With SMH Childbirth Educator Janis Medford, RN, BSN
Each childbirth experience is as unique as the baby it brings into the world.
And while childbirth is unpredictable, you can ensure your labor-and-delivery experience goes as smoothly as possible by being prepared and knowing what your options are. How can you do that? By creating a written birth plan in the months before baby’s expected arrival.
What is a 'Birth Plan'?
A birth plan is an effective communication tool allowing expectant parents to share important information with their healthcare team — their preferences, goals and expectations for before, during and after labor and delivery. The process of creating a written birth plan also gives mom-to-be and her support person an opportunity to research and discuss their options and wishes.
There is no right or wrong birth plan — but the more information it includes, the more effective it is. When you arrive at the hospital, your labor likely will have begun and your energy will be focused on contractions, not on communicating your labor preferences to others.
For a birth plan example and checklist from SMH, click here.
What’s In a Birth Plan?
Write a few sentences about yourself and your support person.
How you’d like the room to look and feel
For your labor and delivery experience, you may want to bring: battery-operated candles (or just dim the room lights as desired); an aromatherapy diffuser with your preferred essential oils; your own labor music playlist (many mothers enjoy having one fun playlist and two relaxation playlists).
Labor support / pain relief preferences
While you’re in labor, your nurse will suggest various labor positions for your comfort and to help baby get in the best birthing position. All Sarasota Memorial labor nurses are trained in labor support, including labor positioning. Ask your nurse how your support person can best assist and encourage you during labor and birth. Comfort measures such as cold washcloth to back of neck, ice chips, popsicles, lollipops, chap stick, or a small battery-operated fan can all help to relax mom.
In your birth plan, you should include whether or not you want to use medication during labor such as nitrous oxide, IV medication or an epidural. You may also opt to hire a birthing doula for your labor.
Delivering at a ‘Baby Friendly’ Hospital
Sarasota Memorial Hospital-Sarasota Campus was designated as a Baby Friendly Hospital in 2017. For families delivering at SMH, that means you can expect your birth experience to involve the practices that Baby Friendly designated hospitals must provide, including:
- Uninterrupted skin-to-skin time until baby’s first feeding.
- Breastfeeding support from nurses highly trained in lactation management. At SMH-Sarasota, all nurses in Women and Children’s Services are certified and hold the credentials CBC, CLC or IBCLC.
- Prioritized rooming-in, which means babies are not routinely separated from their mothers.
- Delayed newborn bath and other procedures, in order to support mother-baby bonding and feeding.
- Education on best practices like feeding on demand and avoiding early pacifier use and bottle feeding of breastfeeding babies.
If you plan to deliver at a hospital that is not Baby Friendly designated, decide what from the list above is important to you and be sure to include those preferences in your written birth plan.
Know Your Options
When starting your birth plan, take time to really think about what’s important to you, what would make you most relaxed and what you want for your newborn.
- Talk to your friends, other mothers, your mother, grandmother or your OB doctor/midwife about their experiences.
- Familiarize yourself with the hospital where you’re planning to deliver your baby. What policies are in place? What are the hospital’s standard practices?
- Read everything you can about options for your labor and birth experience. For convenient access to reliable information on pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding and newborn care, download the SMH YoMingo Baby App; click here to get started.
- Educate yourself by attending an online or in-person class focused on childbirth. Take childbirth education classes at the hospital where you’ll be delivering. SMH-Sarasota currently offers an online orientation and tour, as well as in-person and virtual classes for expectant parents; click here for more information.
- Check out some sample birth plans (many templates can be found online, including this one created by SMH’s Maternity Services team: SMH Birth Plan Example.
As you learn more about labor and birth, you’ll likely develop birth preferences. Having these preferences in writing allows your labor team to include them in your care and provide the birth experience you desire.
For example, there are many comfort measures that can be beneficial during your labor. Some mothers prefer to deliver without medication — instead using labor positioning and relaxation techniques — while others request nitrous oxide, IV medication or an epidural, and others still are not sure what they’d like. You don’t have to decide before birth, and if you do, you can change your mind later.
As your labor progresses, sometimes changes to your birth plan may be needed. Be flexible. Safety for mother and baby are always the top priority.
What Do I Do with the Final Birth Plan?
Once you’ve completed you birth plan, we recommend printing 3 copies. Take one to your OB doctor or midwife to review during one of your prenatal visits. The other 2 copies should be stored in your go-bag for the hospital; your support person should hand one copy to your labor nurse upon arrival at the hospital, and the other copy is an extra for you, in case you want to refer to it.
To learn more about labor, delivery and postpartum care at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, use the following links:
Sarasota Memorial NICU
SMH Childbirth Education classes
SMH Baby App
Pregnancy & Parenting Tips from SMH Experts
Having Your Baby at SMH: What to Expect Video
Having Your Baby at SMH Brochure