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Repurposing the Birth Plan: Shifting Mindset from Planning to Preparing

Have you seen them before? The ‘standard’ birth plan template – a series of categorized lists for creating your ultimate labour and birth ‘wish list’. Who you’d like in the room with you? How would you like to labour? What would you like the environment to be like? How would you prefer to manage pain? What labour and birth interventions would you prefer to use or to avoid.

Hand holding a pen and checking things off on a list.

These documents can be wonderfully helpful tools as we prepare to birth our babies…but they can also set us up for disappointment, even grief, if things don’t go according to ‘plan’.

Birth Plan Trauma

Over my years of practice as a naturopathic doctor, and even more now as a lactation consultant, I’m hearing stories of birth trauma unfolding and impacting the postpartum mental health of mothers.

And, part of the challenge in healing often relates back to expectations not being met, to labour and birth being much different than imagined.

I’ve previously shared by enthusiasm for planning, when I shared how I began my journey into motherhood. It’s such a wonderful tool for moving through processes in life towards specific goals.

And it works well, for processes that we have a large amount of control over: meal planning, vacation planning, career planning. Sure, there’s always possibility for something to go wrong with these plans – the grocery store ran out of fresh ginger, there’s a flight delay or cancellation, we miss out on a career opportunity that comes our way. Adjustments in these plans, while sometimes challenging, are doable.

Labour and birth are different. Why? Because they’re processes that we move through but have very little control over. So much of those experiences live in the unknown, until we’re right there in the midst of them.

That’s where creating a birth plan can get sticky. The word ‘plan’ is connected, in our brains, to predictability and expectation.

And, when we attempt to plan process that isn’t predictable, it’s too easy to be disappointed, sometimes to the extent of emotional trauma, because our brains expected certain outcomes that didn’t arise.

From Planning to Preparing: Creating a tool for learning & communication

During my pregnancy, I pulled up a few different birth planning templates (thanks Google!) and as I brought them together and created my own document, I realized I felt a strong resistance to calling it a plan. Instead, at the top of the page, I wrote ‘My Birth Intention’.

It became my learning plan and communication tool. When I read through a birth plan template, I made sure I understood what each option listed was, along with its benefits and risks. I covered information on pain management, labour and birth interventions and postpartum care.

Then, I communicated to my partner what my preferences were (and why!). It gave us the opportunity to discuss everything and begin making informed choices about the labour and birth process. It allowed us to see certain themes come through:

  1. A focus on a labour and birth process that would support breastfeeding and early bonding

  2. Minimal intervention and when intervention is medically necessary, having it communicated to us and providing us with options for moving forward

These themes were easily communicated with our care team, giving us the opportunity to have some open conversation around our preferences for the labour and birth process and ensuring everyone was on the same page.

Moving through this preparation process also brought some fears into my awareness.

What would happen if I needed a Caesarean birth? The only surgery I’ve ever had was my wisdom teeth coming out!

What if I need antibiotics during labour? How will that affect the baby’s gut flora and future health? (That’s where a naturopathic doctor’s brain goes!)

Fear is definitely not comfortable, but awareness of the fear lets us choose how to address it.

I chatted with an experienced birth doula and close friend about what the process looks like when a mother has a Caesarean birth – she’d supported many women through them. I chatted with colleagues, explored the available infant probiotic products and made sure I had some packed in a cooler inside my hospital bag, so I felt prepared in the event that antibiotics were needed.

Your Labour and Birth Preparation Learning Guide

Pregnant woman and her doctor reviewing information together on a tablet

Wondering how you can begin to shift from a planning to a preparation mindset, as your labour and birth approaches? Check out my Labour and Birth Preparation Learning Guide.

As you go through it and explore each topic, on your own or with a support person:

  1. remember to jot down questions for your health care team

  2. ensure you are connecting with good quality information on the topics outlined

  3. begin to make informed choices about your preferences

  4. consider how you might address or process experiences that don't fit your preferences (ie: when interventions are medically necessary), both in the moment and afterwards

  5. think about what (or who) might support you, should your labour and birth unfold in ways you hadn't wanted

Looking for additional support? Prenatal consultations are available virtually for families across Canada and in person via house call to those in southeastern New Brunswick.

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