Category Archives: Interactive activity

Activities for Online Birth Classes

In the past year, so many of us have moved our classes online. We may continue to be online through coronavirus and beyond, as some instructors are considering continuing to offer online classes from now on, in addition to in-person. We’ve discovered that online classes can help make our classes more accessible to people from a broader geographic area, to people with limited transportation, folks who don’t want to deal with commuting to and parking at a class site, folks with disabilities, parents on bed rest, and more.

How do we make our online classes as engaging and memorable as possible? Here are lots of ideas for interactive birth class activities. My examples will go in order from pregnancy topics through the stages of labor and into postpartum and baby care. Most of the techniques can be adapted to many more topics than I address in my example.

Healthy Pregnancy

Due to my state’s Medicaid requirements, we have to cover several specific topics, including substances (alcohol, drugs, tobacco), healthy nutrition and food safety, exercise, sexuality and more. To address these topics, you could create an online Jeopardy game, or create a quiz in Kahoot to use in class, or use Zoom polls to quiz them during class. Or you could use Google Forms to create a quiz to send to the students as “homework.” You could use these wellness cards for ideas for questions and answers to include. You could adapt a grab bag activity by having a slide show with pictures of items and asking them to talk about them.

Anatomy Pictionary

Sharon Muza has a great icebreaker activity where she has students draw anatomy. You can easily adapt this to online classes by splitting students up into breakout rooms, have them use the Zoom whiteboard to create drawings, then screen capture those and return to the main room to share.

Jamboard Signs of Labor

This is an interactive bulletin board type activity, where there are post-its listing symptoms that labor may be starting. Students sort them into possible, probable, and positive signs of labor. Find it here, and make a copy for your use: https://jamboard.google.com/d/1a_zy4wqWA6koO0bfuQ_6aAbZIWjekdMjinHLaO_mjdo/edit?usp=sharing

On a Zoom call, the way you would use this is: paste the link into chat. Everyone goes to the link and they can all manipulate it together, and you can talk them through it. (Learn more about using outside apps with Zoom.) If you’re meeting in-person, I’ve got an old school version of this activity where you print the cards and they sort them.

Comfort Techniques Chat Storm

Tell them “I’m going to ask you all to type some ideas into chat… First, I want you to think about when you’re sick – what helps you to feel better?” They start typing, then you can prompt them more… “It may help you to think – when you were a kid, what did your parent do to help you feel better? Or what did you wish they had done that you think would have helped.” As all the ideas pour in over chat, you can read some out loud, affirm them, comment on how these might be used in labor. Then do another storm for “what helps you to relax?” (more questions)

Comfort Tools Scavenger Hunt

Either during your presentation on comfort techniques for early labor, or in a discussion of “what to pack for the hospital”, send students off to find something in their house that helps when they’re in pain, or sick, or feeling worried. Have them do show and tell, and talk about how you could use those in labor.

Virtual Background for Hospital Routines

When you discuss arriving at the hospital, you can use a photo of triage room as your virtual background. (Learn how to use virtual backgrounds in Zoom.) When you discuss moving to the hospital room, change your background to reflect that.

Word Cloud – what will labor be like?

During in-person classes, I’ve used a worksheet where people can circle words that represent what they think birth will be like (words like: messy, excruciating, beautiful, long…). Then they discuss – if your birth is like that, what support will you need? (Or if you’re providing labor support, and the birth is like that, how will you best support the laboring person?) In a virtual class, you could do this as a word cloud, where all the students add their words, and you’d see common themes arise, as words that multiple people type are shown bigger than those only added by one. I have directions on how to do a word cloud in mentimeter here: https://janelledurham.com/guide…/use-other-apps-with-zoom/

Jigsaw Puzzle Stages of Labor

Take your favorite poster / infographic of the Stages of Labor, and convert it to a jigsaw puzzle, as Mallory Emerson describes here: https://www.lamaze.org/Connecting-the-Dots/Post/series-brilliant-activities-for-birth-educators-solve-the-puzzle-of-virtual-teaching. For copyright purposes, you should only use images that you otherwise have the rights to use in your classroom. You can purchase a variety of images. I like the Road Map of Labor from Childbirth Graphics, but there’s also good stuff available through Plumtree, Better Birth, and Birthing with Guinever. (Find links to those products in my post on Where to Find AV Aids.)

You could either use this as homework – send students a link to do at home after class, or you could do it collaboratively during an online class – maybe as a warm-up before starting class or as a breaktime activity. It’s low key, interactive, and good for the visual and kinesthetic learners to review labor stages by interacting with the images.

Continuum Exercises

In a classroom, I have used a continuum exercise for something like: “If you have TONS of experience taking care of lots of newborn babies, go to that end of the room. If you’ve never held a baby under 6 months old, go to that end. The rest of you array yourself somewhere on that continuum.” It’s helpful to me to see the range of knowledge and helpful to them to see that they’re not the only ones… I have never done this for topics that I feel like people can be judgmental about… “oh, I knew she was one of those people.” But online you can do this anonymously. Have a slide showing a continuum like the pain medication preference scale, and you can have them annotate it to mark where they are. (You could also do this a poll or using another – rate on a scale of 1 – 10 type tool.)

Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down Reactions

They can use Zoom reactions to vote. Could be used for something like: “is this normal or is this a warning sign?” Or “is it time to go to the birthplace?” Or “True or False.”

More Ideas / Training

For more general ideas you could adapt to perinatal topics, check out my Zoom Guide for more ideas on Demo Physical Activities on Zoom, Games and Interaction on Zoom, Use Other Apps with Zoom, Using Zoom on Facebook Portal, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about exactly how to use virtual teaching techniques in the birth class setting, I highly recommend the Creative and Confident classes offered by Sharon Muza, FACCE and Mallory Emerson, LCCE.

AV Aids for Birth Classes – 3-D Models

In a separate post, I cover where to find: posters, PowerPoints, illustrations, and handouts. This post is focused on 3-D models: pelvis, breast, fetal dolls, placentas, and so on.

Note, all prices and links are current as of February 2021, and all may change (especially the Etsy items.)

Childbirth Graphics is the most comprehensive source. They’ve got all the basics: pelvises, fetal dolls, placentas, and breasts. And a whole lot more: cervix models, milk fat comparisons, pregnancy bellies… Durable and high quality. Sample prices: set of pelvis, doll, placenta, perineum is $256; pelvis $74 or $133; newborn doll $69; breast model $87.

Cascade Health Care Products has a number of products… they appear to all be Childbirth Graphics items that they are selling. Some of their prices are higher than Childbirth Graphics and some are lower, so it’s worth comparing. Set $279; doll $64; breast $97.

Birthing, Bonding, and Breastfeeding. Has rubber breast models ($20), crocheted breasts, and a breast model scarf. They say “The rubber silicone-filled breast forms a seal to allow for demonstration of flange fitting and nipple positioning. Breast reacts to pump and simulates what pumping should look like when the nipple placement is correct.”

Anatomy Warehouse. They have multiple pelvis styles and a placenta. They also have lots of anatomical training models that are not items you would use in a class. Pelvises range from $41 – $70.

Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators. This is not a site that sells AV aids… it’s a blog that tells you how to make your own! Lots of fun ideas for interactive activities.

Crochet or Knit Your AV’s: this post has links to patterns.

DIY Pelvis. How to make a pelvis model from 2 file folders!

Amazon

You can buy models on Amazon. They sell the Childbirth Graphics set, but it’s $275, and you can get it for $256 direct from CG. They have multiple inexpensive pelvises that claim to be life-size and flexible, but the reviews often say they are not life-size, not flexible and not that well-made. (But, they do have one that’s just $39, so maybe that’s a fair compromise?) They have this mini doll and pelvis for $39 or the doll, pelvis and placenta for $69, but the quality looks poor. (And they also have identical products that are sold under many brand names for a wide variety of prices, which is typical of low quality imports.) I think you would be better served by saving up money for one of the professional quality models from Childbirth Graphics (which last for decades!) or picking one of the Etsy items below.

(Note: the Amazon links are affiliate links – if you purchase anything on Amazon after clicking on one, I do get a small referral fee.)

Etsy Shops

Edy’s Wonderland. Set of pelvis, uterus, baby, placenta $167 (can buy pieces separately.) Miniature set of baby, placenta, uterus, beanie, diaper $56. Breast $17.

Wicked Stitches. The full set shown of sperm, uterus, placenta, baby, breast, belly balls, and baby poop / diaper is $131. All sold separately. Sample cost – breast $18.

Mother Hen Doula – Felt Pelvis for $6. Knitted breast $8, placenta $9, uterus $17.

Viva Doula. Non-pregnant uterus with detachable vagina and vulva; full-term uterus, placenta and sac; breast $234 for set; pieces sold separately. Sample cost breast $53. Also has miniature sets, dolls, knit penis, weighted doll $197.

Birth Matters NW. Weighted Dolls. $50

Mam Amour Dolls. Breast model and breastfeeding baby doll, $221. VBAC Mama Doll $234.

Namsis Craft. Breast and latch $25; placenta $110; doll $80, pelvis $60, uterus.

Milk Mama Milk. Placenta, baby, uterus $119; breast and latch puppet $34, diaper with poop $13, belly balls $12.

Your Birth. Doll $20. Cesarean birth apron $65.

Bebek liked ishop. Placenta, non-pregnant uterus, 4 breasts for $170. Placenta $48.

Soul Mama Crochet. Breast $22, breast and placenta $44

Hazel Creates Threads. Cloth pelvis, uterus and amniotic sac, crochet placenta and breast $133

Clover Care Doula Services. Uterus, placenta and membranes $108.

More ideas?

If you know of other great sources, add them in the comments!

AV Aids for Birth Classes – Posters and Images

I’m gathering links to resources, and will continue to add more, but here’s some to get you started. I cover posters, handouts, and illustrations in this post. I have a separate post on where to find resources for 3-D models, like pelvises and placentas.

Childbirth Graphics is sort of the grande-dame of AV Aids. They’ve got pelvises, fetal dolls, placentas, posters, and handouts galore. Primarily physical products you can order and have shipped to you. They have digital versions of posters you could use in an online class. Durable and high quality.

Plumtree Baby. Handouts, posters, and PowerPoints. Like Childbirth Graphics, all good stuff, with a really great look.

Transition to Parenthood. I have around 100 free-to-use illustrations depicting labor and birth positions, maternity care interventions, breastfeeding, and more. All .jpgs you can copy and use wherever you want free of charge.

I also have lots of free printable handouts for birth classes. The Guide to Labor Support is a 2 page cheat sheet that covers the theories of fear-tension-pain and gate control, covers counter-irritants and hormones, and more. I have three wallet cards: questions for informed consent and two versions of a comfort techniques reminder.

Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators. This is not a site that sells AV aids… it’s a blog that tells you how to make your own! Lots of fun ideas for interactive activities.

Better Birth Blog – Lauren McClain, birth educator, has created lots of great visually appealing handouts on a wide variety of perinatal topics. They’re primarily digital files you can print or share with clients.

There are free handouts for childbirth ed students and doula clients at these sites, but I haven’t had a chance to review them in detail: Birth Arts and Childbirth Professionals International. (Best Doulas has created handouts from articles published elsewhere, but I would think about copyright issues for sharing those.)

HolmCreative. Shawna Holm has an Etsy shop with printed cards, a positions poster, printable PDF handouts, and vector illustrations.

Educated Birth. Cheyenne Varner creates fabulously inclusive infographics and illustrations that reproductive health workers can purchase to use as teaching tools. You receive digital files – .pdf, .jpg, .png. The basic use pricing is for people with one income stream (e.g. doula), extra use pricing is for professionals with multiple income streams (e.g. doula, CBE). Can then use with unlimited number of clients.

Queen City Birth Work has another great set of inclusive digital illustrations of birthing positions. All proceeds are donated.

Student Midwife Studygram. Jess is a NHS midwife in England. When she was in midwifery school, she began doing anatomy illustrations to help herself learn, understand and remember what she was studying. Now she makes those illustrations available for others to use. Flashcards or PDF’s.

It Starts with Birth on Etsy has printable handouts, and printable posters

Stanford Medicine Photo Gallery: Images of normal newborn appearance (milia, lanugo, etc.)

Birthing with Guinever. Has two versions of a stages of labor poster.

Cost Comparisons

There are many considerations in choosing AV Aids for your class. First, I encourage you to only choose images that show diverse people – diversity in race, orientation / gender / family structure, ability, etc. I think each of the providers listed on this page does a fair job at that, but some place this as a top priority.

Second, look for the ones which best meet your teaching needs and style.

I know that cost is a consideration for many birth professionals, so low cost is always a nice option, but I also balance that with the fact that the people who create these products are working hard to provide great professional images that support working people and deserve decent pay for that work.

I just wanted to give some sense of the cost of items, so tried my best to compare apples to apples. I looked for a Stages of Labor poster on each of these sites (images above). Childbirth Graphics: 22 x 28 stages poster $25. Plumtree Baby 18×24 stages poster $24; Better Birth stages poster 11×17 (I think) $25. Educated Birth – Labor positions poster with comfort techniques – 24×36 $52. HolmCreative has a 12×36 poster of positions for labor for $50. Student Midwife fetal station and mechanics of labor poster, 11.7×16.5, £8 = $12. Birthing with Guinever – .jpg image, free download.

More ideas?

For more links, check out the Pinterest pages for Foothills Birth Services and Tina Gibbs’ Antenatal Teacher board.

If you know of other great sources, add them in the comments!

Interventions – the Role Playing Game

Years ago, I created a Dice Game for Exploring Variations in Labor which I used when I taught a two hour class on interventions. I divide the class into three groups, and have them create three characters with different motivations, and at various points during the class, I have them roll dice and/or flip coins to see how the labors are playing out, then ask them to role-play how they think their character would respond to those circumstances.

I used the activity a few times, then my teaching schedule shifted to where I was mostly teaching refresher classes, breastfeeding and newborn care, so I shifted out of the habit of using it.

This weekend, I was scheduled for a 5 hour class which covered pain meds, interventions, cesarean, and postpartum. I decided this game would be a fun way to structure the majority of the class. I decided to start it by having them flip one coin and roll one die to determine where their character is on the pain medication preference scale. Then I asked them to create a character, decide WHY that was her pain med preference, and what support team and birth plan she’d have based on that. (Note: you could also include the medical mindset tool here.) Then we went from there, walking through:

  • what week in pregnancy labor started (and talking about preterm labor, induction, and decision making about induction)
  • how early labor started, how long it was, and how they’d cope and when they’d go to the hospital (to review that info from previous week)
  • how long their active labor would be, what they could do to move it along, augmentation, and whether they would choose pain meds based on the combination of their initial preferences and how labor was unfolding for them
  • how long pushing would take, what they could do to help, whether interventions would be offered, and what decisions they would make

The class went VERY well, with all the students really engaged, and really getting moments of insight into decision making and the need to be flexible about the details of the birth plan while still honoring the general intent. I also think it felt very non-judgmental, honoring the variety of reasons why people might make the decisions they do.

For example, our character with the -5 PMPS, who was a naturopath and planned a home birth ended up rolling on her first roll that induction was needed. So, we saw how that played out through the rest of the labor. Our character with the +6 requested induction and was counseled out of it, but then went into labor naturally at week 38, and had a fast early labor, and the epidural she chose, but then rolled a slower active labor, so we got to think through what that would be like.

Note: Although there’s lots of randomizing rolls and coin flips, I do sometimes adjust or nudge the results a bit. I want it to turn out that each character faces some challenges, but each ends with a vaginal birth and a positive experience. I cover cesarean after the role play is over.

There are so many ways you can adapt this idea, from a 10 minute review of the stages of labor, to a 30 minute labor rehearsal, or 2 hours on variation, or this ~4 hours class which includes stages review, practice of coping techniques, pain meds, and cesarean. Here’s a lesson plan for this class.

 

Labor Hormones in under 10 minutes

Note: this page is about how professionals can TEACH this concept to expectant parents. If you’re an expectant parent looking for info on labor hormones, their effect on labor pain, and what your partner can do to help you have a shorter and less painful labor, read Hormones and Labor Pain or listen to episode 5 of my podcast – Labor Support.

In my childbirth classes, and with doula clients, I want them to understand that our emotions, and the support we receive, absolutely affect labor on a physiological basis, by influencing our hormones. The big message is that fear and anxiety slow labor down and make it more painful. Support and feeling safe make labor faster and easier. I have simplified the complex details into a simple stick figure drawing that takes 5-10 minutes.

Before I talk about my teaching method, let’s start with…

A basic summary* of hormones

Oxytocin

  • What it does: Causes labor contractions that dilate cervix (i.e. helps labor progress)
  • What hinders oxytocin production: Anxiety, bright light, feeling observed or judged. Pitocin (if you’re given synthetic oxytocin, you make less hormonal oxytocin)
  • What increases oxytocin: Skin-to-skin contact. Nipple stimulation, making love.

Endorphins

  • What they do: Relieve pain, reduce stress (cause euphoria and feelings of interdependency)
  • What hinders endorphin production: Stress, lack of support. Narcotics (if you have an external opiate, your body will start producing less internal opiate… even after the narcotics wear off, you’ll have less endorphins)
  • What increases endorphins: social contact and support from loved ones.

Adrenaline

  • What does it do: In early / active labor: slow labor down(Imagine a rabbit in a field. If it doesn’t feel safe, it wants to keep baby inside to protect it)  In pushing stage: Make you and baby alert and ready for birth, give you energy to push quickly. (If the rabbit is about to have a baby, and something frightens it, it wants to get the baby out as quickly as possible so it can pick it up and run with it.)
  • What increases adrenaline: Stress / anxiety / fear; Lack of control; Feeling trapped; Hunger, cold
  • What increases oxytocin and endorphins and reduces adrenaline: creating an environment where the birthing parent feels private, safe, not judged, loved, respected, protected, free to move about.

Teaching about Hormones

So, in class how do I convey these ideas in just a few minutes, so it’s easy to understand and to remember?

First, I say: “In labor, our emotions and our environment effect our hormones. Our hormones have a huge effect on labor. Let’s look at a couple scenarios for labor.” [I draw two stick figures on the board.] “This one is awash in stress hormones which will make labor longer and more painful. Let’s label it adrenaline. This one is under the influence of oxytocin and endorphins. These help the laboring person shift into an altered state where labor pain is milder (less intense and less unpleasant) and also help labor progress more quickly.” [Add labels to drawings, add sad face and smiley face.]

Picture2

Then I say “So, you are all probably familiar with adrenaline. What do we call it? Yes, the fight or flight hormone. This is the idea that if an individual ran into a tiger in the woods, they would choose either to fight it or to run away. Do you know what we call oxytocin? Many call it “collect and protect” or “tend and befriend.” If a tiger is coming into our village, we gather everyone together, because we are safest together.” [I add these labels to my drawing.]  (I sometimes throw in the tidbit here that men who are not dads are more likely to release adrenaline during stressful situations; women and dads are more likely to release oxytocin – it’s the “gather the babies and protect them” response.)

Picture3

“So, what effect do these hormones have?”

“With adrenaline, all your muscles tighten. All your energy goes to your limbs in case you need to fight or run away. So, oxytocin production drops and labor slows down. (It’s hard for your cervix to open when you feel scared…)  You are also more sensitive to pain – this is useful if you’re at risk of injury – your body tells you what to move away from. But, in labor it’s not helpful – it just means labor hurts more!”

“With oxytocin and endorphins all your muscles relax. Energy is sent to the uterus and oxytocin increases. (Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, because it increases when we feel loved, and its peak levels are when we orgasm, when we birth, and when we breastfeed. It’s all about making babies, birthing babies, and feeding babies.) We also get an increased endorphin flow, which makes us less sensitive to pain, can cause euphoria, and can cause feelings of love and dependency in us… “I love you man….””

[As you talk, write the notes, and draw on the figures like this to show effects…]

Picture4

[If you teach the 3R’s method for coping with labor pain – relaxation, rhythm, and ritual, you can also add in here: If you’ve got oxytocin and endorphins flowing, you may also have more rhythm – you may rock, moan or sway rhythmically. If your partner helps to reinforce your ritual, it will help build your oxytocin and endorphins.]

“So, what causes adrenaline rushes? Fear, anxiety, feeling watched or judged, feeling like you have no control over your situation, being hungry or cold.”

“How can we tell a person in labor is rushing adrenaline? They act vigilant or panicky, have lots of muscle tension, and a high pitched voice.”

“What causes oxytocin and endorphins to flow? Feeling safe, loved, protected, having privacy, having support, eye contact, skin-to-skin contact, and love making.”

“How can we tell if someone is in an endorphin / oxytocin high? They seem open and trusting, their muscles are relaxed, and their voices are low-pitched and husky.”

[Add notes about causes and signs to your picture.]

Picture5

“So, partners, what’s the big picture summary?”

“If you remember nothing else from this class, remember this: If a person in labor feels safe, loved, and supported, her labor will be faster and less painful. If in doubt about what to do, always return to this! Anything that helps her relax, gain her rhythm and feel cared for will help her.”

More Info

* If you want a great overview of hormones in labor, read Pathways to Birth. If you want all the details on hormones in labor, read Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing. You can find them both at: http://transform.childbirthconnection.org/reports/physiology/.

Find more thoughts about teaching on my blog for childbirth educators. Check out ideas for interactive activities for childbirth  classes. To learn more about any topic related to the perinatal period, check out our book Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide

Pain Med Preferences

In classes, we talk about the Pain Medication Preference Scale from Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn. We have the expectant parents look at it together, and then encourage the pregnant parent to choose the number that best represents their preferences, and the support partner to choose what they WISH the pregnant parent would choose.

Then we have them discuss. Often they align, but not always. Sometimes there is a pregnant parent who is hoping for an un-medicated labor who has a partner who can’t bear the idea of seeing them in pain. Sometimes a pregnant parent wants medication, but the partner has concerns about side effects on them or the baby. I would much rather this issue come up during pregnancy when they can resolve it rather than arising without warning in labor.

I have designed a new worksheet that asks more questions about labor coping preferences that they can fill out separately, then discuss, to further illuminate these issues and enhance the discussion they can have about goals and preferences before labor begins. You can see the Pain Preferences Worksheet here – feel free to print and use in class.

Medical Mindset Tool

When making choices about medical care, are you a maximalist or a minimalist? A maximalist may use lots of tools to prevent and treat problems. A minimalist may try to use as few tools as possible, letting things run their natural course. What kinds of medical tools do you use? Natural remedies and self-help techniques or medicine and technology? A maximalist naturalist might prepare for birth by attending prenatal yoga, drinking raspberry leaf tea, and frequent love-making to get her oxytocin flowing. A minimalist technologist might choose a hospital birth with an OB, but ask for as few interventions as possible.

Helping your students or clients understand their medical mindset may help them in choosing care providers and birth places, and may also help them explain their decision making in labor to their partners and care givers. There are a few tools you can use to learn more and help your clients to understand this idea.

Jerome Groopman has written a book on Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What is Right for You. (He also wrote How Doctors Think and some other great books.) You can read an article which summarizes it here: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/02/%E2%80%98your-medical-mind%E2%80%99-explored/ or watch a video here that presents the idea to medical professionals: http://practicalbioethics.tv/2012/06/11/jerome-groopman-pamela-hartzband/when-experts-disagree.html

Kim James and Laurie Levy discuss this in their childbirth classes and with doula clients. They designed a worksheet you can find here: http://kimjames.net/Data/Sites/3/groopmanspectrumsforlamaze2012landscape9.24.12.pdf

I liked their idea, but found the worksheet complicated and a little dense on information for my client population, so I made a simplified version of the worksheet. Click here for the PDF. If I were using this in a class, I might give one copy to the pregnant parent, and one to the support person to fill out separately, then compare and discuss.

[Added on 7/28/15: a 2-page version of the handout that looks at more factors that affect decision-making. Find it here.]

Grab Bags

Grab bags are a fun and interactive teaching technique that is easily adapted to a wide variety of topics. Basically, you gather up a collection of small items that symbolize each topic you want to cover – you may find these things around your house, in your kid’s toybox, at a Goodwill or a dollar store. Put them in a bag. At class, pass the bag around, and each student takes one (or each couple, depending on how many items there are). They then hold it up to show the other students, and they talk about how they think it relates to the topic, and you follow up with any additional information or discussion to add some more “meat” to the conversation.

What kinds of topics it works well for:

I use it for places where I have lots of little things I want to talk about that don’t need to come out in any special order… basically, whenever I find myself with a  lecture with 7 or more bullet points, I know that will seem like just an endless jumble of info to my students, so I start thinking about other techniques to use, and this is a great one.

I also find it works well for introducing the awkward topics. During the prenatal wellness section, when discussing all the things students “shouldn’t do”, it’s easy to turn into a nag. Here, when the candy cigarette appears, I “have to” talk about smoking but it  feels less judgmental. During postpartum, when the condom appears, it introduces the topic of sexuality after baby in a gentler way than me announcing “Sex” or writing it on the board.

However, don’t overuse it! I think it would feel gimmicky and tired if you used it multiple times in one series.

Here are examples of topics I have used it for:

Prenatal Wellness Lunchbox: I use one of my daughter’s old lunchboxes to contain this – I think it’s nice for our students to see signs that we are parents – it helps them connect. I fill  it with items that symbolize healthy choices for pregnancy, and not-so-healthy choices.

Sample items: calcium tablets, iron supplements, raisins, protein bar, tuna, caffeinated soda, a prenatal appointment reminder card, flyer for prenatal exercise class, cigarette, alcohol, Tylenol, condom, plastic baggies with “substances” in them. I label them so they know what it’s supposed to represent, and what it really is: “cocaine (baking powder)”, “marijuana (parsley)”, and so on.

Comfort items for labor: When I introduce it, I talk about how every pregnancy book has a list of items you should take to the hospital. But you often don’t need them all. For example, if it says “eye drops” and you don’t own any eye drops, you don’t need to go out and buy them! They’re not one of the comfort items you use in your life. But they are a good reminder to people who wear contacts to consider bringing contact supplies or a pair of glasses if needed. Then I say “So, this bag is just a collection of ideas about what kinds of things people find helpful for comfort in labor. Hold up your item, say how you think it would be useful in labor, and then say whether you think you would find it helpful.”

Sample items: heating pad, ice pack, massage tool, tennis ball, snack (clif bar, peanut butter crackers…), water bottle, CD (note that many students will use their smart-phone for music… the CD is a little dated, but I’m not putting my phone in the bag…), reflexology combs, toothbrush, mints, shorts, sweater, etc.

Postpartum adjustment: items that address physical, emotional, and lifestyle adjustment. Sample items: Maxi pad, peri bottle, tucks pads, stool softeners, condoms, breastmilk pads, kleenex (to symbolize baby blues), phone number for PPMD hotline, alarm clock (to represent sleep / frequent wake-ups), easy-to-eat food, phone to represent reaching out for support, red silk rose to talk about romance / relationship after baby.

A grab bag alternative… If you feel like you’re over-using the grab bag technique, but want some of the same effect, Teri Shilling from Passion for Birth has a postpartum bathrobe, where she fastens all these symbols all over a bathrobe that she wears when she presents this topic. It’s a very entertaining visual aid!

Try some experiments with grab bags. They’re always entertaining!

A note on number of items: My class size can vary from 6 couples to 14 couples. I may have 14 items in a bag. If I have 14 couples, they draw one item per couple. If I have 7 couples, they draw one item per person. But if I have ten couples, then I have two options for how to handle it. Pass the bag around once and have them take one item per couple, then pass it again, asking those who are willing to take a second so we can cover them all. Or, I can edit the bag before passing it around and only include the 10 most important items and put four others away.

An Icebreaker about the Postpartum Period

Today I taught about the postpartum period. I want to cover three areas under this topic – physical recovery, emotional adjustment and PPMD, and lifestyle changes / tips for coping with life with a new baby.

Over the years, I have done this as a lecture and as a grab bag exercise, I’ve had new parents visit class to talk about what the experience has been like for them, and I’ve had students read a series of quotes about the postpartum period (note: this just covered emotional stuff and lifestyle changes, not the physical recover topics).

Today, I tried something new, invented in the car as I drove to class.

I did a brief introduction, saying: “We’ll be talking about the postpartum period, after baby has arrived. I’m guessing that you have been hearing stories and advice from friends, family, and co-workers about this – probably some positive stories and some horror stories – some helpful advice and some not so helpful advice. I’m going to divide you into three small groups, and I want you to share with each other what you have heard about these topics.” Then I wrote on the board:

  • Physical recovery after birth
  • Emotional adjustment
  • Lifestyle changes – getting enough sleep, self care, juggling work and baby, housework, relationship changes

I let them talk in their small groups for about ten minutes. It was a lively discussion – this was week 3 of a class series, and we’ve been doing a lot to build community so, I knew they’d be willing to join in.

I then brought the group back together, and we talked more about each thing – what they’d heard, what they wondered, then I added more details.

If I lecture on this, it tends to take me 15 – 20 minutes, but in some ways that feels both too long a time of dumping information on them that they don’t yet know that they need, but at the same time, it feels like I skim over the basics but they don’t really connect / sink in as much as I’d like.

Today, it took ten minutes for the small group time,and about ten minutes to review together where I was able to cover all the content in a good level of detail. I felt that

  • it was a successful community building exercise that they enjoyed
  • during the discussion time, they realized that although they had lots of tidbits about the postpartum period, they didn’t really know much
  • and that realization then led them to be very engaged / interested in learning more, so they connected more with the discussion that followed – both in terms of absorbing practical information and connecting with it emotionally

Another successful classroom exercise invented on the drive to class!