02/08/2017 08:48 EST | Updated 02/08/2017 08:48 EST

Flexible Birth And Postpartum Planning: Expect The Unexpected

Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
Newborn babies wearing chicken costumes to celebrate the Chinese New Year of Rooster are pictured at the nursery room of Paolo Chockchai 4 Hospital, in Bangkok, Thailand January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Have you written a birth plan?

Such a seemingly simple question can send expectant parents into a frenzy. Do they need a birth plan? What should be on it? Will the doctors and nurses follow it? The idea of having a birth plan is a sound one. How else will the staff know what your preferences are? In practice though, a birth plan is more complicated that it might first appear.

While this question is a favourite in online parenting groups and among friends, it is one that is falling out of favour in much of the birth world. Many doulas, midwives, doctors, and childbirth educators are recommending that families leave the birth plan at home, or not worry about writing one at all. Generally, a conversation with your nurse and care provider on the day of birth will be more effective than handing them a paper copy.

What can you plan for?

The truth is that having a baby is one of the most unpredictable events of your life. The timing, the experience, the method, and even most of the details can happen at any time. "Game Day" decisions are common, and an important factor to consider. When families make plans for very specifics ideas and outcomes, they can struggle if those things do not come to pass.

If you do a search for 'birth plan', you will see website after website with links, downloads, and suggestions. However, many of the things on those lists are based on older, American, information and do not apply to Canadian hospitals. It is important to know what is already standard practice at your birthing location. Knowing and understanding what you can expect in general can bring a sense of relief. You can ask your doula, prenatal class instructor, or your care provider for specifics of your birthing location. Hospital tours are also good sources of information for what is "normal".

When you should make a plan

There are times when making a plan, and writing it down, is a good idea. In general, if you are doing something that is not standard, it is important to inform the staff. You can do that with a written birth plan, but a conversation with your nurse will be even more effective. Some of the things that you should be sure to discuss include any religious or cultural observances, any specific requests in the case of a change in the expected birth such as a caesarean birth, or if you are expecting a baby whom you know will be spending time in the NICU.

What is a Postpartum Plan and why do I need one?

Far more important than a birth plan is a postpartum plan. Although there are still many aspects of life with a newborn that are unpredictable and cannot be planned for, there are some things that can be.

If birth is the wedding, then postpartum is the marriage, and having systems in place to deal with every day things can be very beneficial. If you are recovering from birth and sleep deprived, you may not have thought about who will walk the dog, shovel the snow, or do the grocery shopping in that first little bit home. Having a postpartum plan in place can help you to consider things like:

  • Pets - do they need to be walked, go to the groomer, etc., how will you give them the attention they need
  • Sleep - where will the baby sleep, where will both parents sleep, how will you get enough sleep
  • Food - what are your plans for feeding baby, what are your plans for feeding yourself, how will you get groceries
  • Cleaning - who will be responsible for day-to-day chores, will you have a cleaning person, what things are priorities and what can wait
  • Visitors - family and friends can be excited and overwhelming, how will you address that
  • Help - will you have a doula, family member, nanny, etc.
  • Other Children - who will be taking care of them, how will you deal with sibling emotions, getting them to school, and their needs
  • Resources - what community resources do you anticipate needing and do you have the information for them close at hand
  • Postpartum Health - are you concerned about postpartum mood disorders, do you have things in place to identify and arrange support if you are struggling

Planning for the Unpredictable

Some of the planning you will do for the postpartum period will help you anticipate the unpredictable things. For instance, if you plan to breastfeed, having the contact information of lactation consultants on hand will help to prepare you if things are not going as well as you had hoped. Planning for how to handle visitors means that visits from well-meaning family members will be less stressful. Especially if you tell them the price of entry is a freezer meal!

Having a baby, or babies, is unpredictable. They are their own person and it is always harder to plan around someone else, especially when they cannot tell you their agenda. It is not always possible to just "go with the flow"; so having plans in place can help you to adjust when things are not working. The important thing to remember is that any plans around baby should be flexible. Plan for the unexpected, and have alternatives in place. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself and your baby. Parenthood is a steep learning curve, but you will get the hang of it.

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