Childbirth education began over forty years ago in an effort to shift the mentality of birth as an illness to birth as normal and an arena where moms and dads have choices. Popularity of classes peaked in the 1980‘s and 90‘s and has been declining since.
In the 2006 Listening to Mothers Survey, Childbirth Connection found that childbirth class attendance among first-time mothers fell from 70 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2005. Only 10% of the 1600 new moms in the survey named childbirth classes as their most important source of information. Sources that rated higher were: television (68%), books (33%), friends and relatives (19%) and the Internet (16%).
Some reasons for the drop may include time and scheduling to get to classes and higher epidural and cesarean rates. Families planning medication or a cesarean may feel, “Why bother to learn about positions and movements in labor if I’m getting an epidural/C-section?” A good childbirth class will cover both of these topics among other interventions and can ease worries and boost confidence for both parents. Here’s an online option for your convenience, the Pain to Power childbirth program.
Despite the image of childbirth educators as being crunchy-hippy types pushing natural birth, that’s not the reality. Sure you can come across that teacher or you can seek out classes geared at natural, no/low intervention birth, but many classes will give you a solid overall understanding of birth, comfort measures before you get to the hospital for medication if that’s what you’re choosing.
A good childbirth class will help you see the broad spectrum of your options in birth. It’s also important to understand that independent classes may be able to give you a different exposure to birth than a hospital-based class where sometimes curriculum are structured and instructors have more limitations. (In full disclosure, I teach at a hospital and have been able to teach fully and freely how I like to present material and topics.)
Here are 6 Reasons to Take Childbirth Classes:
1. Preparation for the Unknown – or the Second Time Around
Can you really be “prepared” for this experience that is individual and takes a different course for each pregnancy? Although no one and no class can cover everything you may come across in your birth, there are still important reasons to take childbirth classes, even for experienced parents.
Childbirth classes give you a solid footing and overview on birthing basics as well as possible interventions you may encounter. Knowing the possibilities and how you feel about them in a pre-labor state gives you a leg up if you should face that during labor. Nothing and no one can completely prepare you for what your exact birth will be, but you can gain important knowledge and information in a good childbirth class and it will absolutely help you be more prepared than if you did not take a class at all.
Even if you’re been through birth before, taking a birthing class can help you work toward the birth you envision for this baby and can help you avoid anything you would like to change from your prior birth(s).
2. Know Your Options – Own Your Birth
In line with being prepared, when you take a childbirth class, you will be exposed to the wide array of options you have during labor, birth and the immediate postpartum hours. Diana Korte and Roberta Scaer, authors of A Good Birth, A Safe Birth, said “If you do not know your options, you don’t have any.” Exactly!
In birth, the more you know about your choices, the more you are able to advocate for yourself and your family. Being educated will also allow you to ask better questions. If you feel uncertain, you’re less likely to ask any questions, but with knowledge you can feel confident in speaking up. Visit this post for tips on composing a birth plan.
3. Connect With Others Around Your Due Date
I’m a big fan of pregnancy and new moms groups. Many couples make long term friends in their childbirth classes. Having friends with a baby around the same age as yours is priceless. You can discuss sleeping and pooping and your birth stories, you can bounce ideas of one another as you walk along the parenthood path and get a sense of what’s going on developmentally at each stage. Four of my dearest friends I met in a new mom’s class almost 15 years ago.
4. Include Dads
In the perhaps stereotypical scenario (yet one I see replayed regularly), mothers devour books, talk to other women, read blogs and magazines and do research on all things baby. Moms often give dads the perfect book for him to read and then get frustrated as it sits unread.
So many of the fathers I work with as a doula or who attend my childbirth classes relay how grateful they are to have learned so much. Dads often tell me after a birth how they felt like they had an understanding of what was happening because of our preparation. On the last night of every childbirth series I teach, dads stop me on the way out to say, “I can’t believe how much there is to know!” “I learned so much, thank you!” or “I didn’t want to come, but I’m really glad we did.” Helplessness is one of the most common feelings dads experience in a birth and preparation can build their confidence.
Good childbirth classes can make it easy and fun to deliver lot’s of information to both parents, but having it as a set date in the schedule is another benefit. Can you use the night out to have dinner or tea before or after class and take the time to talk? It can be built in time together.
5. Gather Resources – Locally and Nationally
You’ve got questions: about your changing body, the baby’s growth, about delayed cord clamping, GBS or immediate postpartum decisions you’ll be making. And you’ll have questions – many many questions – once your baby arrives. Your first resource is your childbirth educator; childbirth classes are the perfect place to bring things that come up during your week apart and your questions will benefit others in the class. Your instructor should also provide various resources. For my Rhode Island readers – here are a few I love to recommend locally: the Rhode Island Birth Network, Doulas of Rhode Island (what’s a doula? Check here!), Kangamamas for all things baby wearing, RI New Moms Connection for pregnancy and new mothers groups, and Healthy Babies Happy Moms for lactation support.
It will be helpful to already have some resources in place before going into your birth so it’s easy to tap into them when you need them. Your birth classes should also provide you with resources to learn more about the research on certain birth and labor related topics. One of my favorite sites is Childbirth Connection for solid evidence-based information and discussions.
6. Learn About When to Head to the Hospital or Call Your Provider
Among the many reasons to take childbirth classes, is to learn about birth basics, labor patterns and when to think about going to the hospital or birth place. Parents are often worried about this timing from both angles: they’re eager to get there in time, considering traffic, weather, time of day, but they also fear arriving too early and being sent back home. Incidentally, not uncommon and while it feels disappointing, being at home in early labor is the most comfortable for many families.
Childbirth classes can help you with some of these practical details that may be hanging over your head. They can also provide a familiarity with the local hospitals’ practices and policies.