Childbirth Education Classes
Women have always prepared for birth according to their cultures and times. Historically, the pain which begins to build at the beginning of the birth process may itself have always served as a signal to a woman and her companions that the time to focus on moving through labor to the birth of her child is at hand. She must turn from other life activities to the important life-giving work of birth. A woman today should be able to give birth confidently, free to find comfort in a variety of ways, and supported by family and healthcare professionals who trust that she has within her the ability to give birth.
So how does a mother-to-be get from sitting among a maze of pregnancy and birth magazines, birth facility forms and articles about rising cesarean birth rates and falling numbers of birthing agencies, get to that feeling of confidence and support? If labor and birth are as most mothers tell us demanding and requiring great effort, how can expectant parents best prepare?
The choice of a healthcare professional such as a doctor or midwife with whom a woman plans the clinical aspects of pregnancy and birth, can provide her and her family with visits that include examinations, recommendations for prenatal testing and information tailored to her needs as the pregnancy progresses. Books, magazines, brochures and reality televised birth programming provide other ways to learn about labor and birth. Family members are welcome to appointments and provide their own advice and viewpoints regarding pregnancy and birth in informal ways.
So who needs childbirth classes today? Experienced childbirth educators are aware that more and more parents are not sure that childbirth education is for them. It’s been a long time since a wave of women wanted to give birth in a different way, without twilight sleep, awake and aware, and with their chosen partners with them. So with these goals largely a reality and with the better availability of anesthetics allowing women to be awake and participating in the labor and birth process, should the childbirth educator be seeking other employment? Not as long as there are families having babies and asking questions. What may have been left out in all the barrage of information of uneven quality available today is the importance for the mother of making this birth her own birth. Women who are supported in their choices by family and birth attendants in childbearing look forward to birth with greater confidence in their own abilities.
The range of subjects addressed during a comprehensive childbirth series can be interesting and varied for both parents and family members who wish to participate. Where else can expectant parents spend informal time with other parents with similar hopes and concerns? Where else can they discuss the big issues of fear, confidence and values they are forming about their changing selves? With the facilitation of an open-minded, knowledgeable childbirth educator, the important storytelling of the birth process takes on a very personal significance.
Today’s childbirth educators come from a variety of educational backgrounds and philosophies of birth. They should always be eager to discuss with parents the content of their classes, their experience and affiliations with agencies and birth related organizations.
Childbirth preparation classes afford women and their families the opportunities to learn about normal birth, evidence based medical options and practices and ways to enhance and personalize the birth experience. Classes may include tips on comfort strategies for pregnancy and birth to which the mother and her family may already be accustomed, such as relaxation for easing fatigue and tension, mobility and position, heat and cool applications, water therapies, touch and massage. In addition some programs focus more intensively on specific areas of application such as yoga, hypnosis, self-awareness, birth at home or at birth centers and preparation for brothers and sisters at birth.
Staff at a woman’s prenatal care provider’s office can be a first stop in helping her to find and review the various childbirth education opportunities in her area which will best match her needs and personal feelings about what is important about birth and family. A woman may also wish to ask questions of independent educators and birth facility affiliated educators. Friends with babies who are approaching their first birthdays are also a good source of information because they have gained some perspective on the experience of the childbearing year. National and regional childbirth organizations such as Lamaze International, the International Childbirth Education Association, The Bradley Method and HypnoBirthing are a few of the organizations who maintain websites with information about their philosophies and childbirth educator locators by zip code.
Before you commit to a program of classes, consider the following.
What is important to me in learning more about my birth?
My values and those of my partner related to birth
Are we looking for general information about pregnancy and birth? Or are we more interested in preparation and coping for labor and birth which may include small groups and practice of comfort measures?
The length, number of participants, timing of classes and accommodation to my available time
Are classes offered in different formats and time frames? Who am I welcome to bring to classes? Are there group size limits to encourage discussion? Will there be time for personal discussion with the educators?
The affiliations of the facilitators and educators and the focus of the classes
What is the experience and background of the educators especially in the field of childbirth preparation? How do they remain current in their field?
Opportunities to talk with an educator before enrolling
Is it easy to talk with the registration staff and the educators? Do they offer alternative referrals for services they may not provide?
Will the class be welcoming to single parents, young parents and those with special needs?
Some classes are especially geared to teens, second time parents, and families with older children. Some classes make an effort to provide close-captioned videos or scripts and other assistive materials.
The availability of related activities and services
These may include facilities tours, trained doulas for labor and support after birth, breastfeeding support and infant safety and baby care sessions.
Affordability and possibility of insurance reimbursements and financial help
Always ask about discounts for taking more than one class, special programs from health plans and sliding fee scales.
Reading the books and seeing the movies may be very valuable in preparing for childbirth. The question every expectant mother needs to ask herself is, “What else do I need to add to the knowledge and qualities I already have to give me confidence in my ability to give birth? If her answer leads her to explore a little further, some of the best childbirth educators in the real world are waiting for her call.
Editorial provided by Diana Chiaverini, RN, M Ed, LCCE, FACCE. Diana is the Clinical Supervisor of Community Education at Magee-Womens Hospital of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Oakland.
- Lothian, Judith A. (2007). Selling Normal Birth: Six Ways to Make Birth Easier. Journal of Perinatal Education, vol. 16(3), 44-46.