As you prepare to welcome your new baby, it’s natural to make plans. You think about what to name the baby, how to decorate the nursery and maybe even what they’ll be like when they grow up. You’ll also want to think about the big day, what your labor and delivery preferences might be and how to best prepare. This is where a birth plan can come in. Below, we explain what a birth plan involves, what to think about as you make one and more.

What is a birth plan?

A birth plan is a simple document where you can write down all of your preferences for labor, delivery and postpartum care. It’s not required, but it helps communicate your wishes with the team caring for you in advance, so that you don’t have to explain things in the moment.

It’s important to note that surprises do happen. Even the best laid plans can take an unexpected turn. Your doctor and nurses will do their best to honor your birth plan while making sure you and baby are safe, healthy and comfortable.

When do I create a birth plan?

If you already have preferences about how you’d like to give birth, you can start making a birth plan as early as your first trimester. But take your time and don’t rush to send in your plan, in case your preferences change. Just make sure your care team has your plan at least a month before your due date.

A doctor discussing a birth plan with a pregnant patient.

How to make a birth plan

A birth plan can include information about who you want to deliver your baby, how you’d like to deliver and which labor pain relief options you’re planning on using. But it’s also a way to let your care team know about your wishes for postpartum care for you and baby, your delivery concerns and other information that might be helpful.

Who would I like to deliver my baby?

One of the first decisions you make after you find out you’re pregnant is who you’d like to deliver your baby and care for you during your pregnancy. You can choose an OB-GYN or a midwife. They both practice evidence-based care, provide individualized care for you and baby, and promote healthy, vaginal births whenever possible. Part of your decision may lie in where you'd like to have your baby, as you’ll want to choose a hospital birth center where your OB-GYN or midwife can deliver at. Learn more about what to expect when you choose an OB-GYN or when you choose a midwife.

What types of birth can I choose from?

When planning for giving birth, it’s important to consider which option best matches your vision. There are a few types of birth to choose from. These are some of the most common:

Vaginal birth

A vaginal birth is what most people traditionally think of when they picture labor and delivery. This type of delivery is when you push the baby out of the birth canal without surgical intervention.

Vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC)

If you’ve had a cesarean section (C-section) with a past pregnancy, it’s still possible to choose to deliver vaginally. Up to 80% of women who try a VBAC successfully have vaginal deliveries. Talk to your OB-GYN or midwife if you’d like to know if VBAC is a good option for you.

Water birth

During a water birth, you labor and give birth inside a shallow tub of warm water. Some women report that this has helped them manage pain and stress during labor. Midwives typically support water births, but it’s also possible to have an OB-GYN guide you through labor and delivery. Many hospitals support water births so you can be comfortable while having quick access to medical help, if needed.

Cesarean section

A C-section isn’t generally included in a birth plan. This is because a C-section usually isn’t planned very far ahead of time – it’s chosen when your care team thinks it’s the safest option for you and baby, which may only become clear closer to or during delivery.

An unplanned C-section may feel like a big step away from your birth plan, but rest assured that if you need one, your care team will still do their best to honor the rest of your wishes.

How can I manage my pain?

It’s no secret that labor is painful. Thinking about how you’ll manage the pain and stay as comfortable as possible during labor and delivery is a large part of your birth plan. However, keep in mind that things can change quickly during labor. No matter what you plan for, it’s important to keep an open mind to other forms of pain management, whether you’re planning on a natural birth or an epidural.

Non-medicated pain management

Many women choose not to use medicine during their delivery. Instead, they manage their pain in other ways. Focused breathing techniques, like breathing in a rhythm, can help distract you from labor pains. Moving around can also help soothe. You can try walking around the room, changing your position or even bouncing on a rubber birth ball. Spending the early parts of labor in a warm bath or shower can also help alleviate pain by relaxing your muscles.

A technique called “hypnobirthing” is becoming a more popular way to manage pain without medicines. This type of pain management uses hypnosis, a guided state of relaxation, to block out the pain with the power of suggestion. Hypnosis can be used to replace fear and the anticipation of pain with thoughts of a safe, gentle birth. Women can take classes to learn how to hypnotize themselves with the use of affirmations, visualization and deep breathing techniques.

Medical pain management

You can also ask your doctor, midwife or nurses for medicines to help manage your pain. They know that labor is hard work and want to keep you as comfortable as possible.

An epidural is a common and highly effective choice for women. This is when pain in the lower body is blocked by placing a small catheter in the lower back. Other common options include inhaling nitrous oxide or getting an intrathecal narcotic (ITN) shot. Your doctor or midwife can answer all your questions about available options and recommend what might work best for you.

Other comfort measures

Whether you choose medical or non-medicated pain management, you can include other ways to stay comfortable, such as having equipment like an exercise ball or squat bar to help you change positions. Many women like to have music playing in the delivery room, some even make delivery playlists full of their favorite songs. Aromatherapy with lavender, peppermint or other soothing smells can help you relax. Even something as simple as someone massaging your shoulders, back, hands or feet can offer comfort and relieve pressure.

Who will support me during labor?

Having a partner or loved one cheering you on during delivery is proven to have a positive effect on childbirth. If you’d like someone in the delivery room with you, write down their name and contact information in case you or the care team needs to reach out to them.

If you want more than one person in the room, check with the birth center or hospital to see if there’s a limit on how many people can be with you.

Doulas are common choices for labor support. A doula is a birth coach who can provide physical and emotional support during your pregnancy. While they can’t deliver baby, they can be by your side throughout your entire labor. If you’d like a doula to support you during labor, you’ll usually need to arrange it ahead of time. At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, your doctor or midwife can help connect you with a network of doulas if you’re not sure where to find one.

What arrangements do I need to make?

Planning for the big day is more than just choosing the “whens,” “whos” and “hows” of delivery. Don’t forget about the other small details you need to coordinate. These include packing the baby bag, making childcare arrangements if you have other children, deciding who you want to be in the waiting room and whether you want visitors to stop by.

Do I need to plan for postpartum care?

Yes, making some plans for caring for your newborn is a key part of a birth plan. You should consider if you’re planning to breastfeed or use formula, whether you want your baby to get routine vaccines, or circumcision plans if you’re having a boy. You can ask your doctor or midwife for more information about postpartum care.

Don’t forget that you’ll need time to recover after giving birth. So, as you make your plan, think about how you’d like to be supported. This could be asking friends to help handle household chores, joining a group for new parents, learning more about breast milk donations or scheduling some follow-up appointments for you and baby.

Expect the unexpected

No matter how much you plan, it’s important to remember that labor evolves and may bring changes to your birth plan. Your care team will do their best to honor your plan while providing exceptional care for you and baby.

At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, we do our best to help you have your birth, your way. Our women’s health team is made up of expert OB-GYNs, midwives, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals who can guide you through your delivery. Even if things don’t go exactly to plan, our team will make the health of you and your baby the top priority.

Free birth plan template

For more help writing your plan, download our free plan template.