Updated: Sep 3, 2022
A birth plan or birth preferences list is an essential tool to help you advocate for the birthing experience you desire.
The idea of creating a birth plan can be intimidating and overwhelming. Sometimes it is simply because we don’t know where to start. Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place!
Get your FREE Visual Birth Plan Template HERE.
Sidenote: For the duration of this blog post I will be talking about birth preference lists as opposed to “birth plans”. The reason being is that birth is inherently unpredictable. When we make a plan sometimes we can set ourselves up for disappointment if something does not go according to plan. Creating a birth preferences list keeps our minds more open to options during labor and prepares us to pivot as needed. The result? A more satisfying birth experience!
Do I Really Need a Birth Plan or Birth Preferences List?
Yes! A birth preference list is a powerful communication tool.
A birth preference list will help you discuss your options for labor and immediate postpartum care with your healthcare practitioner and support team.
This process can help you think through all of your options for birth and for your baby. You may uncover there are more options available to you than you ever imagined!
A birth preference list will also help your care team (OB, midwife, nurses changing shifts, support people, partners, doula, etc.) have a unified approach to supporting you and your desires.
During labor, we enter an altered state of consciousness, and it can be hard for us to think clearly. A birth preference list will save you a lot of time in explaining your preferences, which is the last thing you want to be doing when you are in active labor. It’s a quick way to get the care team on board and aware of your desires for your birthing experience.
A birth preference list will help you find a healthcare provider who is supportive of your ideal birthing experience.
A key to having a positive birthing experience is to assemble a birth team that supports your desires. Your birth preference list can help you accomplish this!
I suggest you review your birth preferences with your healthcare practitioner as early as you are able. Having a conversation with your care team early on will help you understand if any of your birth preferences are against hospital policy or against your provider's practice preferences. Many hospitals, for example, do not allow water births. Many OBs are not supportive of their patient's desire to birth in the position of their choice. You may decide to find a different provider or a facility that better aligns with your desires. It's never fun to do this in your last few weeks of pregnancy so the earlier you have this conversation with your care team, the better!
Where Do I Start?
I recommend starting by downloading a birth plan template. A birth plan template will help you understand the options available to you during your labor.
There are many templates for written birth plans and some people simply write out their birth plan in paragraph form. The downside to written templates is that they take longer to read and it can be challenging for a healthcare practitioner to decipher what exactly you are asking for in a short amount of time. Moreover, written text can sometimes be interpreted as confrontational.
To develop an effective birth plan, I recommend looking into visual birth plans.
What Is A Visual Birth Plan or Visual Birth Preferences List?
A visual birth plan uses icons and minimal text to describe your preferences. Visual birth plans have become extremely popular because they are a quick way to inform your care team of your preferences. Doctors and nurses love visual birth plans for this exact reason. They tend to be very clear and leave little room for misinterpretation.
I offer a FREE Visual Birth Preferences Template that you can download and customize. It includes two additional pages with gentle cesarean preferences and alternative preferences. My template is intentionally designed to be inclusive for all birthing people and customizable.
Another great option is using Birth Planner. The Birth Planner website allows you to tap on birth preference icons and create your own visual birth plan in seconds. It is easy to use and requires no formatting. While it is free to use, there is a fee to access some of the icons.
Checklist to Develop an Effective Birth Preference List
Choose your template.
Research your options to make informed choices.
Develop your preferences sheet and PRINT IT OUT! It's okay for this to be a working draft.
Ask your doula and healthcare team for more information if you're on the fence about any of your options or just need more information to make an informed decision.
Finalize your preferences. I recommend you fill out a gentle cesarean sheet even if you plan a vaginal birth. While you will most likely never need to look at the cesarean sheet, it is important to feel prepared for anything.
Review your birth preferences with your support team (healthcare practitioner, support person/ partner, doula, or anyone else attending your birth). *Be sure to ask your healthcare practitioner to confirm your preferences can be met at the birth location you have chosen. Have your provider sign your birth preferences sheet and save it to your file.
Bring at least 3 copies of your birth preferences list to your birth. If you labor at a hospital, most of your labor is supported by a labor and delivery nurse. They may or may not have access to or time to review your file and will not know your birth preferences. Moreover, shift changes can happen and it is important to make sure your care team is on the same page.
Need More Guidance?
I offer visual birth and postpartum doula support worldwide and in-person support in the metro Atlanta area. My goal is to make sure you feel grounded and confident in your journey to parenthood. Learn more here!
Meet the Author
Clara O'Rourke (she hers),
Holistic Doula & Childbirth Educator.
I am a researcher turned total birth nerd with a passion for supporting people birth in their full power! I guide people through their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum journey by helping them overcome fear or anxiety about birth, providing evidence-based information so they can make informed decisions, and making sure they have everything they need to birth with confidence. Birth is sacred and it should be treated that way. I am committed to providing support for birth and beyond, regardless of a person's background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or relationship status. También ofrezco mis servicios en español. I wish you and your growing family the brightest of beginnings!