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Have a Birth Plan? That’s Great – but Be Flexible

January 03, 2022

Your birth plan, crafted in partnership with your doctor or midwife, outlines your ideal delivery experience. But labor and delivery -- from the first contractions to holding your newborn -- can be full of surprises. That’s why it’s important to be flexible. 

There are many potential scenarios that can occur during childbirth. 

A birth plan can help you become more well-informed and involved in making key decisions instead of having to weigh your options while in labor. Often, your OB-GYN will provide a packet as a guide, or you can read about birth plans on your hospital’s website or other online sources approved by your doctor.

The Benefits of a Birth Plan

While not a necessity, birth plans encourage women to reflect on their priorities surrounding childbirth, empowering them to take an active role in their medical care and consider what will make them the most comfortable. 

New parents can personalize everything from the music played during delivery to the types of pain management used during labor. These documents are help for the on-call physician if your regular provider is unavailable, so be sure to include a copy in your hospital bag. 

What’s in a Birth Plan?

A birth plan answers questions about preferences surrounding each stage of childbirth, including: 


  • What kind of setting is optimal during labor? Are the lights dimmed? Is music playing?

  • What are your preferred support tools, such as a birthing ball or chair?

  • Which medical intervention preferences, such breaking the water bag or using Pitocin to induce or speed up contractions, do you prefer?

  • What are your pain management preferences (epidural versus alternative pain relief options such as breathing exercises and massage)?  


  • Who do you want to support you during delivery? This can include a spouse, family member, midwife, doula or even a friend. In the event of a Cesarean section (C-section) who will accompany you in the operating room?

  • Does your partner want to cut the umbilical cord?

  • Do you plan to donate or bank cord blood?

Postpartum Care

  • If you need to be separated from your newborn, who will accompany the baby?

  • What are your views on circumcision?

  • Do you plan to have your infant in your room or use the nursery?

  • Do you prefer to bottle or breastfeed? 

You’re In Control — Kind Of

The most important element in any plan is flexibility. Trust that your medical team will do their best to honor your requests, but it’s important to be kind to yourself if you are not able to achieve your exact birth plan. Understand that while you would like maintain control, the baby and the uterus are often the drivers of the delivery. 

When it comes to labor, it’s “power-passenger-pelvis,” which means the amount you are contracting during labor determines the path forward. If the cervix isn’t dilating, your physician may discuss ways to get those contractions going. It may involve Pitocin or breaking the bag of water, which some patients are initially opposed to. Another reason to deviate would be if a patient plans for a vaginal delivery, but a C-section becomes necessary. In all instances, focus is on how you and your baby are tolerating labor. The health and safety of both mother and baby are the top priority. 

Some women prefer to relax during the final weeks of pregnancy and go with the flow. For others, understanding the options available and the possible need to deviate from the expected can help alleviate pre-delivery anxiety. 

Whichever route you choose, it’s important to understand that birth plans are not binding agreements but a launching point for communication with your practitioner and a guide for your hospital team.

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