Feb 3, 2023 Why You Should Have a Birth Plan

pregnant couple and doctor

Planning ahead can help reduce stress and allow you to relax as your due date draws near.

Pregnant women are faced with many decisions. How and where will they give birth? Will they opt for a scheduled C-section? Should they take childbirth classes? Will they breastfeed? Who, if anyone, would they like in the delivery room with them? Will their child be delivered by an OB/GYN or a midwife? These are just some of the decisions moms-to-be need to make, with or without the input of a partner.

This is where a birth plan can come in handy. Expectant parents are no longer willing to leave anything to chance and prefer to have their plans documented in advance. This helps ensure that the mother’s wishes are known and carried out, when possible, and that things go as smoothly as possible before, during and after childbirth.

Dos And Don'ts of Drafting a Birth Plan

Michael Straker, MD
Michael Straker, MD

A birth plan is a document prepared by or for an expectant mom that details her wishes for her care and her baby’s from pregnancy through delivery and sometimes even until after the baby is born.

“It can be a very helpful tool,” says Michael Straker, MD, Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Clara Maass Medical Center. “For me, a birth plan is very useful in that when labor or the day of delivery comes, I know what a woman’s hopes and wishes are.” And, he adds, preparing a birth plan means there won’t be things a woman forgets when she’s in the throes of labor or regrets afterward.

Dr. Straker recommends that women discuss their medical wishes with their providers before drafting a birth plan to ensure that their plan isn’t so restrictive that it can hinder their care.

“A birth plan can be an opportunity for the doctor and patient to discuss how an induction of labor should be brought about, or what the options are for the second stage of labor,” he says. “That leads to more informed consent and more collaborative decision making.”

While a birth plan can help minimize stress and last-minute decision-making, Dr. Straker says that women should understand that the hospital may not always be able to provide everything in their plan. “For example, a woman might ask for water therapy, or to be able to take a hot shower while she’s in labor. But if waterproof wireless monitoring isn’t available or if staffing prevents the nursing staff from being one-on-one with the patient, as the physician, I can’t change that even though it’s requested in the birth plan,” he says.

A birth plan can include as many details as a mother wants.

She can specify things like a preferred music playlist to listen to during labor, who she’d like to be in the delivery room and who she wants to cut the baby’s umbilical cord.

She can also indicate that she wants skin-to-skin contact with the baby after birth or that her baby should not receive a bottle because she wants to breastfeed exclusively.

“Everyone should understand that plans can change,” says Dr. Straker. “We may not be able to honor everything on the list depending on the situation. Make your birth plan, but trust your doctor. What we always want most is to have good outcomes for moms and babies.”

Should You Choose a Midwife? You Have That Option at CMMC

When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, women have more choices today than ever in terms of how their pregnancies are managed and where and how they give birth. While the use of midwives to help manage pregnancies and assist in deliveries is certainly not new, more women are choosing to use midwives than in the past, and the option has gained widespread mainstream acceptance in recent years.

Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC) began employing midwives in 2020, and their presence has been a boon for the hospital’s obstetricians and patients. “They’re a welcome addition,” says Dr. Straker.

The midwives at CMMC hold a certified nurse midwife (CNM) degree, which is a master’s degree or higher. They’re trained to manage low-risk pregnancies and deliveries on their own, while obstetricians can attend to high-risk patients, surgical deliveries and other medical care. “We’re able to offer slightly more individualized care,” says Angela Dickson-McDowell, CNM.

“The midwife model is designed to let the body do what the body is supposed to do,” says Suzette Gray, CNM, another full-time midwife at CMMC. “Midwives give women a lot of support if they want a natural birth, and they spend time explaining the process.” Gray explains that midwives can spend more time with patients to give labor a chance to progress naturally. They can help position the mother and baby for delivery, help with breathing exercises and allow women more freedom to move around. That approach, she says, can lead to more vaginal deliveries.

For more information about maternity services at Clara Maass Medical Center, call 973-450-2000.