The birth of your baby. It doesn’t matter how many children you have, where you deliver or how – every birth is completely unique.
Why look at a doula birth plan?
Having a doula is about putting you, and your birth experience, in the main frame. But alongside the birth itself, meeting up with your doula, birth plan prepping and talking things through, can help ensure your preferences are heard, held and reflected in your baby’s arrival. A skilled doula and birth keeper will ask the right questions, helping empower you to feel strong and confident in your plans and choices.
How to write a birth plan
Alex Burner, founder of The Original Birth Connection, is a mum of three, step-mum to four and experienced birth keeper and doula, with a decade of experience. A self-confessed all-round birth geek, she has an MSc in Health and Development, with a specialism in Anthropology of Maternal Health, and is an antenatal teacher, and doula mentor.
We caught up with Alex for her steer on one of our most requested resources – a doula’s birth plan, plus an expert Q&A on all things birth work. Alex’s expert, mother-centred insight and planning covers:
- Scene-setting, and introductions (including your past experiences)
- Birth principles – the key aspects you’d like front and centre of your plan
- Comforts and pain management (and how to talk about your options)
- Interventions (and how to talk about your options)
- Post-birth care
- Prepping for a C-Section
- Essential details (from important phone numbers to details of care for your older children)
Keen to birth with Alex? For experienced, wrap-around support through pregnancy, birth and your postnatal period, learn more about Alex’s tailored options.
From birth and birth plans to fourth trimester support, it’s continuity of care that’s proven to improve our birthing experience. We also love The Original Birth Connection’s Insta hub, for amazing content around birth and the postnatal experience.
Writing your birth plan: a doula’s template
So, what should your birth plan look like?
Really, it can take any form you like. But to be effective, your plan needs to be clear, and accessible. Aim to:
- make it as easy to follow as possible, and
- have at least three copies printed out, and in the hands of those supporting you
This will give your birth plan, preferences and priorities the strongest voice in the room, when you’re zoning in and focused on the experience at hand. It also empowers your birthing partner or companion to advocate for you, when needed.
Don’t keep it in your hospital bag
In the moment, a birth plan has a habit of staying in the hospital bag, or on a side table, rather than being read through by your midwife on arrival.
This is particularly true for a ‘fast’, or ‘faster’ birth, where things might be progressing quite quickly. Keep it to one or two sides of A4, really clear and visual, and get your partner or companion to put it at the front of your hospital notes, and have it to hand while you’re birthing. Bonus points if they keep referring back to it, too, and chatting it through with your midwife.
Here are the specific sections I recommend including on your birth plan hand-out.
1 Scene setting, and introductions
Right at the top, I get mums and birthing people to set out a few quick lines about the birth they’d like, and any previous birth experience, or important details about their journey to parenthood.
For example, here’s a quick template of the kind of info you could provide:
Hi, I’m AJ. I had an augmentation/induction and episiotomy with my first baby, who arrived at 35+5 weeks. These are two things I’d really like to avoid unless absolutely vital. This new baby was conceived via IVF, and my first language is Spanish.
This sets out your story so far, and any key preferences. And while details like IVF might make no difference to your birthing physiology, they can be important threads in your parenthood tapestry. Knowing these can help your midwife or birthing team understand you, your perspective and your plan.
2 Birth principles
Building out your birth plan, this section will set out your key preferences. From where you give birth to who you’d like present, make it so clear that a stranger on the street could read it and understand. This is the place to focus on your preferences for:
- location – are you planning for a home birth, midwife-led unit, labour ward, etc?
- who you’d like to be present – your partner, companion, a doula, and anyone else? Are you happy for a medical student to be present, for example?
- the kind of birth you’d like – for example, natural, with hands on care, or medically managed, with an interpreter present
- environment – from low lighting to use of music, and specific preferences around interruptions, respecting your preference for quietness or certain language you’d prefer to be kept out of the space (some women ask for ‘progress’ chat to be kept in the corridor, for example) – use your plan to put everyone in the picture
- consent – if you’d like your care team to seek permission before any intervention, this is a good space to make that clear
- vibe – as vague as it sounds, this is important. They say ‘your vibe attracts your tribe’, and it certainly can help to draw on those crucial hormones of oxytocin beta-endorphins, to relax and thrive in the birth process. And most midwives will know exactly what you’re getting at! For example, you could just say:
In my last birth, I felt quite rushed and had very little discussion before my induction and episiotomy. Please let me take my time, trusting my instincts and body as much as possible.
- specific requirements – your care team should be fully on board with these, but make sure you include any specific medical, spiritual, cultural or personal requirements clearly, at the start of your birth plan
3 Comforts and pain management
Anything specific you’d really like to try or do again? Set your preferences out here, bearing in mind options like:
- hypnobirthing (if you’ve taken a course in this, let your care team know, so that they can support you from the outset)
- freedom to move around
- water birth
- freedom to eat and drink
- opioid pain relief
- gas and air
You may have specific preferences about the interventions used or recommended, during your birth. Use this space to set these out clearly – for example, that you’d prefer to try acupuncture, prior to induction, and covering your preferences around:
- syntocinon augmentation (using a synthetic hormone to induce labour)
- breaking your waters
- foetal monitoring
- consent for internal exams
- guided or hands-off pushing
- assisted delivery (some women choose to state a preference for C-section over forceps/vacuum delivery, for example)
These are just a few – chat through with your partner, care team or doula birth plan preferences and help them get to know what you’re aiming for.
5 Post-birth care
Your baby’s here – well done you, mama! Time for you to rest up, but your birth plan and team will still be hard at work. The first few hours post-birth are just as important as what comes before, setting the tone for you and your baby’s next chapter together.
Preferences to state here might include/focus on:
- how/whether you’d like your baby’s gender to be revealed
- who you’d like to pass you your baby (or whether you’d like to catch the baby yourself!)
- options for optimal cord clamping
- who cuts the cord
- skin-to-skin time
- washing/wiping your baby
- your post-birth environment (dimly lit, quiet, private, etc)
- birthing your placenta
- placenta encapsulation
- Vitamin K injection preferences
- establishing breastfeeding
Again, these are just a few aspects to bear in mind – your plan will be unique to you. But a doula birth plan should provide a strong foundation, and lots of room for discussion.
6 Prepping for a C-section
I won’t go into lots of detail on C-sections here (look out for our follow-up C-section plan, coming soon!), but I do encourage mums to prepare for a C-section. This means that if a C-section becomes part of you and your baby’s journey, you can come at it from the same strong, empowered place you’ve used, to build out your birth plan.
A C-section may become part of the flow rather last-minute, so be as clear as possible about your preferences, using this space to cover:
- arrangements allowing for skin-to-skin
- your environment (music preferences, etc)
- seeing what’s happening (some mums prefer the screen to be lowered, for example)
- vaginal seeding preferences (swabbing your baby with a small amount of your vaginal microbiome, after birth)
- arrangements for the placenta
- your post-birth preferences, in section 5 above
That’s the plan. Now, over to Alex for her expert take on our community’s questions below, and experienced doula’s perspective.
Can a doula help me write my birth plan? If so, when in my pregnancy and how?
Absolutely! One of a doula’s key roles is to help you consider your choices when giving birth, and support you in those choices. So writing a birth plan is a huge part of this process, as it gives you the time and space to look at all the information that’s relevant to you, and your pregnancy, and get it down on paper.
How can/should I structure my birth plan?
When writing a birth plan we tend to focus primarily on a client’s ideal scenario – on the premise of ‘where our thoughts go, so does our energy’. However this doesn’t mean we ignore all the “what-if’ scenarios.
When planning a home birth, for example, we need to think about environment, who will be with us, where, what we’ll need, the things we’re happy to accept as part of our care, and those things which are a definite no-no.
How can I ensure my birth plan gets read (and respected)?
Always have a copy of your plans in your notes, and make sure your birth partner (and doula, if you’re having one) have not only read it but understand all the nuances it involves. Ensure your birth partner or doula shows the plan to your midwives, when you arrive at your place of birth or when they arrive in your home.
A good care team will take the time to read your plan!
A clear structure really helps: Any triggers or main points/concerns need to be listed at the top in bold. Ensure you’ve covered environment, and the things you would like and would not like for your labour and birth, and in the immediate postnatal period.
Be visual, if that helps – there are some amazing infographics out there you can use – and don’t write a four-page A4 essay, as it wont get read.
This isn’t my first baby – how can I communicate with my team about my previous births?
Giving your care team context is really important! So list these things at the top or on the front of your plan. Don’t be afraid to use infographics. Your previous experiences will have a big impact on what you want your current birth to look like, so it’s important your care team understands this.
How can I state my key birth preferences?
Let your care team know exactly what you want. You don’t have to explain a preference, if you don’t want to – the fact it’s in black and white means your team should respect your wishes.
Be clear on environment (low lights, quiet voices, smells, music, trigger words or phrases, words or phrases you want used – e.g ‘surges’ instead of ‘contractions’), the what (vaginal examinations, non-medicalised and medicalised pain management, monitoring of baby, freedom of movement, breaking your waters, guided pushing, optimal cord-clamping, skin to skin, augmentation of labour with medication, eating and drinking, episiotomy, managed or physiological 3rd stage).
Your wellbeing during your labour is of primary importance. The tools you want to use to manage your experience should be clearly outlined – are you hypnobirthing? Do you want to be in the pool? Would you prefer music or silence, – massage, movement, aromatherapy?
Can my doula help me plan for a hospital transfer, change of plan or C-section?
Yes – this is vitally important when choosing your doula. Take time to consider all possible scenarios, and arrangements, from who will look after your other children, to taking care of any household tasks that need attention. And, do you have a hospital bag packed, and where can your birth partner or doula find this?
What can you take with you, to help maintain your oxytocin levels? Is there something familiar, or which smells like home/your birth partner? An eye mask and headphones to block out the ambulance environment or outside world might be useful – a doula can help to have all this to hand.
If you’re planning a maternal-request Caesarean, you have lots of options to make the experience more holistic. You can choose music, low lighting, perhaps to have the screen down or to have a clear screen, or to be talked through what’s happening, immediate skin-to-skin, delayed or optimal cord clamping, ECG dots placed on your back instead of your front to facilitate skin to skin, for example. And would you like to consider vaginal seeding?
You will have fewer options, if you have an emergency Caesarean. But consider the things you can do to empower that experience – can you and your doula still use breathwork, or hypnobirthing techniques for example?
Final key details – a doula’s checklist
- Who would you like to be at your birth? You’ll get more choice over this if birthing at home, but do set it out on your birth plan, with your doula fully up-to-speed!
- Have you worked out who will have your other kids, walk the dog, feed the cat, etc?
- Have you created a postpartum plan and made your postpartum space at home?
This could include something like a basket with nappies, muslins, snacks and fluids for you, a phone charger, and change of clothes for the baby. Keeping these things together in one space makes it easier for you to access them in those early days, when you’ll be in bed being cared for by family and maybe your postpartum doula. Who’s going to be taking your other kids to school, walking the dog, cleaning the house and feeding you?
- Who can/is there time to stock the freezer or buy in a postnatal meal delivery service, etc, before baby arrives?
Amazing insight, from an incredible birth keeper, and doula. Connect with Alex today, to hear more about her tailored birth and postnatal support packages.