Many new parents skip writing a birth plan these days, feeling it can be too prescriptive and could lead to disappointment.
Instead they are choosing to ‘go with the flow’, believing it will help them feel relaxed and positive, and keep their options open.
Your baby’s birth is one of the biggest events in your life. Being prepared and having the right knowledge on board can make the process a lot smoother and less likely to derail.
However, there are several reasons why going with the flow can lead to a disappointing birth experience.
The Problem With Planning To ‘Go With The Flow’ During Birth
Here are common reasons why women and their partners choose to go with the flow, and why it can be problematic:
#1: ‘Birth Is Unpredictable’
There is a prevailing idea that normal birth is completely unpredictable, yet it is far from true.
When labour is not interfered with, it is a simple process: labour is triggered, contractions begin and intensify, the cervix is opened, and then the baby is pushed out of the uterus.
What makes labour unpredictable are the external factors – the environment we are in, the people in our birth space, and their expectations of how labour ‘should’ be unfolding. These factors can interfere with the natural birth process, by interrupting the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for effective contractions.
When labour involves interference or stress, adrenaline (the ‘fight or flight’ hormone) is released, and this increases tension, pain and fear. Contractions slow down, stall or become very painful. Care providers see this as a sign of failure to progress or of suffering, and will move to intervene or help. The cascade of interventions begins.
In situations where mother or baby is having health complications, labour and birth are more likely to be unpredictable. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have expectations about how your birth will unfold.
#2: ‘No-One Can Control Birth’
Most of us know we can’t control birth – it is a biological process guided by hormones outside our intellectual control.
Our conscious mind or ‘thinking brain’, which is responsible for all our talking, problem solving and coming up with ideas, isn’t actually needed to give birth. Not being able to control the natural process of birth, however, doesn’t mean you can’t have any control over how you give birth.
If you are clear on what you want from the birth process, you can control how likely you are to have a positive experience. You can control where to give birth, and choose your care provider – decisions which can have a big impact on your birth outcome.
You also have control over how prepared you are to manage without pain medication, or which pain relief you would like to have available. If your labour is not smooth sailing, you have choices about how to manage any changes.
#3: ‘I’ll Decide On The Day’
You might feel it’s better not to have a birth plan, or any expectations, so you can avoid being disappointed if things change. Perhaps the pressure of expressing wishes and setting goals could increase a sense of fear of the unknown.
It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to be advised not to bother with a birth plan, because most of the time birth plans end up being worth less than the paper they are written on. Many women are told their birth wishes are pointless; family and friends might scoff at the idea of natural birth, or care providers might simply say, ‘We don’t allow it’.
A birth plan isn’t a rigid list of ‘must haves’ during labour; it’s about knowing what options you have. Yes, you can include things like music, visualisations and so on, but where a birth plan really shines is in helping you to research what birth is actually supposed to be like, and how to do your best to make it happen.
This doesn’t mean a birth has to be a natural, vaginal birth to be fulfilling. A c-section birth can be empowering if you are the one making the decisions, and you are well supported.
A birth plan is a great tool to open up communication between you and your care provider, to discuss what policies you might come up against during labour. Creating a birth plan helps you understand the risks and benefits of interventions and can hone your decision making skills so you know when intervention is actually necessary, not just routine.
‘Going with the flow’ can lead to skipping research about the pros and cons of interventions ahead of time. It’s not easy to try to understand this information while you’re in labour. If you haven’t really prepared for birth, how can you decide what is best for you and your baby?
See our article about writing birth plans.
#4: ‘My Care Provider Knows What’s Best’
Having a good relationship with your care provider is an important part of your birth experience. If you go with the flow, you are more likely to go along with what your care provider suggests. After all, providers are the professionals and experts, aren’t they?
Maternity care providers want a physically healthy mum and baby at the end of the birth. Of course, you want that too, but you also want to feel empowered and satisfied with your birth experience, not traumatised and depressed. A healthy mum and baby is not the only outcome that matters.
It is not uncommon for women to be concerned their birth plans or wishes will inconvenience their care provider in some way. Others might find it difficult to question their care provider, feeling it might be seen as confrontational or even dismissive of their expertise.
Too often women will go along with what is suggested or recommended, not aware they have a voice and the right to make the final decision about their care. As a result, women often undergo interventions and c-sections unnecessarily, and live with the physical and emotional damage.
If your care provider says anything that makes you feel you have no right to your birth wishes, consider carefully how this will play out during your labour. Having a care provider who is hostile or apathetic about your emotional wellbeing during birth can have long-term negative consequences.
While going with the flow might seem like the right approach, not being well prepared for birth can leave you open to stress and disappointment. Knowing what normally happens during birth, understanding why interventions might be necessary, and how to decide if they are right for you, can make the birth process smoother.
Setting goals and expectations doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from them on the day, but it gives you peace of mind to know you are calling the shots.