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How important is it really to have a birth plan?

Updated: May 5

Is it worth it do have a birth plan?

There are many different versions available online and there is no set template that you need to use. The key thing is that it is a physical piece of paper that can be handed to your midwife, or anyone other care provider who you come into contact with during birth, which communicates your preferences and what is important to you.


Some people call them birth plans, some people prefer to call them preferences. One reason some people prefer the term birth preferences maybe because the term ‘plan’ may feel too rigid for someone wishing to avoid feeling disappointed if their birth takes a different route to their ideal ‘plan’.

So why plan something that I have no control over?

In birth there are things that you can’t control- like when labour will start naturally….. or how big your baby will be…. but you have more options than you might first realise, that you do have control over that will impact your birth. All of these different options will come with their own benefits and risks, as well as other possible alternatives. Some of these decisions may be easy for you to make… and some may take a bit more thought.


Babies do not always follow birth plans but by communicating your preferences to your care providers by writing them down in advance we can reduce the number of decisions you need to make whilst in labour.  


I hear a lot of ladies say that they’re not going to write a birth plan because they want to just go with the flow, and I was keen to go with the flow in birth as well. But writing a birth plan will actually make ‘going with the flow’ easier for you. I’m not here to persuade anyone to write a birth plan if they don’t wish to but you may want to read one of many benefits below before you make this decision.


How can a birth plan allow you to 'go with the flow' in labour?

Birth is a process that is controlled by the hormones released from ancient parts of our brain. The same parts of our brain that are similar to other mammals. During birth we want the ‘thinking’ part of our brain to quieten down, to allow these ancients parts to focus on releasing the hormones we need for birth. This is a reversal of how the brain operates in everyday life. Someone talking to us during birth we know activates the thinking part of our brain, which could slow down the release of our birthing hormones. By writing a birth plan, we can reduce the number of questions our midwife needs to ask us during labour and allows us to work with our birthing hormones instead of against them.


(My antenatal courses also teach you how to work with our birthing hormones and muscles, which you can find out more about here in this ten minute introductory video!)

But baby's don't always stick to the plan?

One possible downside is that babies do not always stick to the plan. However on your plan you can still communicate your preferences for these different situations. Someone who wishes to have a homebirth, can still express their preferences for an induction, or a caesarean on their birth plan. You can do this all one on sheet of paper, or some people write out a different birth plan for each scenario and have a plan A, B and C.


I’d prefer to look through and explore my options with a clear mind, with a hot tea in hand, when there’s no pressure on me. Instead of under the pressure of being in labour. Like I mentioned before, we want to be quietening down the thinking part of our brain during labour, so this is not an ideal time to be taking on new information or making decisions.  

Just like when we plan any home improvement- like an extension. Anyone that has had any building work done knows there are going to be things that come up that mean we will need to adjust our plan, or rethink parts of it. Some work may take longer than expected. That doesn't mean we wouldn't write out our plan to begin with.

Will my midwife go through my birth plan with me?

From my personal experience, with my first I had a different midwife at every appointment, so when I was asked if I had completed my birth plan, I hadn’t, so I was shown what page I had to complete in my notes before my next appointment. Which I did with the help of the google, but we didn’t go through it. And with my second, this time I had done my birth plan in advance. My midwife, who was lovely and I saw at every appointment, did look over it, and whilst she was very supportive of me having a home birth, we didn’t spend any time discussing anything, and in hindsight I would have liked to have known more about my options for an induction and caeasaren and express my preferences for those as well.


Midwives in my local area are starting to spend more time on this and our local trust here in mid and south essex have shared a document called Personalised Care Plan to support these conversations.

When should I start my birth plan?

Midwives usually start to look at these with you around 34 weeks. But there are things that you can do in advance to be more prepared for this appointment-

  •  Read a book (if you have time!) there’s lots of different once out there but here’s one that I would recommend.

  • Search online (but do check to see if what you are reading is relevant for the UK)

  • Attend a full antenatal course.

  • Attend my FREE Birth Preferences Online Workshop

Birth Preferences Online Workshop-

One hour where we will cover what to include on your birth plan- where you will also receive a template along with editable example statements for you to personalise, plus a downloadable PDF guide signposting you to where you can find out more evidence-based information to support you in your decision making process. 


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