Birth plans are documents that expectant mothers can prepare to explain their preferences to their medical caretakers. These plans can outline what mothers want for various aspects of the birth process, such as pain management and labor positions.
Birth plans are designed to help parents think through the various aspects of the birth process before labor begins. This pushes them to understand various procedures and what can go wrong, helping them become emotionally and psychologically ready. It also enables them to calmly decide how they want to handle potential situations. This prevents them from making hasty decisions during the emotion and stress of birth itself.
Often, doctors and hospital staff disapprove of birth plans. There are a few reasons why that’s the case. Despite the negative stigma surrounding birth plans, doctors can use them to improve patient education and satisfaction.
Why Do Doctors Dislike Birth Plans?
Patients May Be Inflexible
Parents who use birth plans may seem inflexible or demanding during the birth process. Because birth plans help parents think through exactly what they want for a birth, they can cause parents to be idealistic about what the process should look like. Since births are unpredictable, this can be a problem if circumstances change and the parents don’t like procedures that become necessary.
Additionally, the tone of birth plans may come off as demanding or presumptuous. Many are written in very authoritative or defensive language, something doctors may not appreciate. This can lead to resentment and communication issues during the birth process.
Patients May Need More Information
Birth plans can often become outdated. Sometimes parents will download a template birth plan from the Internet and complete it without doing their own research. This causes many patients to request or refuse outdated procedures such as enemas, which doctors don’t use anyway. This can be frustrating to doctors who feel like a patient is telling them how to do their job.
Why Doctors Should Still Encourage Birth Plans
Despite the negative reputation birth plans can get in the professional community, there are still great benefits to using them. If doctors work with parents on birth plans and preferences, the doctor-patient relationship can strengthen and parents can have a more satisfactory experience.
Birth Plans Educate Parents
The main benefit of birth plans is their potential to help educate the patient. To create a birth plan, a patient must first research what a typical birth looks like and what they can do if something goes wrong. They are able to discuss questions and procedures with their doctor ahead of time, encouraging a stronger doctor-patient relationship. Additionally, thinking through the steps and options of birth can help a patient become emotionally and mentally prepared for the stress and pain that may occur.
Avoid Lawsuits and Broken Trust
Women can feel unheard and abused during the birth process if doctors are distant or overbearing. Already in a terrifying position, their trauma and anxiety can be heightened if they don’t feel that their doctor is listening to them. A study surveying women around the world about their birth trauma found that for two-thirds of women, the trauma stemmed from how medical professionals had treated them. Obviously, the last thing doctors want is to accidentally cause their patients trauma. Doing so can violate the doctor-patient relationship and potentially lead to malpractice suits.
How Doctors Should Talk About Birth Plans With Patients
Explain Potential Complications
Many parents don’t understand the intricacies of all birth options. For example, they may not know that if they are planning to use position changes to help manage labor pain they will also be unable to use continuous monitoring to track the fetus’ heartbeat. Many birth plans contain contradictory preferences such as these. If possible, doctors should work through a birth plan with patients before labor begins to explain potential issues.
Encourage Patients to be Flexible
Remind patients that a birth plan is just that—only a plan, not a guarantee. Births can be unpredictable, and a situation may grow dangerous within moments. The plan may need to change to protect the health of the mother and child. Reassure patients that there is no such thing as a perfect birth. The priority is a safe and healthy delivery, and a birth that deviates from the plan is not a “failed birth." Be supportive of their preferences, but let them know that if things don’t go according to plan you will still be there to care for them and see them safely through this meaningful experience.