By the time the second trimester kicks in, most expectant moms have studied up on childbirth and have a fairly firm idea of what they want to happen during delivery. Some hope for a natural, drug-free birth; others may welcome medication. From pain-relief methods to delivery positions to the number of support people, the options are myriad. That's why most mothers-to-be are encouraged to write a formal birth plan-to record choices they may be in no position to articulate once delivery time rolls around. "It's tough to convey preferences in the middle of a contraction," observes Penny Simkin, a childbirth educator in Seattle. "A birth plan gives you a voice during labor."
The idea of a written document to help mothers achieve the labor they've always envisioned was introduced about 20 years ago as an outgrowth of the natural-childbirth movement. But birth plans are by no means exclusive to women who expect to deliver vaginally. "Even someone who has scheduled a C-section has a vision of what she wants her delivery to be like," Simkin says. A birth plan lets her specify that she wants her partner by her side throughout the procedure, for example, or that her baby should be placed on her chest immediately after birth.