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A woman reading a piece of paper, with text alongside that says, "Birth Plans & Pain Management"

A lot happens in between a positive pregnancy test and a baby’s first breaths. Making a birth plan is one of the milestones along the way for many moms-to-be. It’s a way for a pregnant person to share their needs and wants for labor and delivery to their care team. For example, some moms may not want medical students around while giving birth. Or, they may want specific people in the room (like a partner, or friend). These are things they could mention in their birth plan, so that their care team is aware before the first signs of labor.

Birth Plans Can Vary by Each Person, and Each Pregnancy

Many birth plans also make it clear how a pregnant person wants to treat pain during labor and delivery. Since there are many ways to manage pain, it can help to explore them all ahead of time. Doing so can empower mamas’ health choices and ease their minds when the big day arrives, at the end of the third trimester. Methods to manage pain include those that are non-medical, like massage and heat. These ways allow mothers to give birth without the use of drugs, and are used more often in natural birth plans.

Other pregnant people may prefer ways to manage their pain that are medical in nature. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an epidural block is the most commonly used option nationwide. To relieve the pain, a substance is injected in a patient’s lower back. By injecting it around the nerves of the spine, a doctor can numb the area that tends to feel the most pain during labor and delivery. Luckily, most patients are still able to move and push when needed to, making this a preferred choice for many women.

These are just a few options that pregnant people can keep in mind when referencing birth plan templates. But taking steps to learn about them may make a difference in one’s care throughout the pregnancy stages.

Using Birth Plans to Support Healthy Moms from All Walks of Life

Research has shown that certain factors, such as a patient’s race, play a part in their access to options for pain management. These factors can bias healthcare teams to think that some patients can handle pain better than others. And as a result, those patients–who tend to be non-White, and who report lower incomes–may not get proper care. In the United States, this is tied to a lower rate of epidural use for women of color.

By not providing patients with what they need, healthcare teams risk losing trust with their patients. If patients feel that their pain isn’t being addressed, they may be less likely to talk to their healthcare teams about other issues. As a result, their overall health–and the health of their babies–could be threatened. This may be even more true in regard to Black maternal health. Black women are 3-4 times more likely than White women to die from problems during pregnancy.

For that reason alone, a birth plan could make an impact. More than giving guidance on a patient’s needs and wants, it can help offset any biases. If a patient asks for one type of pain management, for instance, their doctor will have clear direction. This can lead to better trust and care, and support a more ideal labor and delivery.

Elysia Cook

Elysia Cook McDermott is a copywriter and editor at Scripps Research Digital Trials Center.