Once you start making your way to third with your eyes on the home plate, you start getting serious about how you picture your child’s birth. Even if you know you're having a Cesarean or you’re for sure getting an epidural, you need to pull the entire picture together. Who is allowed in the room with you? Are you going to cut the cord right away? What about music or aromatherapy? Do you want family to wait a certain amount of time before coming up to visit? These are all things you can think about as you head toward D-Day.
Early to active labor. Early labor is when you begin to feel the first few contractions, like, “Wait, was that a contraction? Yay!” Most women decide to stay at home for a while, at least until things get real. Once you start to feel the contractions getting serious, grab your hospital bag (click here for a list of what to pack) and head out the door. But wait, who is going to let the dog out? You have no clue how long this is going to take! You should have neighbors or friends on call who have access to your home and notify them.
If you have older kids and labor calls your name at 3 a.m., do you have someone who can stay with them while you’re at the hospital? It’s important to have neighbors you can count on to give family members enough time to get to your house. Whatever your setup is, start talking to people now.
Active labor into transition. This part of labor can progress at varying speeds, sometimes you blast straight through active labor (4 cm to 7 cm) and end up at the pushing stage. During this time, you need to clearly communicate with the hospital staff about what you want. Chances are, you’re not going to be very polite or articulate. That’s OK. You are about to push a human being out of your lady parts. This where the birth plan really comes into play.
- Do you want an epidural? 100 percent, absolutely, yes. Let them know right away because sometimes the anesthesiologist is off helping other patients and can’t get to you immediately. Perhaps, you really don’t want one, but you’re open to it if things get tough. Let the staff know this, and they can help you decide. If you really don’t want one, your labor partner better be prepared! Click here to help dad prepare for baby, too!
- Do you want fluids via IV or do you plan to hydrate with ice chips or water? Talk to your care provider about this to best understand why an IV would be necessary. Most hospitals do not allow the laboring mother to eat or drink during labor in case she needs to be rushed in for emergency surgery. You know your body best, so think about this one.
- Do you have a playlist or some essential oils you want to use? These items should be packed in your hospital bag ahead of time. You labor partner should know what to do with these. A nurse can always take over, so write down which playlist you want so she doesn’t press play on “Bedroom Grooves” instead of “Here Comes Baby.”
- Have you considered using a tub, shower, birthing ball or stool, among other labor assisting tools? You can take a tour of your hospital and find out what options are available to you. Talk with the staff about how long it takes to fill the tub or if you can step into the shower with a gown on and so forth.
- What are you going to wear? You are probably able to wear your own version of a hospital gown. Sometimes moms will opt for a sports bra or a cami top, a loose fitting nightgown or pool/beach coverup. Again, check with your hospital about their policies on this.
It’s baby time! When baby is ready to make his or her debut, things are going to happen fast. You need to let your doctor or midwife know that you want to immediately hold the baby or if you want the cord cutting delayed. Do you want them to stitch you up without numbing medication? Or what if the doctor says, “Hey, I need to do an episiotomy,” how do you respond? Labor can take a sharp left or flip upside down and around, totally finagling your plan. Prioritize a few things and be ready to accept changes in the moment. Click here to read what one Resident Mom wishes she knew during her baby's birth.
- Are you opting for Kangaroo care or do you prefer a wash and swaddle? Immediately after the baby is delivered, you can hold him or her against your bare skin. This is called Kangaroo care. You have about 10 to 15 minutes before the placenta comes out, so most moms will use this time to bond with the baby. If you prefer, the nurses can clean up your baby and hand him or her to you in a perfectly swaddled bundle. Not every birth will have the option of the mother holding the child right afterward, so ask your care provider how those situations would arise.
- Cord cutting: Who is doing it and how long do you want to wait? There is evidence that delaying the cord clamping will allow the remaining oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to get to the baby. This timing is a usually a couple of minutes at most.
- What vaccines and medical treatment is your baby receiving? Hospitals will test your baby’s blood via a heel prick. They will also administer a vitamin K shot, some eye “goop” or drops to protect the eyes from infection after coming through the birth canal, and eventually there will be hearing tests, an APGAR test and more.
>> Read more on hospital procedures: Prep Your Wallet for Prenatal Care and Delivery
In order to start to make sense of all of this information, talk with your care provider about what the baby will need during the first 24 hours after birth. Take a tour of your hospital or call the labor and delivery unit to ask questions about what you can wear, if they have tubs, showers, birthing balls, stools and whether you can eat or drink. Once you collect all of these pieces, imagine how you want you birth to progress. Throw in some hiccups like a long labor or a big baby, an uncooperative cervix, a drop in blood pressure, and so forth. Are you OK with the responses to these changes?
Meanwhile, begin developing your plan on paper by using this Birth Plan: (Click here for the downloadable PDF)