Over recent years childbearing women have requested more choice and control in relation to the process of giving birth (Department of Health (DH), 1993; Gibbins and Thompson, 2001; RCOG, 2007). Concepts of control and confidence are firmly associated with birth satisfaction ( Goodman et al, 2004; Knapp, 1996), with women who feel in control during labor reporting raised levels of satisfaction and emotional health at six weeks postpartum ( Green et al, 2003).
Women and their families have two primary expectations when having a baby. First they expect that the mother and baby will be healthy. Second, they expect satisfaction with the care they have received. While the outcome of a healthy mother and child is an expected standard of care, higher satisfaction levels may be gained by improving the perception of the birthing experience.
There are a variety of ways that health care providers can prepare women for childbirth. Education empowers women to formulate their hopes, fears and expectations of their impending labor and birth (Price, 1998). A written birth plan is a way of expressing choice and not a written prescription of orders to be followed.
This easy to complete birth plan is to help improve communication between the client, the health care provider and the health care team. A birth plan can be used to help the client clarify and express her thoughts and ideas regarding her hospital stay. With this in mind, birth plans can be used to help the woman during her labor, birth and postpartum period.
Studies reflect, when a birth plan is available, health care professionals have information to help advocate for the woman. When care providers are aware of the woman’s wishes they are better prepared to empower the woman to make informed choices that are best for her circumstances (Schwartz 2010).
Providing a birth plan will empower women to be informed about best practice and facilitate women’s personal preferences for labor, birth and postpartum care.
The ideal time to complete a birth plan is as soon as possible after the first twelve weeks of pregnancy to enable the woman to become aware of benefits and alternatives to all options available to her when accessing the maternity service. This also facilitates questions and discussion between the woman and health care provider to help educate the woman and her family and increase decision making powers.
A woman will complete her birth plan in collaboration with the health care provider and with input from her family and support system.
Birth plans can make a difference in the birth experience by helping to educate families about the birth process, advocating the choices women make in their birth options, forming care plans and increasing client decision making powers, all leading to increased customer satisfaction.
This engagement process with childbearing women and their families will help Sidra Medical and Research Center focus on the client’s expectations and decision making as partners in care and future service development.