What is a birth plan?
Giving your baby his first breastfeeding within the first couple of hours of birth gives you the best chance of establishing breastfeeding, as well as giving him the chance to enjoy all the benefits of colostrum – the first milk you produce – as soon as possible. One way of helping to ensure this happens is to include breastfeeding in your birth plan.
Think of a birth plan as a wish list of your options during labour, birth and the time directly afterwards. It might include things like your preferences regarding pain relief and birth position, what should happen in the event of a caesarean section, what to do if complications arise, and, of course, breastfeeding.
Ideally, you should write your birth plan well before your due date so you have a chance to show it to your birth partner and the healthcare professionals who’ll be looking after you.
You can write it any way you like, but it’s probably easiest to start with a simple list that you can expand on after doing a bit of research. Your birth facility may have some samples or templates that you can use, or you could look at birth plan examples online.
Why is it important?
A birth plan provides clarity. It will help guide conversations and build trust between you, your birth partner and healthcare professionals. This is especially important during labour, when you may have other things on your mind! In addition, if there’s a change in staff shifts during labour, a birth plan can help the new staff get up to speed with your history and wishes.
Preparing for breastfeeding
If you’re keen to breastfeed, discuss your plans with your birth partner and healthcare professionals during your pregnancy. Your midwife will make your intentions clear in your medical notes and should be able to suggest useful local sources of breastfeeding support.
Writing a birth plan also provides you with a good opportunity to discuss your breastfeeding wishes in general with your partner, if you haven’t already. Explain that you’d like them to be your breastfeeding advocate, helping your baby to have your breast milk even if the delivery doesn’t go to plan or you’re not actively able to breastfeed straight after the birth. Ask them to have skin-to-skin contact with your newborn if you’re not able to, as this will help your baby feel comforted and calm.1
Writing your birth plan: What to include
When it comes to the breastfeeding section of your birth plan, start by simply stating your intention to breastfeed exclusively. Explain that you want the healthcare professionals to do all they can to help you breastfeed your newborn, or give him your expressed breast milk if feeding from the breast isn’t possible, so you can still initiate your milk supply.
Here are examples of the type of statements you can put in your birth plan to make your breastfeeding wishes clear and give you and your baby the best chance of a good start:
- I’d like skin-to-skin contact with my baby directly after the birth, before he is weighed or washed, as long as there are no medical concerns.
- If I’m not able to hold my baby straight away, please place him skin-to-skin with my birth partner instead.
- I’d like support to give my baby his first breastfeeding within the first hour after the birth if possible.
- I’d like my baby to be encouraged to self-latch, or given gentle support to latch.
- If my baby is poorly or we need to be separated, I’d like help expressing my colostrum and feeding it to him from a syringe or cup.
- If my baby is unable to breastfeed for any reason or is not feeding well in the first few hours after birth, I’d like help with double pumping within the first three hours and with feeding him my expressed milk.
- If I need to continue to pump, I want to achieve eight sessions in 24 hours to help initiate my milk supply.
- Please don’t give my baby formula milk without my or my birth partner’s consent, and then only if medically necessary.
- Please don’t feed my baby from a bottle teat or give him a dummy/pacifier without my or my birth partner’s consent.
- I’d like support with breastfeeding from a qualified lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist, if available.
What if the birth doesn’t go to plan?
Even with the most carefully considered birth plan, it’s impossible to predict how your baby’s birth will unfold. This is why it’s also important to be open to changes.
Bear in mind some medications and interventions administered during labour and birth could affect your baby’s ability to breastfeed at first. It’s worth asking a healthcare professional about the effects of different types of pain relief and assisted delivery on you and your baby, as well as any impact they might have on breastfeeding, so you or your birth partner can make informed decisions.
And if you and your newborn aren’t able to breastfeed in that first hour, don’t be disheartened. Many mums and babies manage to establish and continue breastfeeding, despite not having an ideal start. Get as much support as you can from the healthcare professionals around you, and contact a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist quickly if you need help getting breastfeeding back on track.