Childbirth Education: Finding a good fit for you

Congratulations! You’re pregnant! Now what? Suddenly everyone from your mother-in-law to your neighbor to the random lady in the grocery store has some advice (or wacky anecdote) to share with you. How do you get the information you need to make the decisions and choices that are right for your family?

Childbirth education is, I think, an essential part of the process. Personally, it gave me the confidence to trust in my instinct and transfer care from an OB to a midwife fairly late during my first pregnancy when all this birth stuff was new to me, and it gave my husband the knowledge he needed to help me through 24 hours of my first labor, especially transition, when I started saying I couldn’t do it anymore. My own experience is what inspired me to want to help others have an empowered birth too.

Here are a few features of a childbirth class that you may want to consider before making a decision on which class is right for you. There are many good ones out there and you don’t have to pick just one!

Group versus private classes
I prefer teaching group classes for several reasons: people feel like they’re not the only ones in this situation of impending labor and birth. They can bounce ideas off each other. They may be exposed to new questions, different ideas, various experiences with care providers, previous births or other situations. It’s nice to hear voices other than my own. There’s usually a great energy in the group and laughter and I also love to see how my classes can be the starting point for further friendships. The class reunions are a part of this.

Having said that, private classes are certainly better than none and may be the perfect fit for someone who is having a subsequent pregnancy and just wants a refresher, someone who has specific medical concerns or life circumstances that require special attention, someone who has considerable time restraints due to life (work or school schedules) or due date (and perhaps a lack of foresight to prepare for the birth until it’s just a few weeks away).

How long is the class you are looking to take? Often, the longer the class, the more information you’ll be exposed to and the more you will retain when the time comes and you need it. My classes are 20 hours over 10 weeks, and with the times we stay a bit late, it’s probably closer to 22 hours that couples have been together in class. Sometimes really great bonds can form in that period of time. I often feel as though I could go on for hours more so I personally cannot imagine trying to get all the information I needed to feel empowered for birth in a one-night class, but it may work for some.

Focus & Structure
What does the class focus on? Natural birth? Hospital routine? Have you identified your own interests or concerns and does the class address those? For example, some people know they want to learn every relaxation technique they can, others want to know about unassisted birth just in case and still others know nothing about birth so they don’t even know which questions to ask and that’s fine as a starting point too. My classes start with exercise and nutrition, and go on to discuss stages of labor, labor positions, relaxation techniques, variations and interventions, active partner participation, postpartum care, newborn care, and more.

I like to show a variety of DVDs in my classes not only because different people learn in different ways and visual learners benefit tremendously, but I also think it’s very good for dads to see birth BEFORE they see the birth of their own child. As a doula, I’ve helped a couple where birth was considered a woman’s thing and so dad took no part in preparing and let me tell you, I was saddened to see his face as mom worked so hard to push her baby into this world. He looked horrified as he stood frozen, unable to be a support for her at all. Not only is that NOT what mom needs, but birth is actually a very beautiful and amazing moment…. if you’re prepared.

Guest Speakers
I like to invite various guest speakers to my classes in order to expose students to different practitioners and their philosophies. I have invited a pediatrician, chiropractor, acupuncturist, and a couple who has recently given birth – sometimes just one, sometimes all four, just depending on time and availability. In addition, we now also incorporate a visit to our nearby hospital into the class series so that students have an opportunity to see the hospital environment, speak to staff, understand what might typically happen in a transfer situation, and so forth. It helps bridge the gap – we all want a healthy mom and a healthy baby at the end of the day.

Certification & Experience
You may want to ask about the instructor’s certification, especially if you are interested in a particular birthing method. However, bear in mind that there are both excellent and mediocre certified teachers and excellent and mediocre uncertified teachers. Talk to them to get a feel for what their class structure may be like. Experience is a factor as well. You may also ask the teacher for references, or see who your local midwives recommend.

Beyond The Birth
Does the class focus only on pregnancy and labor or does it address beyond the birth topics as well? I like to address such topics as breastfeeding, cloth diapering, vaccination, circumcision, babywearing and whatever else comes up during the course of the series. We often discuss cord clamping, placenta rituals, car seats and anything else that people ask about.

Follow-up & Availability
I like for people to know that I am available after the birth of their babies for any questions that may come up, especially about breastfeeding. I send out ‘baby news’ emails as babies from a class are born so everyone knows who has given birth and the basic details of baby’s name and birthdate and weight. I always enjoy our class reunions where we hear about everyone’s life with baby and all the joys and challenges that entails.

Take away what works for YOU
As an educator, I know that some people are visual learners, whereas others are auditory learners and still others learn best by doing so I work to incorporate a variety of activities into my classes, but not everyone will like everything. Also, we click with certain people and not with others. I am not the right teacher for everyone, and I may be exactly the right teacher for others. One thing I have learned over years of reading class evaluations is that you cannot please all the people all the time. Although my evaluations have been overwhelmingly positive, it sometimes makes me wonder how two people can attend the same class and have such different perceptions. Some may say they wanted more information about nutrition while another thinks there was too much emphasis on nutrition. One may have really resonated with a certain exercise while another got little out of it. Some really enjoy certain videos and rate them highly while others rate them so-so. Some find labor rehearsal exercises particularly helpful while others feel uncomfortable or unmotivated. So the bottom line is that you need to take away from the class whatever it is that resonates with you the most and leave the rest behind. Knowing how you learn best, what your priorities are and what your concerns and interests are may help you ask the right questions to decide if a particular class is the best fit for you.

What was most important for you in your childbirth class?

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