To Take the Class or Not…That’s the Question…

childbirth ed

Childbirth education classes.  Are they all they’re cracked up to be?  Are they really that important, necessary, worth your time?

It’s been a little bit since I’ve posted in my pregnancy series.  In keeping with the sequencing of preparing for baby, it seemed the next logical post should address the idea of childbirth education classes and their importance to pregnant mamas.  Let me just start out by saying that whether you’re planning, or hoping for, a natural delivery or medicated, vaginal birth or cesarean section, childbirth education classes are a MUST in my opinion.  The ultimate goal is for mamas (and dads) to have the confidence to make their own choices and decisions during the childbirth experience.  This confidence comes directly from educating oneself and being fully prepared for what is about to occur during that beautiful time.  Childbirth education classes don’t just educate; they can relieve stress and anxiety by explaining the ins and outs of labor, inform mamas of their options, teach relaxation, breathing and pain relieving techniques, create and foster a bond between mom and dad in preparation for baby’s arrival, inform dad about the process, support he can give and his role in the birth of his child and prepare new mamas for what lies ahead.

“Taking a course is not a requirement; you’ll get to give birth no matter what,” says Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Workman Publishing). “It’s just that they call it ‘childbirth preparation’ for a reason: it helps prepare you. It takes the mystery out of it. Information is empowering, and what you don’t know can scare you more than it should.”

Although most doctors, midwives and doulas across the country recommend their patients take some sort of childbirth education/preparation class, more and more women are choosing to forgo taking the class in exchange for doing their own research on the internet (which might explain why you’re reading this post in the first place! ;)).  According to a study by Listening to Mothers II: Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences (Declercq, Sakala, Corry, & Applebaum, 2006), researchers found that only about 56% of women expecting their first baby took a childbirth prep class and 9% of experienced mamas took a class.  However, 82% of women included in the study claimed to have wanted more information about the birth process.  These statistics are startlingly alarming for maternity doctors, nurses, midwives and doulas.  Basically what it means is that although women admit to needing/desiring to be better informed, they are not following through with taking the classes that can give them this knowledge.  This leads to women in the delivery room who are not prepared, have no information on breathing or relaxation techniques (think this might have something to do the fact that 81% of first time moms have an epidural!?) and who have to rely whole-heartedly on their provider for advice and what to do.  Not only does this cause more work for the provider, but it also creates an experience where the mama is unable to take charge of her birth and make informed decisions on behalf of herself and her baby where she is in control.

Benefits of Childbirth Education Classes

  • Build mama’s (and dad’s) confidence in herself and her ability to give birth
  • Educate on the process of labor including stages, what to expect, duration of each stage, etc.
  • Inform mama on signs of labor, when to call your caregiver/go to the hospital or birthing center, what to do if your water breaks, how to time contractions, false labor vs the real deal
  • Give parents the ability to discuss and dispel fears and concerns not only with the childbirth educator, but also with other couples with similar concerns
  • Educate on pain management techniques including breathing, relaxation, massage, aromatherapy and pain medicine options.
  • Not only teach about breathing techniques, but also give mamas an opportunity to practice these techniques ahead of time so that she feels more prepared for labor
  • Inform dads (or birth partners) on support to give laboring mamas, what to expect and what role to take in the childbirth process (things to do, get, be in charge of, etc.)
  • Build a community of support by getting to know other couples in your class that are going through the same thing you are
  • Inform mamas of what to expect before, during and after labor, both physically and emotionally.  Including recovery information and tips.
  • Educate new parents about care of newborns – safety, feeding, diapering, overall care, how to identify illness, how to deal with fussiness, etc.
  • Give parents an opportunity to tour their birthing facility (if classes are taken at the same location) – this reduces anxiety, gets you familiar with the surroundings and eases tension when labor actually starts because you’ll know exactly where to go!

“Prepared childbirth classes remain a valuable experience for individuals who participated. In the present study, the majority of women who attended classes viewed childbirth educators and prepared childbirth classes positively. Women who attended classes were more satisfied with their labor and birth experience and felt more prepared compared to women who did not attend classes” – “Patient’s Perspectives on the Role of Prepared Childbirth Education in Decision”, Lamaze Institute

Types of Childbirth Education Classes Offered

  • Lamaze® International: a contemporary curriculum that supports birth as normal, natural, and healthy and empowers expectant women and their partners to make informed decisions.  For more info: http://www.lamaze.org
  • The Bradley Method®: helps women prepare for a natural labor and birth without the use of medication or medical interventions.  For more info: http://www.bradleybirth.com/
  • Hypnobirthing®: teaches mothers that if you remove fear and tension, severe pain does not have to be part of labor. Intense relaxation will enhance natural birthing instincts that lead to a calm and serene birth experience.  For more info: http://www.hypnobirthing.com/
  • Birthing From Within®: prepares mothers to give “birth-in-awareness,” not to achieve a specific birth outcome.  For more info: http://www.birthingfromwithin.com/

Where Do I Find a Childbirth Education Class?

Or talk to:

  • Your caregiver – doctor, midwife or doula
  • Your birth facility – hospital or birthing center
  • Friends and family
  • Community resource centers

So there you have it.  Some of the ways that educating yourself ahead of time through childbirth education classes can help before, during and after your childbirth experience.  Can you find some of this same information on the internet??  Probably, and in fact people like me would be without readers if no one used the good ol’ World Wide Web to educate themselves.  However, there is something to be said about having that back and forth conversation and relationship while learning, the ability to ask questions and get expert advice, building and fostering relationships not only between you and your spouse/birth partner, but also among other couples preparing to take the same journey as you and the educator who is a certified expert in this content and obtaining hands-on skills and practice that can only be achieved through childbirth education classes.

I get it, you’re thinking that all that breathing crap is hooey when it comes time for labor and yeah, yeah it will all go out the window when the pain gets tough… but I’m here to tell you that that isn’t always the case.  Take it from a girl who “breathed” her way through a natural childbirth.  Furthermore, don’t you suppose those breathing and relaxation techniques might come in handy later in life??  For example, when the baby has colic and won’t stop crying for hours, or when your toddler has pushed you to the limit??  Besides, these classes are about WAY more than just breathing (as we’ve already established)!  So if you haven’t done so already, do some research and get yourself signed up for a childbirth prep class.  Trust me, you won’t regret it…but if you don’t, when the going gets tough right around being dilated to 5-6…you’ll wish you had! 😉

“We could all use a little Lamaze in our life endeavors.  Between each push, remember to breathe.” -Unknown

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References:

American Pregnancy Association

Lamaze Institute, “Patient’s Perspectives on the Role of Prepared Childbirth Education in Decision”

Listening to Mothers II: Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences

 

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