birth plan
Pregnancy and birth

Should I write a birth plan?

Q I’m quite anxious about how my labour will be managed when I get to the hospital. I know writing a birth plan is encouraged, but I’ve also heard that depending on the circumstances, they can often be left in the bottom of the labour bag. I’m afraid that I will end up lying on a bed for the duration, rather than being allowed to walk around, use a birthing ball and squat down for the actual delivery, as I’d like. What should I expect?

A Great question! As a midwife I can tell you I’m only too delighted to speak to couples about the benefits of having written birth preferences for labour. It helps me do my job better (as I’ve never met you before) so think of it as a communication tool rather than a contract or guarantee that certain things will or won’t happen.

Sometimes babies have their own plans! It’s no secret that our maternity units are understaffed so your labour will be medically managed unless you state that you’d prefer it isn’t (unless there is a medical emergency).

Find out how birth is managed in your hospital so you know what you want to avoid. Ask the midwives at your antenatal appointments or go along to the antenatal classes. You might be wondering what the big deal is about having a medically managed birth? In the absence of complications medically managing the labour of a healthy mum and baby actually creates more problems that can make your labour more painful, more stressful and more likely to have an instrumental or surgical birth.

Of course when there are complications, following the advice of your midwife makes sense. Labouring at home as long as you feel comfortable makes sense if you’d like to avoid a routinely medically managed birth. Studies show that the longer you are in hospital the more interventions you’ll have during your labour.

Bring several copies with you on the big day and make it your birth partner’s job to ensure they don’t end up at the bottom of your bag.

Have your partner discuss your preferences with your assigned midwife as early as possible. Most midwives will support you to be active and to mobilise during labour (being upright and moving makes labour less painful and shorter). When it comes to the pushing stage, unless there is a medical issue you can choose the position that feels best for you. Most mums still give birth on the bed in Ireland but that can be on all fours, on your side, kneeling up – you can decide what suits you. In some midwife-led units birth is usually on bean bags or soft mats on the floor. The Coombe hospital has now started waterbirths, which is a fantastic option for avoiding a managed birth and has many benefits for mums and babies.

More Pregnancy and Birth Questions

About Tracy Tracy Donegan is a midwife and author of the Irish Better Birth Book, The Irish Caesarean and VBAC Guide and founder of GentleBirth. GentleBirth is Ireland’s leading positive birth preparation programme. Available as a homestudy course or weekend workshop GentleBirth is changing the way women in Ireland give birth. GentleBirth provides you with the roadmap to a positive birth and helps you navigate and negotiate the Irish maternity system to stack the odds in your favour of having the best birth possible.

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.



Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.