Birth Preferences vs. Birth Plan

If you've taken a childbirth class or you've started doing some reading on how to prepare for birth, you've probably come across suggestions on how to write a birth plan or how to write out your birth preferences. While birth plan and birth preferences can mean the same thing, I prefer birth preferences because it suggests a more flexible approach. 

I like to think of birth preferences, and however you choose to present them, as a communication tool to introduce your family to the nursing staff and other providers. You've presumably spent lots of time with your primary provider discussing how you'd like to approach your birth or sharing experiences from your past that might influence your birth. However, when you arrive at the hospital or birth center, the nursing staff has never met you. Having your birth preferences written out communicates the important things about you and your family that might not be included in your medical chart.

A birth preferences document is not a road map for your birth. As much as it might put your mind at ease to be able to predict and manage how your birth will unfold, that's just not how babies work. Instead, your birth preferences help clarify and communicate your values, hopes and birth philosophy. Are you hoping to avoid medication? Mention that in your preferences and have a plan for how you'd like to cope with labor or how you'd like to have the conversation about pain medication if the situation should arise. Do you want a code word you can use so you can be control of when that conversation happens? How do you think you'd like the vibe to feel in the birth suite? Should there be elements of fun and levity or do you want it to feel more serene and quiet? Keep in mind that it is 100% ok to change your mind. If you thought you wanted to chat and joke during labor, but in the moment your focus feels more inward, that's completely fine! Your birth preferences are just a general guide. They are not carved in stone. 

When you're thinking about and writing out your birth preferences, reflect more on the approach you'd like to take with your birth rather than the concrete things you'd like to happen. It's important to know what your preferences are for newborn care, etc, but sometimes things don't go according to plan. Instead of simply stating that you would like a vaginal birth, talk about the tools you want to use to achieve that and what you would need to feel more comfortable and safe if that weren't possible. Your approach to birth is a great thing to include because it can extend to many different situations. For example, if you have a strong desire to be an active participant in your birth, that approach is applicable in any scenario regardless of how your birth shakes out. 

That being said, if you find yourself having trouble letting go of certain outcomes or your birth preferences document is looking more like how-to instructions, take some time to reflect on why this might be. Talk to your doula, your partner or your provider about what you might be holding onto or if there are some underlying fears or anxieties that you need to address. 

As you start to develop your birth preferences, remember that birth can present in so many different ways. Even if you don't get some of the things on your list or your birth looks very different than you anticipated, it can still be a satisfying and beautiful experience. 

Maggie Mehr