When you're expecting a baby, a birth plan can be a valuable tool in helping you communicate your goals and preferences to your labor and delivery team. Not sure how to write one? With these eight tips, you can prepare a birth plan that is uniquely suited to your individual needs and expectations.

1. Do Your Homework

You can't write a birth plan if you know nothing about, well, what to expect when you're expecting. Read at least one book about birth, and take a childbirth education class if possible. You need to know what words like pitocin and fetal monitoring mean before you sit down to prepare your plan.

2. Decide What You Want

A birth plan will only be truly effective if it communicates the type of birth experience you hope to have. If unmedicated childbirth is something you feel strongly about, your birth plan needs to reflect this. Do you want to labor in water? Get an epidural before you feel that first contraction? How do you feel about c-sections?

3. Look at Sample Birth Plans

There are many examples of birth plans available online. Look at several, and note what you like and dislike about each. You can also find birth plan templates, which allow you to create your own birth plan simply by checking boxes and filling in blanks.

4. Keep It Brief

Your birth plan should ideally be no longer than one page, typed. Hospital staff aren't likely to read dissertations, so keep it short and sweet. Bulleted points are a good way to go.

5. Use Clear and Assertive Language

Your birth plan should state your desires in language that is clear and concise. Be polite, but firm. Doctors and nurses work for you, so don't be afraid to tell them what you expect.

6. Cover the Main Points

Birth plans will vary, but you probably want to at least include how you feel about the following:

  • Induction
  • Pain Management Techniques
  • Fetal Monitoring
  • C-sections
  • Post-birth Procedures (skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, circumcision, etc.)

7. Discuss the Plan With Your Care Provider

Once you've written your plan, be sure to discuss the details with your doctor or midwife to ensure that he or she supports your wishes. If you find that you don't agree, it may be an indication that you need to switch providers.

8. Prepare for the Unexpected

Birth plans can help you to explore your birth preferences and communicate with your providers, but in the end, birth is an unpredictable experience. Be prepared to deviate from the plan when necessary, and keep in mind that — even if you feel strongly about the kind of birth you hope to have — a birth plan will only get you so far.

Have you written a birth plan? What do you think expectant parents need to know when preparing one?