should i take childbirth classes?
If you are pregnant, you may be wondering, “Should I take a childbirth class?” If you are an expecting parent, childbirth education classes will help you feel empowered and confident as you move through your labor, birth, and new parenting experiences. You will feel prepared for the big day and beyond with an evidence-based understanding of physiologic birth, the stages of labor, pain coping options and tools, postpartum adjustment and recovery, and so much more. During a pandemic period, you can safely take childbirth classes virtually and reap the benefits of childbirth education from the comfort of your couch, while learning about how to have a positive and confident hospital birth during covid-19.
While you can google and YouTube your way through childbirth information, professional childbirth classes are curated and created to truly prepare you to give birth. If someone has told you birth is unpredictable (it is) and there is no way to prepare for it (there is!), or that birth is a natural bodily function so there is no need to learn about it, or that your doctor will tell you what to do so why bother with learning about birth, please read on to learn about how taking a childbirth class will put you on the path to a better birth.
What will I learn in my childbirth class?
As a childbearing person, you have the right to accurate, current, scientific evidence-based information about pregnancy, labor, birth, and newborn care. Equipped with this information, you will feel confident to ask questions and make decisions that are right for you and your baby as you lead the way through your labor and birth.
Topics covered in an evidence-based childbirth class include:
- Physiologic birth
Understanding physiologic birth–the process of labor starting and progressing on its own to a vaginal birth followed by baby and birth parent skin to skin, all in a physically and psychologically supportive environment–provides an important foundation for the knowledge you need to prepare for your birth. In your childbirth class, you will learn about the normal body functions, including the hormones of labor, the work of your amazing uterus, and baby’s own movements, that make up the unique process between the birthing parent and baby that is birth.
- Healthy birth practices
Science-backed practices support your body’s ability to have a safe, healthy labor and birth. These include letting labor begin on its own, moving around and changing positions throughout labor, continuous support for the laboring person, avoiding the use of interventions that aren’t medically necessary, following your body’s urges to push and avoiding lying on your back, and keeping your baby with you after birth, connecting skin to skin.
- Optimal Fetal Positioning
How does the position of your baby impact your labor and birth, and what can you do to encourage your baby to be in or move to an optimal position for passing through your pelvis?
- Signs of labor
What are signs that your labor is possibly, probably, or definitely getting going?
Understanding the three stages of labor and how to recognize where you are in the process will boost your confidence as you journey through labor, and help you to decide when to go to the hospital or birthing center or when to call your midwife if you are birthing at home.
- Pain coping
There are many ways to cope with the intermittent “pain with a purpose” that comes with your contractions. As your uterus contracts and you experience labor pain (or waves or sensations, depending on your choice of terminology), you have a range of comfort measure to choose from to help you cope with pain, discomfort, and/or anxiety and find the 3 R’s, rhythm, ritual, and relaxation, which expert doula Penny Simkin defined. You’ll learn position changes, partner support such as massage and counterpressure, conscious breathing, and a wide variety of comfort tools and other techniques you can learn about and practice in your childbirth class, and practice further after you have completed your class.
- Medical support options
In addition to the pain coping you and your birth partner can do on your own, you will learn about medical approaches to pain coping available at the hospital: epidural anesthesia, narcotic analgesics, and nitrous oxide. How do they work, what are the benefits and risks, and what is it like to labor with them in place?
- Medical interventions
What other medical interventions might I see at my place of birth, how can they help me, and how can I avoid being given unnecessary medical interventions? It is important that you know your rights as a childbearing person, including the right to full and clear information about the benefits, risks, and costs of any procedure or treatment, as well as any alternatives to it, including doing nothing. Your childbirth instructor will walk you through the reasons for, processes of, and how to prepare for induction and augmentation of labor, cesarean birth, and other medical interventions used in the event of pregnancy and birth complications.
- Informed consent and refusal
You have the right to accept or refuse any procedures, tests, medications or other treatments, to have your choices respected and honored, and to change your mind at any time. Childbirth classes provide you with an awareness of these rights and how to advocate for yourself if they are not respected.
- Birth preferences (aka birth plans)
What are the advantages of writing a birth preferences sheet, what should you include, and with whom should you share it? Your instructor will address these and other questions you might have.
- The “golden hour” and newborn procedures
You will learn about the importance of skin to skin contact with your baby right after birth or as soon as you are able to do so (recommended by the AAP and CDC). Newborn procedures don’t need to take place until you’ve had a chance to bond with your baby and breastfeed/chestfeed for the first time. A childbirth class will prepare you for this special time when you meet your baby and how to adjust in the case that you experience separation from your baby.
- Postpartum adjustment, recovery, and planning
Making sure you are knowledgeable ahead of time about the changes your body will undergo during postpartum adjustment and recovery is key to a healthy new parenting transition. Childbirth classes will educate you about what to expect and how to prepare for the support you will need, mental health awareness and guidance, self-care, feeding your newborn, and resources you can access for help at any time you feel the need. Often companies focused on childbirth preparation offer additional classes to help you prepare for postpartum, learn newborn care, and understand lactation.
Any other benefits of childbirth education classes?
- Self and partner advocacy – You will gain courage to advocate for yourselves to receive safe and respectful care in your place of birth.
- Learn about what you can expect from your birth team, and how to assess whether you are on the same page as your care provider. This is also a chance to get on the same page with your birth partner if you aren’t there already.
- Partner confidence – Birthing classes prepare birth partners with knowledge about comfort measures and confidence with regard to how best to support you during labor.
- You may gain an awareness of concerns, fears, and other emotional barriers that you are bringing with you, and will have a safe, supportive space in which to address and overcome them.
- Community connection – In small group classes, whether virtually or in person, you will have opportunities to meet and connect with other pregnant people and partners, and learn from their questions and experiences.
- Ask questions and learn about the support that birth and postpartum doulas, lactation consultants, and mental health professionals can provide during pregnancy, labor, birth, and early parenthood.
There are multiple childbirth class formats for you to choose from so you can find one to match your schedule. Go ahead and sign up for one that works for you. Empower yourself through preparation!