What to do when your birth doesn’t go to plan

We discuss birth plans versus reality and how to cope when the birth plan you want doesnt quite happen.

You might have in mind exactly how you want your birth to be or perhaps you have lots of changing ideas. Here we look at how to cope with a birth that doesnt go as you wanted it to or perhaps expected.

1. Try to be flexible about your birth expectations and plans

Its natural to want to choose how youd like to give birth, to feel in control of the situation, or imagine how youd like your babys birth to be. But, in reality, every birth experience is unique and unpredictable. So it does help to have some flexiblity about your expectations and what you hope for (Cook and Loomis, 2012).

If youre having trouble coming to terms with your birth and why it didnt go as you hoped, you could visit your hospitals birth reflection service. Many hospitals have this service and it allows you to talk through your birth with a midwife or maternity support worker. They can explain why things happened the way they did and can help you to understand the decisions that were made.

2. Take time to recover after you give birth

Your body goes through an incredible experience giving birth and it might take time to recover. Thats OK and totally normal. Take a look at our article about physical recovery after birth for what to expect and how to cope.

Birth trauma

If you think you or your partner might be experiencing birth trauma after a difficult birth, see our article about traumatic births and post-traumatic stress disorder for more information and how to get help. You could also check out our article about how to support your partner after birth trauma.

3. Try not to treat your feelings like they’re taboo

And its not just your body that might need to recover. You may feel emotionally overwhelmed by your experience of giving birth. And you may feel you need some time and space to process what happened (MIND, 2016)

Unplanned caesarean births, for example, are definitely not always difficult experiences but some mums do feel disappointed at having had one (Lowden, 1995). It’s good to remember that feeling disappointed about the birth doesn’t make you ungrateful for your baby. And having an intervention certainly does not make you any less of a woman or any kind of a failure.

Plenty of women feel some sense of confusion too over an unplanned caesarean. Women can feel like a caesarean birth means they miss the link between pregnancy and birth. Like despite the baby being theirs, it somehow doesn’t feel that way when their baby is handed to them (Lowden, 1995). Some say it feels almost as if they haven’t really given birth.

A good first step is to try not to treat your feelings like they’re taboo (Lowden, 1995). Finding support to talk freely about your feelings really can lighten the load too when you’re ready (see below) (Lowden, 1995).

4. If youre finding it tough, its good to talk about it

Just having the opportunity to talk about your feelings and having someone listen to you can be helpful if you are experiencing difficult thoughts or feelings (MIND, 2017). Try to remember that you dont have to go through it alone (PANDAS, ND). You can talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP, family or friends. You can also approach some of the support organisations listed below.

 It might help to bear in mind that every single birth experience is different. If you have another baby, the next labour and birth may be completely different (Birth Trauma Association, 2004).

An NCT Early Days course may also help to give you the knowledge and confidence to tackle the doubts that many new mums struggle with.

This page was last reviewed in January 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

To prepare yourself more for what happens during and after labour, we offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Birth Trauma Association. (2004) Another baby? Practical advice on coping with a subsequent pregnancy after a traumatic birth. Available at: http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/publications/SubBirth.pdf [accessed 14th January 2019]

Birth Trauma Association. (2014) Beyond Morecambe Bay. Available at: http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/pressreleases/Reviewsubmission1.pdf [Accessed 14th January 2019]

Coates R, Ayers S, de Visser R. (2014) Women's experiences of postnatal distress: a qualitative study. BMC pregnancy and childbirth 14, 359 Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4288655/ [accessed 14th January 2019]

Cook K, Loomis C. (2012) The impact of choice and control on women's childbirth experiences. The Journal of perinatal education. 21(3):158-168. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392605/ [accessed 14th January 2019]

Lowden G. (1995) Of no consequence. NCT. New Generation: September 1995. Available at: http://www.caesarean.org.uk/articles/OfNoCons.html [accessed 4th November 2019]

MIND. (2016) Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/ptsd-and-birth-trauma/#.XD_DfVz7RPb [accessed 14th January 2019]

MIND. (2017) Seeking help for a mental health problem. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/seeking-help-for-a-mental-health-problem/helping-someone-else-seek-help/#.XEOeJVz7RPY. [accessed 19th January 2019]

Moore M, de Costa C. (2003) Cesarean Section: Understanding and Celebrating Your Baby's Birth. 1st Edn. London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

PANDAS. (ND) Postnatal depression. Available at: http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/postnatal-depression/. [accessed 14th January 2019]

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