledge of yourself. Take both into account. You may find that much of what is important to you about birth is standard practice for your care provider, or you may discover that your basic philosophies of birth differ greatly and decide to switch care providers.

Truth #4: A birth plan starts way before birth.

It starts even before conception, with your attitude toward pregnancy and motherhood. I would argue that it starts even before that, with the expectations you build from the stories you see and hear from your mother, your grandmother, your peers, and in art, literature, and media.

It includes the very first decisions you make about your pregnancy and your care, decisions like where you will give birth and who will attend it. These decisions will dictate some of your options, so as much as is in your power (because I know sometimes options are limited), don’t choose a setting or provider that you know doesn’t support what you want.

Early on, when you first make these choices, you might not know what’s important to you, and that’s ok. But if your care provider or birth setting is no longer a good fit for you, consider changing. I know it’s a hassle, but it’s worthwhile if it’s what’s required for you to have safe, respectful care you can trust.

Truth #5: A birth plan serves as a guide to help you prepare for birth.

As you learn about birth and learn about yourself, you can take steps during pregnancy to help prepare for the birth you want. Making sure you’re comfortable with your care provider, nourishing your body, trying to keep your baby in an optimal position, learning some comfort measures (or learning lots of comfort measures if you’re planning on an unmedicated birth) – these are all things you can do that have an impact on your birth.

And then think about what you don’t want during birth. Are there situations in which that thing you want to avoid might be helpful or needed?

For instance, when I was planning my first birth, I wanted to avoid an epidural. I even chose to birth at home so that it simply wouldn’t be available to me without the significant inconvenience and stress of transferring to the hospital.

But I knew from the beginning that if labor was really long and I was too exhausted, if I simply couldn’t relax enough to dilate, or honestly, if the pain was far worse than I was prepared for and the natural comfort measure I had learned weren’t helping enough, then I would transfer to the hospital and have an epidural.

A birth plan helps you prepare for the birth you want and take positive, proactive steps to make it happen, while still preparing for the reality of the uncertainty of birth.

Truth #6: A birth plan serves as a guide for your support team during birth.

It’s a good idea to have your birth team know what’s important to you during labor so that they’re able to support you toward those ends. Your birth plan for your support team (partner, doula, and any other family members or friends who will be present) might be more detailed than the one you give your care providers, and it’s something they can refer to if you’re offered different interventions. You are always free to change your mind and be flexible, but they can remind you of questions to ask or provide comfort measures that you’ve perhaps practiced beforehand. If you’ve communicated your hopes, even just verbally, your support people will be able to be more helpful to you during labor.

Truth #7: A birth plan is not an indicator of a control freak mom. A birth plan is an indicator of a thoughtful and engaged mom.

Every woman has expectations and values and desires around labor and birth. Even if a woman hasn’t taken the time to figure them out, even she’s not honest about them, even if she doesn’t care about all the same things you care about, even if she doesn’t have anything written down on paper, she still has hopes and expectations and is probably at least in some way trying to prepare for what she wants. Even the decision to “not have a birth plan” is often an effort to not be disappointed in birth.

I don’t say that to criticize the moms who aren’t interested in written birth plans. A written birth plan isn’t helpful to everyone and that’s ok. I just say it because sometimes anti-birth plan voices are loud and an unnecessary point of tension among mothers. But the process of learning what you want and how to prepare for that along with how to prepare for the unexpected is a valuable one for any mother.

Know What You Want

So write a birth plan or don’t write one, but do know what you want and prepare for it. You might be disappointed, yes. Disappointment is a possibility whenever you have ANY sort of expectation, but not being honest about what you want doesn’t necessarily protect you from disappointment either. And through doing the hard work of learning and knowing what you want, you might have an amazing birth that you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t taken the time to prepare for it now. You are the person who is most invested in your baby. Your hopes for birth, your hopes for how your baby is welcomed into the world, and your hopes for those first moments with your baby matter. Don’t be afraid to know what you want and go for it.

Want to delve deeper into the truth about birth plans? Click here to receive your Brave Womanhood Reflections Worksheet!

BirthTruths: The Truth About You

I am not a medical professional. Nothing on this website is meant to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any disease. Please research your options and discuss them with your care provider when making health decisions. This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this free resource! See full disclosure here.

Giving birth is a huge challenge, no matter how you do it. But sometimes our preconceived ideas about ourselves limit what we think we’re capable of in birth. So, dear expectant mama, here are a few truths in case you’re in need of encouragement.

#1 Your body is designed to birth babies. As Ina May says,

“Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”

The fact that you exist proves that you have come from a long line of women who successfully gave birth. Genetics are on your side. Just like any other function of the body, the function of birth usually works like it’s supposed to, just like your heart beats like it’s supposed to and your lungs breathe like they’re supposed to. Of course, complications can arise, and it’s smart to be prepared for them. But until there is a complication, there’s no reason to think that you won’t be able to give birth the way you want to.

#2 You are capable of making good decisions about pain relief, medical interventions, and any other aspect of your care during pregnancy and birth. You are smart and loving and have more invested in your baby than anyone else does. You can choose a good care provider and the right birth setting. You can make educated decisions about risks and benefits of a medicated or an unmedicated birth. You can choose how to prepare for birth, both for how you want it to happen and for how it might happen. Birth is unpredictable, and nothing can guarantee it going the way you hope for, but that doesn’t mean your choices and the way you prepare doesn’t make a big difference. The decision-making power is yours.

#3 You are capable of meeting the challenge of unmedicated birth, including the pain. You don’t have to be extraordinary to give birth without pain medication. Women with many different strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and pain tolerances have been giving birth for thousands of years before you. It’s not an unusual thing. A hard thing, yes, but so very normal. It’s ok to not want to give birth naturally, to not want to experience the pain. But if you do want an unmedicated birth, know that you have it in you to do it.

#4 The way you think about pain matters. Your expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will be hard, but hard doesn’t have to mean horrible. Labor will probably start out simply uncomfortable. There’s no need to think of it as painful before it actually is.

Sometimes the language we use around labor and birth feels negative and changing some of the common vocabulary can help to reframe the pain. Some women choose to call contractions “surges” or “waves” instead of contractions, carrying the idea of needing to ride it as a powerful force. There is a climb, a peak, and then a downhill that gets easier.

If I may quote Ina May again, she calls it “an intense feeling that requires all of your focus.” Thinking about pain and contractions in a more positive way may not eliminate the pain, but it can make the intensity feel less overwhelming and something you’re able to flow with and surrender to with more ease.

#5 Your values around pain matter. In American culture it’s very common to avoid pain and discomfort as much as possible, to assume something that is uncomfortable to feel is necessarily bad, abnormal, or harmful. Especially in women, it’s common to medicate normal feelings away. Mayim Bialik touched on this when she wrote,

“The vocalizing and emotional experience that is commonly referred to as “complaining,” “screaming,” or “suffering” is a normal part of labor. Birth is not neat and fast and quiet: it’s gritty and primal. But it’s nothing to fear unless you also think we ought to fear women crying when they are sad or laughing when they are happy.”

In her book, “Natural Hospital Birth”, Cynthia Gabriel shares her experience of observing childbirth in Russia.

“… our culture doesn’t teach us that birth pain leads to something valuable. Our society fails to recognize the merit of most pain, not just birth pain, and we go to great lengths to avoid unpleasant feelings. So many North American women have experienced the pain of labor, and then an epidural, that our collective memory about birth is now full of hurt but is missing the feelings of ecstasy and success that natural birth provides. In Russia, by contrast, suffering is considered an admirable pathway to becoming a better person. Russians from all walks of life can speak eloquently about positive transformation through pain. Russia is not unique. Most other cultures in the world provide a lifelong message to girls and women that the physical labor of birth is not just valuable, it is heroic.”

It’s rare in American culture for pain to be seen as a valuable experience, something you can grow from, or a journey of transformation.

#6 You can experience pain and joy simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive. Pain may very well be part of your birth experience. Even if you are planning on an epidural or other pain relief, you will likely feel some discomfort.

But pain is not all there is. So many other feelings can coexist alongside and intertwined with pain. Some, like fear, dread, and anxiety are not pleasant to feel, and can even make your labor harder. But they may be part of your journey, and there is no shame in that. Walk that hard path if you need to.

But other feelings can coexist with pain, too.

Excitement.

Courage.

Empowerment.

Pride.

Confidence.

Connectedness.

Joy.

Feel what is real. Don’t let the difficult feelings crowd out the beautiful ones. Let them intermingle. They are all transformative.

If you would like to delve deeper into these topics, subscribe here for a free Brave Womanhood Reflection Worksheet!

BirthTruths: The Truth About Pain

I am not a medical professional. Please research your options and discuss them with your care provider when making health decisions. This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this free resource! See full disclosure here.

All women have a pool of knowledge, beliefs, and ideas around childbirth that come from a variety of sources. We consciously or subconsciously receive messages from the media, entertainment, our family, friends, and peers, and from the collective memory of the women around us, and those messages influence our own thoughts and feelings about giving birth. Within this pool of knowledge, the fact that childbirth is painful is often at the forefront.

Barriers

Many women express a desire to have a “natural” birth. The definition can vary woman to woman, but often what is meant is an unmedicated, vaginal birth.

A lack of realistic expectations about pain in birth and about the determination required of you to move through labor without pain medication can create a barrier to achieving this desire. As can a lack of knowledge of your own capabilities, a lack of a confident and supportive birth team, a lack of physical and emotional preparation, and a lack of effective coping measures during labor. But those are posts for another day.

So if you’re hoping for an unmedicated birth or if you’re just thinking about it and you’re wondering what to expect in the pain department, read on.

#1 The pain of birth is normal and purposeful. It’s normal because bringing a baby into the world is intensely hard work for your body, along with your mind and heart. It’s hard like running a marathon is hard or like completing a thesis is hard or like facing great uncertainty is hard. But every contraction brings your baby closer, and pain is just a sign that your body is doing that hard work.

#2 The pain of birth is really intense and legitimately one of the hardest things you’ll probably ever do. Though some women experience painless birth, that is not the norm. There will be times when you will want to give up, and that’s totally normal. Overcoming the painful and overwhelmingly difficult parts of labor will require determination, endurance, and courage from you.

#3 The pain of birth is temporary. It may feel overwhelming and never-ending, but taking labor moment by moment instead of thinking about how long it might last can help it feel less so. In the grand scheme of things, the pain of labor is relatively brief. It won’t last forever. You can do anything for five minutes. And then you can do it again.

#4 Your perception of the pain of birth is dramatically influenced by your hormones and emotions. The physical pain of labor is real, but feeling helpless, afraid, unsafe, or stressed can drastically intensify those feelings. Feeling fearful inhibits the helpful hormones of labor and increases pain. Feeling safe, supported, and respected helps your body produce the oxytocin and endorphins that help reduce pain and make labor effective.

#5 Most women will experience parts of labor as not painful. Usually there is a break between contractions that may be uncomfortable but not painful. Those breaks will give you a chance to catch your breath and perhaps rest a little.

Note: There are some factors that can reduce those breaks, such as having a posterior baby or being on synthetic oxytocin. Having back pain in between contractions with a posterior baby is not unusual, but it’s rarely as intense as contractions. Leaning forward over a bed, counter, or exercise ball can help your posterior baby turn and take the pressure of your back.

If you are on synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to induce labor or speed it up, your contractions may be longer, stronger, and closer together with little break in between. You may be able to have the Pitocin turned down, and if you want an unmedicated birth, you may want to consider avoiding induction and augmentation altogether if there is no medical indication.

#6 The harder it gets, usually the closer you are to giving birth. When those breaks do start getting shorter or disappearing completely, you are probably getting really close to pushing. During transition (the last phase of active labor and final few centimeters of dilation before pushing) you may feel like you simply can’t do it even if you’ve been coping really well up until that point. You may cry, feel overwhelmed, and be ready to throw in the towel. Be prepared for this. Some women feel the emotions of transition as they go from early labor to active labor as well. This is all a very normal part of the process and can be seen as an encouragement that you are going to meet your baby soon!

#7 Sometimes the pain of birth is unusually difficult. There is such a thing as an unusually painful labor, and there is a difference between pain and suffering. There are times when pharmacological pain management is absolutely the best thing for a mother and helps to facilitate a safe and satisfying birth. It’s ok to want and plan on medical pain relief. And if you were hoping and preparing for an unmedicated birth and end up needing or wanting medical pain relief, it’s ok to be disappointed. It’s also ok to feel happy and at peace with your choice. To face choices and circumstances in birth that you had hoped to avoid takes its own kind of courage and endurance.

I want to hear about your experience! Was the pain of labor what you expected? Let me know in the comments!

Recommended Resources

Pain Medications Preference Scale by Penny SimkinThis tool is great for helping a woman think about her pain medication preferences during labor and communicating about them with her birth team.

Pain Management Series from Evidence Based Birth This podcast series is full of great information about scientific research on various aspects of pain and pain management during labor.