The Birth Plan Trap

birth plan

By the halfway point in your partner’s pregnancy, someone has probably talked to one or both of you about putting together a “Birth Plan,” basically a wishlist of how she wants the birth to go. A standard birth plan asks questions like the following: 

How do you want the lighting? Bright? Dim?



Lots of walking around or not much movement?

Lots of monitoring the fetus or not much monitoring?

Food/water or IVs?

What kind of nonmedical pain relief? Exercise ball? Massage? Visualization? Tub? Hot/cold?

What kind of medical pain relief? Painkillers? Epidural? Don’t offer?

What should we do if labor is going too slow?

How should pushing happen?

How should a cesarean happen?

..and more; here is a standard checklist; here is one of many exhaustive books on the topic.

What Birth Plans Are Good For

There are good and bad ways to approach a birth plan. They are helpful when a couple uses them to discuss their wishes and preferences for the birth, particularly when it comes to things like who can do what. For example, when Scout was born, I knew I could go with the staff immediately to the warming table and stay with the kiddo, rather than staying with my wife, because we had talked about it when we went through the birth plan. It’s come in handy for friends where mom has called for an epidural and dad knew they didn’t have to sit down and have a fifteen-minute conversation about it, because they had discussed it before and he knew mom was fine with getting an epidural.

The Birth Plan Trap

The birth plan can be a trap if either you or your partner sees it as “the way the birth will go,” and if you’ll have a Bad Time if things do not go To Plan. As the saying goes, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Here, no birth plan survives first contact with your kid. Neither of you can afford to be sweating it if the iPod doesn’t work or the Plan specifically calls for citrus scents but some asshole brought vanilla. Also keep in mind that it needs to be changeable on the fly; if your partner said she wanted massage to help with contractions four months ago but when the big day comes she bites at anyone who touches her, it probably isn’t a good idea to stick to the plan. But when you’re having that conversation I talked about above, check to see whether any of the Plan elements are hard-and-fast rules, so you know how much to push back against your partner when she asks for [thing she said she didn’t want]. The answer probably isn’t ever “always,” but it might be “push back a lot before you cave.”

Used as a tool for conversations and planning, the birth plan is great, but don’t fall into thinking it’s manifest destiny.