ABSTRACT: In early 1993 a birth plan for the South Western Sydney (Australia) Area Health Service was introduced in two district hospitals. Its ease of use and effectiveness were evaluated from May to July 1993, using a questionnaire that was completed postnatally by the first 100 women who had completed a prenatal birth plan. All women were asked to complete the questionnaire regardless of whether they had used the written birth plan during labor. Ninety-five percent of women said that they would encourage other women to use the plan. It increased their own understanding about the processes of labor and birth, and the hospital options open to them. Women said it was helpful, enabled them to express their needs and preferences, enhanced their confidence, and improved communication between them and staff. Birth plans show the commitment of health caregivers to recognizing and supporting diversity, allow for critical reappraisal of existing hospital policies and practices, and provide an opportunity for quality improvement in the context of client rights and preferences. They empower women by increasing their knowledge and understanding of birth practices, and helping them make informed choices.