A birth plan can be an incredibly useful tool that makes it easier to communicate with your caregivers, or it can be a worthless piece of paper and a big waste of time!

Here are our tips for making your birth plan really work for you.

Use your draft birth plan to check whether your caregivers are a good match for you. Your draft plan can get a dialogue going with your caregiver. If you are finding, however, that he or she is not comfortable with many of the points you wanted to put into your plan, you may need to find a caregiver who is a better match for you and who shares your views, or you may need to decide to accept your caregiver’s philosophy and not rely on a birth plan. It is usually not possible to use a birth plan to “make” your caregivers agree to things they are not comfortable doing. For instance, if you don’t want an episiotomy but your doctor usually cuts them for most women, it is unlikely a birth plan will make your doctor change his practice. See also our pages on choosing a caregiver and questions to ask your caregiver, and on choosing a place of birth.

Once you feel you have a good mutual understanding with your caregivers, your birth plan takes on its second role as a record of your intentions that the medical staff can refer to. There are always unexpected things that come up during labor. Keep in mind that your birth plan is a guide, not a rigid blueprint.

If you have found a good match in your caregiver and your place of birth, you will be more likely to find your birth plan still works and is not “tossed out the window” at the first opportunity.

When writing your plan, remember your ABC’s:

Assertive

Remember to keep your language assertive – polite but clearly stating what you want. Use phrases like “I am planning” and “I would like” rather than “if it is ok” or “I would prefer”.

Brief

Keep it short. If you need to spell out a long list of points, you may not be with the right caregiver. If most of the things you want aren’t things your caregiver is used to doing (in which case you don’t need to put them in a birth plan!), you are unlikely to get them. For maximum effectiveness, keep your birth plan to a single page.

Clear

Be specific. Avoid words and phrases such as “not unless necessary” or “keep to a minimum.” What one person thinks is “necessary” is not what another does. What one person defines as the minimum is not what the next person does. Instead, use numbers or specific situations, for example: “I am happy to have 20 minutes of electronic monitoring and if all is well then intermittent monitoring every hour for five minutes after that” or “I am happy to have a vaginal examination on arrival in hospital and after that every four hours or on my request.”