Imagine you’re in labor. We’re talking serious pain. If you could reach down and pull your baby out yourself, you would. But you can’t even scream because your partner is engrossed in some awful made-for-TV movie blaring from the hospital television. And then a nurse runs in and asks, “Do you want an epidural?” and all you have for an answer is a pleading stare. What you really want is two minutes to breathe, yet you’re in the middle of chaos.
Now imagine soft music playing behind you. A bucket of ice chips to your right, your partner rubbing your back: and no one asking you questions, or talking, or interrupting the few moments of peace you have between contractions.
Such is the beauty of having a birth plan.
Writing a birth plan may seem like something that only hyper-organized moms would do, but any mother can benefit. The idea here is not to “plan” your birth from beginning to end (oh, were this possible!) but to consider those moments where you can make a choice. Often the writing of a birth plan can bring a woman (and her partner) to a deeper understanding of the kinds of things that can happen in labor.
Make sure you have a strong support team around you, who understand exactly what you want. This could be anyone in your inner circle, from family and friends to an experienced midwife or doula (especially if you’re looking to have a non-medicated birth). Make sure you completely trust the judgment of the people you choose.
Once you have your support team chosen, the next step is to think about your environment. Labors tend to be more efficient and even shorter when the environment is calm and focusing, whether that’s in a hospital, birthing center or at home. One way to do this is to think about the five senses:
Repetitive, trance-like music can help block out the world and allow a woman to focus. A mix of favorite songs usually doesn’t work well in very active labor. It’s too stimulating, with too many associations. Some women wear headphones from early labor into active labor and find the sounds very helpful. Also, a woman appreciates it when people around her are quiet during contractions.
Labor hormones actually flow faster when it’s dark. This is why so many women go into labor at night. When you are laboring at home, keep the lights dim. If you’re laboring in the hospital, you can also turn the lights down.
Massage (to the feet, shoulders, legs and back) can actually help labor get going. When the labor is in full swing, however, women tend not to like lots of touching. Rather, they appreciate a firm, consistent pressure or massage usually on the lower back, especially if they are experiencing pressure in the lower back area.
Research has shown that healthy foods and lots of water can help labor progress. Eating well in early labor is a great idea – you’ll be doing lots of work. Later, you may not be hungry but having some Gatorade or a health bar can sometimes be a good energy boost. Hospitals vary on their food and drink policies for women in labor, but mostly, women want ice or water in very active labor.
Wouldn’t you like to replace that sterile hospital scent with one that’s comforting? Just the scent of something warm and familiar can significantly lower stress levels, resulting in an easier birth.
A birth plan is not required, but it can be a therapeutic and empowering way to express your hopes and confront your fears. While you should absolutely indicate everything that you want to happen, it is important to remember not to have an extremely rigid plan, as you never know what could happen and in the case of an emergency, your desire for the “perfect” birth will go right out the window.