Choosing a childbirth class is important. A mediocre class will do little more for you than reading a decent book about birth. Finding a phenomenal childbirth class will inspire and nurture you, realistically and practically prepare you, and ultimately put you on the strongest foundation possible as a new family. Here are some tips on how to find a great childbirth class.
Qualities of a phenomenal childbirth class
Some childbirth classes provide benefits you can’t gain online or from a book. Others provide information you could have read faster at home. You want to avoid “death by powerpoint” and videos that remind you of a CPR instruction course. Childbirth classes should fill your soul. The teacher should clearly love what they do. You should feel, eventually, like you want to be there. You should walk away feeling introspective, inspired, empowered, or ready. On the last night of a recent childbirth class I taught, someone said, “I don’t know how we can ever thank you – I feel like I’m ready to go out and be super dad.” Yes! That is a good class.
Childbirth classes should also empower you to identify what does and doesn’t matter to you and should give you a real idea of how to optimally influence your birth. Excellent education does not give you a full measure of control over how your birth will unfold. It does not guarantee a vaginal birth. But it should increase or affirm your confidence, your knowledge of how to care for yourself, and your knowledge about your options at the place where you are giving birth and how to promote your preferences. Some classes do this; others simply provide an orientation to what to expect at the hospital. They teach you what will be expected of you, or how to be a “good patient.”
If the class instruction on how to deal with the pain of childbirth feels like a stretch – meaning you find it hard to believe that a little hand massage could really help with labor pain – it probably is. Instruction on how to work constructively with labor should feel helpful. You should have a sense that whatever you are being taught could really work for you.
And finally, excellent childbirth classes help you build a care team. They increase your knowledge of how to help one another, who to invite to your birth, and how to work together with the health care professionals who will be caring for you. They do not increase your anxiety and fear about the hospital, forced routines, unnecessary interventions, and being pressured or distracted during your birth. Birth in hospitals is institutionalized, which means that there are policies and practices and an institutional culture that you need to be aware of. In some hospitals, the institutional culture will be a great fit for what you want, and in others it will not. A good childbirth class does not ignore these features or teach you how to blindly fit into them, but it also does not teach you to take a defensive stance. Rather, a great childbirth class will explain these influences and empower you to navigate them – appreciating and making the most of what they offer, while teaching specific tools for deconstructing the influences that are counter-productive to your goals.
4 Ideas for how to find a great childbirth class
Childbirth classes are offered at many hospitals and in most communities they are offered privately as well, meaning that the instructor is self employed or works for a non-profit organization instead of the hospital. Taking a hospital tour or attending an orientation night is a great idea for everyone. It will help you become familiar with your hospital before you are in labor and will inform you about their practices. This is not a replacement for great childbirth classes! To find a great childbirth class, hospital-based or otherwise, follow these 4 steps.
- Make sure the childbirth class you take fits your approach to labor pain! Some classes assume you want an epidural. Others strongly advocate natural birth. When teaching ways to cope with pain, some classes favor a very specific technique taught in detail, others provide basic instruction in a wide array of techniques while emphasizing confidence, and still others treat the topic trivially and ineffectively. Take my approach to labor pain quiz to find out what style fits you, and which childbirth class brands (such as Bradley, Birthing from Within, BirthWorks, Lamaze, or ALACE) are the best fit for each style. For more information on epidurals and why you would or would not want one see Should I Get an Epidural?
- Ask around. Attend local moms groups, inquire at local baby stores, ask friends, family, and co-workers. If someone responds with enthusiasm and urges you to take the class they took, that’s a great sign!
- Ask your doctor or midwife if there are local childbirth classes that they particularly recommend or dislike. Find out their reasons why. (Note that this conversation may help you find a great class, and/or it may uncover defenses that make you realize you should consider a new care provider).
- Call the instructor! Be familiar with different approaches to labor pain and ask them what style they feel most accurately describes their class. Even though different class brands have different approaches to pain management, individual instructors vary a lot. Also ask them how they feel about the culture and procedures at your local place of birth and listen between the lines to discern if they are:
- Primarily concerned with making you comfortable and/or compliant with policies,
- Adversarial – concerned with making you an informed consumer who can put up a fight,
- Aware and empowering – able to help you know what to expect, and if necessary how to navigate less than optimal influences while still appreciating all they have to offer. (Note that there are birth locations that are hostile to involved patients and highly interventive. If an instructor who seems like a team builder feels that your best option is to change to a different birth location, take her seriously!)
Aim to find someone who falls into that “C” category.
What to do if you can’t find a great local childbirth class
If you can’t find a great childbirth class locally (and in some areas you can’t), consider the following options:
- Travel to a nearby city to attend a weekend intensive or one-day course.
- Choose a high-quality on-line program or DVD and schedule class date nights to watch the material together and enjoy dinner afterwards so you can talk about the material and thoughts it triggers.
- Read books and web sites instead. See my pregnancy book reviews and recommended web sites for suggestions. My birth related planning guides (Birth Preparation, Preparation for Birth Partners, Birth Plan Template, and Postpartum 101) are also great pieces of your preparation .
If you choose these options it is a good idea to also tour your local place of birth and attend an orientation night or abbreviated class if they offer one. This will give you a good idea of what to expect in your area and will help things feel more familiar on the day of your birth. You may also want to work with a pregnancy coach by phone or find a local doula, mentor, or friend who is knowledgeable about birth and babies. Using these options together you can recreate most of the benefits of a great childbirth class and find yourself informed, empowered, supported, and self-aware: the gifts of childbirth preparation.