Creating a Birth Plan: How to Prepare for Delivery

pregnant woman with support person

From setting up your nursery to ensuring you have everything you’ll need—clothes, diapers, breast pumps, and accessories—pregnancy is a time to celebrate your growing family and prepare yourself and your space for delivery and parenthood. There’s a lot to consider and a variety of choices new parents make when prepping for delivery and childcare.

Developing a birth plan is a helpful step in preparing for your baby’s birth. While not everything will go according to plan, understanding what to expect and the parts you can control may help ease your nerves. A birth plan also provides you with the tools you need to communicate your preferences, needs, and expectations with your birth team ahead of time. This will allow you to review your options and avoid potential miscommunications or unwanted stress during labor and delivery.

Your birthing experience will be unique to you, and your birth plan should reflect that. While you can’t control every aspect of your birthing experience, you can prepare for delivery by creating a birth plan.

What’s a Birth Plan?

The first step in creating a birth plan is understanding what it is. Birth plans are clearly written lists of preferences that you can provide to your birth team and healthcare providers before and during your birth process. Because labor isn’t always predictable, it is important to remain flexible and understand that birth plans can change, but they do provide a general roadmap for you and your team to follow.

Birth plans are as unique as you are, so add as many (or as little) details as you’d like. You can even find birth plan templates online to serve as a guide for the type of birth you might want. Many birth plan templates are divided into three parts: before labor, during, and after. But you can structure your plan however you’d like. 


Before Birth

This stage will primarily be spent researching and preparing for delivery. Begin by understanding your options and asking yourself the following questions: which healthcare providers and birthing specialists do you want to help you deliver your baby? Where do you want to give birth? What are your birth preferences?


People and Places

From obstetricians to family practitioners and midwives, selecting a healthcare provider to handle your medical care depends on your history, pregnancy experience, and delivery preferences.

An obstetrician specializes in surgical care, as well as identifying and managing obstetrical and gynecological problems. You might consider an obstetrician if you’ve had a high-risk pregnancy or if you have certain medical conditions. A midwife might be an option for you if you have a lower-risk pregnancy and want to explore a personalized plan with limited medical intervention.

Have you considered who else will be present for delivery in addition to your healthcare team? Your partner, support person, parents, siblings, family members, friends, or older children are all welcome guests. Many new moms hire doulas to help navigate birth preferences, the delivery process, and any shifts in the game plan or new scenarios presented. 

Keep in mind that some hospitals and birth centers, as well as some healthcare providers, limit the number of people in the delivery room. Be sure to check that information ahead of time and notify your loved ones accordingly.

Next, determine the location of your birth. Often, the healthcare provider you choose may determine the location. For example, midwives are usually present at hospitals, birth centers, and home births, but an obstetrician might not be an option if you choose to have a home birth or use a birth center. Speak with your healthcare team and visit various locations to ask questions. Ask about their policies and procedures to help inform your choice.

Hospitals are an excellent choice if you’d like more access to technology and advanced care, but you may be limited by guidelines and policies for certain laboring techniques, medical interventions, and caring for your newborn. Birth centers specialize in labor and delivery. They typically provide more patient-directed care and fewer interventions. Home births can provide you with a comfortable and familiar environment. If you opt to have your baby at home, make sure you find a midwife that you are aligned with and trust. 

Whatever you decide, be sure to discuss your birth preferences with your healthcare provider and be prepared to review and revise your plan at any stage. Be open and flexible to changes that may be necessary to ensure a better birth experience and to protect the health of you and your baby. Attending childbirth classes is an excellent way for expectant parents to learn more about labor and delivery, practice deep breathing exercises, try different birthing positions, and explore a variety of birth options to suit their needs. 


Types of Delivery

Whether you plan on having an unmedicated vaginal birth or scheduling a C-section ahead of time, researching all of the different types of childbirth methods will help you understand what to expect.

Your pregnancy and certain health concerns may help you determine a method ahead of time. For example, C-sections are advised for high-risk pregnancies, problems with the placenta, certain known birth defects, and sideways or breech positioning.

There are two delivery methods: 

  • Vaginal delivery
  • C-section (Cesarean)

Within these two categories, there are a variety of nuances. For instance, you can have a medicated or unmedicated vaginal delivery. Your birthing position may include sitting in a bathtub or lying in a hospital bed. If you have a C-section, you’ll have a variety of decisions to make based on what is safe during and after the surgery, but most medical centers will recommend having your newborn placed on your chest as soon as they’re born for some skin-to-skin time. 

Discuss the different methods with your team and note your preferences, but remember that your health and your baby’s health are the top priority. It is also important to remember that certain healthcare providers may not be able to perform every delivery method requested.


Labor and Delivery

It’s time: your baby is on the way! This is when all of your planning gets put into action. You’ve selected your healthcare provider(s), birthing location, and support team. During this stage, you’ll have a new set of birth preferences to discuss with your team as you move through the stages of labor.


Exploring Your Preferences

Whether or not you opt for medication during delivery, consider which pain management options are right for you. This can include a variety of medications, an epidural, and natural techniques.

In addition to epidurals, pain management options include spinal blocks, opioids, nitrous oxide, and sometimes pudendal blocks. Doulas are also an excellent option to help guide you through delivery and minimize pain by providing coaching assistance and support. 

Other important factors and interventions to consider include the use of an IV or a catheter, episiotomy permissions, internal and external fetal heart rate monitoring, and forceps or vacuum-assisted deliveries.

Oxytocin can be used to induce or augment labor contractions to artificially start the process of labor when your body naturally delays birth. There are a variety of scenarios that may result in your healthcare provider recommending oxytocin. Research oxytocin and other pain management options ahead of your delivery to learn more about how this may impact your birth plan.


Unmedicated birth tips

You may be considering an unmedicated birth. Women have been birthing children this way since the beginning of time, so it’s certainly a feasible option. That said, labor pain will vary from person to person and delivery to delivery, so preparing coping methods and remaining open-minded is key. We recommend researching birthing positions that can help ease discomfort, considering birthing in water, using yoga exercises and a yoga ball to help calm the body and prep for delivery, as well as using mindfulness, visualization, hypnosis, or reframing pain to help you get through the most challenging parts. 

During delivery, some women find that walking and massage help with pain, and some may find that spending time alone or going inward helps create a sense of calm. In the end, regardless of what method you use, remember to listen to your body and give yourself grace in your birthing decisions. 


Advocating for Yourself

Developing a birth plan will help to inform you about the various aspects of delivery and prepare for necessary adjustments along the way. Use this information to advocate for your preferences for labor and delivery. Provide copies of your birth plan to your health care provider(s) and the hospital or birthing center staff. Ensure your delivery team has copies of the plan and is fully briefed on your preferences. Communication is key to enhancing your labor and delivery experience.


What to Expect Postpartum

Postpartum care is also a critical aspect of your birth plan. You will be busy delivering your baby and recovering, so your team will need to know your preferences during this period as well.

Consider whether you want to allow visitors after birth, what foods or snacks you want post-delivery, and how you want to handle pain management. Labor and delivery time fluctuates for a variety of reasons. Once born, your baby will most likely be placed on your chest for some immediate skin-to-skin time. After you’ve had a chance to hold your little one, your healthcare provider will weigh and clean your newborn. In some cases, skin-to-skin immediately after birth may not be possible. While rare, if your healthcare provider has health concerns, they may address those first before determining when it is safe for skin-to-skin time. 

Additional points you can clarify in your birth plan include selecting a person to cut the baby’s umbilical cord or delaying the cord cutting. You can also outline special requests regarding your placenta and cord blood banking. Next, you’ll need to determine how you will feed your baby.


Preparing to Breastfeed After Delivery

Congratulations! You have a healthy baby. Let your nurses and delivery team know whether or not you plan to breastfeed your baby ahead of time. Whether or not you’ve breastfed before, no two babies are alike, so hospitals typically have on-site lactation consultants available to support you through the process.

For more information about breastfeeding, we’ve got a variety of helpful resources and tips on everything from breast milk storage to pumping and how to prepare to pump at work. Our blog also has guides on a variety of breast pumps to find the right one(s) for you. We can even help you determine whether your insurance will cover your breast pump and accessories.


Planning Your Birth Experience

Creating a birth plan is an excellent way to prepare for the labor and delivery process. Thinking through how you want your delivery to go can help prompt you and your support partner(s) discuss expectations and plan for the exciting day. 

Once you’ve landed on your preferences, share copies of your birth plan with your healthcare providers and support team. Keep extra copies in your hospital bag and highlight the instructions most important to you.

Remember, this is YOUR birth experience. You may not be able to control every aspect of labor and delivery, but you can create a more positive experience by educating yourself and communicating your preferences.


About the Author

Nicole Peluso is the manager of lactation services and education for Aeroflow Breastpumps. She is a board certified lactation consultant, certified parenting educator, birth and postpartum doula, La Leche League Leader, and maternity health insurance specialist. She has been in the field of lactation for over 20 years and is the mother of four children.

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.