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Preparing for labor can feel like you are preparing to hike Mount Everest. There are things to do, doctors to meet, necessities to buy and lots of planning. It can be a bit overwhelming on what you all need to do to prepare for labor and everything that comes thereafter. Along with keeping track of everything in a Pregnancy Planner, another tool that is great for helping you wrap your head around what to expect for labor and help you be prepared is to make a visual birth plan.
What is a Visual Birth Plan
What is a Visual Birth Plan you might ask? A visual birth plan is a printout of your birth preferences for before, during, and after labor which uses visual icons in place of just plain text. This can make it easier and quicker for your birth team to look at, as well as to remind them what you have researched and chosen as your preferences. This is not to say you cannot still be flexible once the big day arrives, but it allows an easy way for everyone involved in your labor to be informed on what would make you most comfortable.
When I brought my visual birth plan into my usual pregnancy appointment at about 30 weeks, my midwife was super impressed with the idea. The midwives at my local hospital had not seen one before and passed it around to look at (in Australia you have midwives in maternity wards instead of nurses). I brought my birth plan in early to review with my midwife and discuss it. This gave them a chance to familiarize themselves with my preferences and allowed me to ask questions about some of the choices I made and what they would look like on the day.
How to Create Your Own Visual Birth Plan
Making your own visual birth plan is super easy. There are online resources to help you with the icons and some even help with the layout. You can easily make your own layout in a Word doc or Powerpoint slide as another option, this is what I did myself.
Do your Research
Now, before you just start adding random icons into your visual birth plan, make you sure you know what the procedures are and do your research to fully understand them. These are still medical decisions, so you must make sure you are making informed choices. While making your visual birth plan is a great time to get completely informed on all your options and what is available to you, it is important to know not all hospitals offer certain options. An example of this would be asking for a water birth. You need to follow up with your medical professional to see if what you want is available to you.
This process might also help you decide where you want to give birth. Depending on where you live, you might have options of places to give birth, so use this time to research what you want and see what locations offer these birth options. Being informed is the key component to having any sort of birth plan.
I actually found going through the icons an easy way to learn what options are out there, and then did my research into them and learned heaps. Some things were not even performed where I was going to be giving birth, so my midwife said I could eliminate that from birth plan to prevent confusion (example, newborn eye ointment does not happen here in Australia, so I didn’t need to say I didn’t want it for baby).
“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” -Diane Korte
What to Consider When Making Your Birth Plan
Once you have done your research and are informed about what your birth preferences are for your visual birth plan, it is time to get realistic. As much as we all call it a birth plan, we all know that life doesn’t always go according to plan. So, often when referring to your plan it can go over smoother with healthcare professionals if you call it your “Birth Preferences”. Following up with being realistic, you need to be prepared to be flexible.
Have Plan A, B, and C Ready
As much as well all hope everything goes according to Plan A and that we get the birth we always envisioned, it just doesn’t always work out that way. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a great birth. That phrase from a CalmBirth course is what stuck with me and was my motto going into labor “to have a great birth”. This can be achieved in different ways depending on what circumstances occur during labor, but it can always still be a “great birth” that have your preferences at the center.
The best thing you can do with any birth plan is to have a Plan A, B, and C. If things don’t go according to Plan A, your birth team can still keep your wants centered with your Plan B preferences. If you looked at my Visual Birth Plan above I have a section that says “In case of cesarean”. That was not my Plan A, but if things came up and that procedure was going to be needed then I could still have a say in what my preferences were and have a great birth.
If Plan A includes a cesarean then maybe you want the baby to have skin to skin with you, but if something comes up and maybe that’s not possible you could have Plan B be skin to skin with dad. No matter what your Plan A is, it can be helpful to have some ideas in place of your preferences if you need to go with a Plan B.
Make It Easy to Read
When you pick out a format for your visual birth plan, keep in mind to make it easy to read quickly. Big font, good-sized icons and make your choice of format easy to understand. It will not be easy for everyone on your birth team to follow if you just have a bunch of icons on the page in random order. There are a few different layout options you can pick from to help those reading find the relevant information for each stage or person involved.
Some formats you can consider
- Each stage| 1st,2nd, 3rd, and baby after birth
- Care for mom, Care for Baby
- Labor, Delivery, Newborn Care
Resources to Use for Visual Birth Plan
As mentioned before, there are great online tools available to help you create and design your own visual birth plan. Here are just a few resources you can look at to see if any suit you.
The Visual Birth Planner [Free]
This is a simple and straight forward visual birth plan design resource. You can select icons and have them put on a layout for you to print off when finished. It is a good resource for those who want a one-stop-shop for the whole design process. It is a bit limiting in format, which can make it hard to fit in Plan B preferences on the same page.
Visual Birth Plan Builder [Free]
This is the resource I used the most for selecting icons to put on my own designed layout on a word document. A great DIY tool that allows you to select all the icons that you find pertains to your needs, and then you copy + paste each icon to your word document. There are not as many icons available here than on some of the other resources, so you might find you need to go icon searching at another site to fill in any gaps.
Pinter & Martin [Free]
Pinter and Martin offer a free download of 90+ icons to use in designing your visual birth plan. They are very nice icons that would make your visual birth plan easy to design. A lovely option for those who like things to look more feminine, such as with the circle icons.
Mama Natural provides a different visual layout to the one I used. Her download of icons allows for color indexing the difference between yes’s and no’s to the birth options. She also helps you format a layout with the icons she provides.
If you like the idea of creating a visual birth plan, but would rather have someone design it for you, for a little over $30 you can have a customized visual birth plan made just for you. This visual birth plan can include photos of your birth team (You, Partner, and any doulas or family members) and be laid out in an easy to read format with all the preferences you have asked for.
Where to Have Your Visual Birth Plan
Once you have finished your final draft of your visual birth plan you will want to make a few copies of it. Give your visual birth plan to your healthcare provider so that they have it on file and are aware of your preferences ahead of time. This helps them prepare for you when you are on your way. You will also want to give a copy to each member of your birth team so they are aware and ready to support you on the big day. Lastly, pack one in your hospital bag. If for some reason everyone else forgets theirs you will have one with you, this is also the copy your partner can refer to during labor.
Often when you are in the middle of labor, members of your birth team may not want to distract you with questions, so having the visual birth plan available for them to reference will help them help you (such as dimming lights). Having it available for your team to reference helps them remind you of alternate options you might have wanted to try before a certain procedure. It’s hard in the moment to remember everything while you are trying to focus on your labor, so having your team able to remind
you of something that might have slipped to the back of your mind is super helpful.
DIY Visual Birth Plan Format Options
Once you have your icons there are different options for how to design them. Here are the three easiest ways to create your visual birth plan.
Open a word document and under “page layout orientation” turn the page to landscape. This is the easiest way to get the most room out of your page. When you paste your icon’s I find it easiest to format them “in front of text” so you can move them around the page freely. I created separate sections using Insert shapes. Play around with the options on Word and design what suits you and your needs.
A powerpoint slide can sometimes be easier since it is already in landscape format. Just use similar functions as word to make sections on the page. When you print, just print only 1 slide.
If you haven’t been exposed to Canva before it is an AWESOME online design resource for creating just about any visual sheet you need. Go check it out if you haven’t seen it before, it is completely free to use. Select custom dimensions and type in width 29.7 x 21 cm and then design it how you would like. There are heaps drag and drop features that can help you section and format your visual birth plan how you would like.
Other things to Consider
Even after you make it to the top of your labor version of a Mt. Everest climb and you have your bundle of joy in your arms, there is still the hike back down of taking care of your body post-partum. A visual birth plan is great for preparing for labor, yet there are still a few other things you can plan ahead to make post-partum a bit smoother. You can read more on Ways to Prepare for Postpartum Recovery to help YOU be prepared Postpartum, and for baby, you might want to arrange an Easy to Manage Baby Play Area so when you get home you can just slide right into living with baby. Spread out your pre-labor planning, you don’t want to wear yourself out. The more you do beforehand the more you can relax and enjoy baby once you bring your little one home.