Category Archives: Theory of CBE

AV Aids for Birth Classes – Videos

Videos are such a powerful tool in a childbirth and parenting preparation series. Seeing someone in labor can help to prepare them for what that might look like and feel like. Seeing a birth in a hospital setting (or at home if you’re teaching a home birth class) can help them start to imagine what their birth will be like and also gives them an opportunity to see maternity care procedures. Seeing a newborn baby squirming around helps them grasp what their baby might be like at birth. And seeing a baby and a breast come together is essential preparation for breastfeeding.

So, where can you find great videos? Here’s a collection of what I know about. PLEASE add comments with more details on these resources or with recommendations for other videos you would use in class.

Other than Injoy, almost all of the videos listed are free of charge. I put a $ sign at the end of the listing if you have to purchase them.


If you can afford them, I think that nothing beats Injoy videos. Learn about their videos, and preview clips at Consistently high quality, fairly diverse families featured. They intersperse clips from births with animated graphics of things such as the descent of the fetus during birth, and offer clear, easily understood narration about the birth process, breastfeeding, or newborn care. Childbirth educators who only work with clients planning out-of-hospital births may feel they are too medicalized, but if most of your population is planning a hospital birth, I think they appropriately balance working toward a lower intervention birth while also learning key information about interventions. $$

Other Options I have used:

Mothers’ Advocate. This series was jointly produced by Injoy and Lamaze and covers Lamaze’s 6 Healthy Birth Practices. All the benefits of an Injoy video, but free of charge. They are from 2010.

I made a video about newborn cues. You can learn more about it in this post.

Other Recommendations:

All the videos from here down were recommended by other birth educators for use in classes. If the person who recommended the video gave details about what they liked, I included those notes. I have not watched them all myself so please review in detail yourself before using in a class!

Birth Info

Evidence Based Birth by Rebecca Dekker, phD – her blog is great but I have not yet watched these videos, which include a full birth class series called “Birthing in the Time of COVID”.

Mandy Irby Birth Nurse – includes a multi-video series called Online Lamaze Class:

Alice Turner, doula and birth educator. Lots of videos with tips on comfort techniques and more.

Gentle Cesarean from Brigham and Women’s Hospital:

Beaumont Hospital has a full series of videos:

Hello Baby from the Childbirth Media Center: These are good, but they are really OLD – we had them when I started teaching 25 years ago. (To all the old educators out there… these are the Carl and Donna videos.)

For talking about pushing and a way to practice it more concretely when an urge is obviously not present.

Cesarean video – from Australia, so note any differences between what’s shown and your local practice:

Playdough Surgery – cesarean. There’s information here on using it in birth classes.

Birth Stories

Examples of what real labor looks like:

Alice Turner, Lamaze educator, recommends 5 birth videos with info on why she likes each video – find her recommendations and links to those videos at:

Birth of Easton:

Birth of Sloane – the person who recommended this said: “Home birth – Great partner support and example of different positions – no nudity – 6 mins 31 seconds – good sounds – baby born in water – interesting example of cord cutting by burning.”

Blake Andrew Isom. “Shows how the partner was right where the mother wanted him to be. He gave words of affirmation but you don’t hear them in the video. She had a doula at her birth so the husband was able to stay right with the mom holding her hands and comforting her.”

Denver Birth Videos. The person who recommended them said “I found this birth videographer from Colorado. She had so many beautiful videos on her website that demonstrated so many coping techniques and different things to try even in early labor like walking up stairs etc. Lots of great partner support and she has a huge range of types of births (home birth, water birth, land birth, hospital birth etc.). I personally messaged her and asked if I could use her videos in my classes and she gave me permission.”

Compilation of scenes from many births:


Great video with a Black dad talking about ways to support a postpartum parent:

For talking about helpers vs visitors. FUNNY! Some may not love it because it pokes fun at some worthwhile breastfeeding advice but I preface it and it lightens the mood as a good transition after talking about some of the hard stuff during postpartum.

Viral a couple years ago, but the Frida mom commercial is wonderful to open a discussion of postpartum.

Safe Infant Sleep for Grandparents:

Breastfeeding / Chestfeeding

Please find those video recommendations here:

    Important Considerations

    When choosing videos, here are some things to think about or watch out for:


    ALWAYS “set up” the video. Tell them

    • what they’re going to see
    • why you’re showing this video
    • what they should look out for

    For example, here’s part of how I set up the Injoy Stages of Labor video: “I always show this video in the first week of class, because it provides a full overview of the labor and birth process from start to finish – sort of a preview of everything we will cover during this class series. You’ll see clips from three or four different families giving birth in a hospital, so you’ll see typical hospital procedures as well. I do want to give you a heads up: you will see a vaginal delivery of a baby – if you are uncomfortable with watching that, you can always close your eyes or turn away – but we find for many people it’s easier to see this for the first time when it’s not you or your partner giving birth… What I really like about this video is you’ll have a great opportunity to see what people in labor may look or sound like, what their partners can do to support them in labor, and how the care providers also support them. I want you all to look for some ideas on what each person does to help work with and manage labor pain.”


    ALWAYS allow a few minutes to debrief the video. I kind of putter around a bit when turning off the video, turning the lights back on, sitting back down to give them just a moment to gather themselves. (It’s not unusual for someone to get a little weepy during a video.) Then I say “So, what did you see that surprised you? What do you have questions about?” Usually one of them will respond. If not, I may say something that addresses something that I think may worry someone, like “you may have noticed birthing people who weren’t wearing many clothes during labor… I want you to know that is because they chose to take them off, not because it’s typically required.” Then I’ll ask them to share things about whatever I asked them to look for in the video.

    Diverse characters / settings:

    Think about the students in your classes – age, race, socioeconomics, visions for ideal births, settings in which they will give birth. Make sure that there are people in the video who look like your students and/or have similar life experiences so they can relate, and they will feel like they belong in your classroom. If the people or settings shown are not like your students, give information about why this video was chosen. If you share a birth story video that focuses on one labor from start to finish, that may not feature a family who looks like theirs, so I introduce it by saying something like “this particular video has a single parent who is supported by her mother and doula – but all the support techniques can be done by any support person” or “this person does not speak English, so they have an interpreter at their birth. I like how the video shows all the stages of her labor from start to finish, so we can see how that process unfolds for one particular person. It shows how families might need to change and adapt their birth plan as things unfold differently than planned.”


    I typically teach a 6 week series. I try to include some video in each session. I sometimes time it for right before a break so we can watch it, debrief it, then I send them off to break, where they might choose to talk it through with a partner or other students. Sometimes I show it right after break to get their brains back into class mode. I personally like videos that are about 8 – 13 minutes long… long enough to be worth settling in for, but not much longer than that because they eat too much into my class time. Some instructors take the flipped classroom approach and have students watch the videos between classes and discuss in class.

    Prepping Videos for Use in Class.

    I like to download my videos in advance, insert links to them in my PowerPoint and trim them to exactly the part of the clip I want to use. Learn how to incorporate video in PowerPoint.

    Be sure to also check out my posts on:

    AV Aids for Birth Classes – 3-D Models (dolls, pelvises, breasts, and more…)

    AV Aids for Birth Classes – Posters and Images (to put on the wall or into a PowerPoint


    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:

    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:…/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: 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.”

    Show and Tell

    Sharon Muza suggests having students bring to class session: something they’ll want nearby when they’re nursing, or something they will use for newborn care. Learn more.

    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 separate posts, I cover where to find images (posters, PowerPoints, and illustrations) and videos. 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!


    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!

    Free Illustrations for Birth Professionals

    Years ago, I created LOTS of simple line drawings for use in birth education materials. I’m putting them here for anyone who wants to use them for any perinatal education or birth support purpose, whether that’s for class handouts, PowerPoints, to show to a client over a video call, or whatever. Everything on this page is free for you to use, no need to credit me as the source. For any of them, just right click on it, and choose copy or save as.

    Positions for Labor

    Sitting or Resting

    Standing / Moving

    Forward Leaning

    Pushing Positions


    Maternity Care




    Fourth Stage / Skin to Skin




    Breastmilk Expression

    Birthplace Options


    Rebozo Techniques

    Teaching Birth Prep on a Portal

    I recently wrote a review of Facebook Portal for those who are considering a purchase. On this page, I’ll just give you a quick overview, and then comment specifically on how well I think it would work for online childbirth preparation classes.


    The Facebook Portal is a video-chatting device. You can also use it for streaming or surfing the web, but it was primarily designed as a device for teleconferencing software such as Facebook Messenger, What’s App, and now Zoom. (Not for Teams or Skype)

    Zoom works fairly well on the Portal, although it does not have a few of the features you’ll find on your app on your computer – you don’t appear to be able to run breakout rooms or do polls from it. You also don’t seem to be able to share directly from the Portal, but you can easily share from another device without having to log it in to Zoom. See the full review for more details.

    Audio Video Quality

    It’s got really good speakers, multiple microphones and a camera with good video quality. The camera has movement tracking software, which follows you if you move around the room. I was hopeful that this would be good for birth classes, providing a better view of comfort techniques than I can manage with my laptop.

    It turned out, as you can see in the second video, that the motion tracking did not work well for this purpose. The camera focuses around your face, so when you’re trying to demo foot placement for a lunge, the camera will show you from the waist up or even shoulders up.

    You can do manual control of the camera, where you can zoom in or out, and aim it where you want it, so you can create just a nice wide angle that shows most of your body. It looks better and sounds better than it does when I use my laptop’s webcam. You’ll see this in the second video.

    Using for Birth Classes

    So, here’s how a few techniques for birth classes look on my laptop with its external mic.

    Here’s how things look on the Portal – the first part of the video has the camera using motion tracking – the second part is manual control. You’ll notice even in the still images here that the color and picture quality is much better on the Portal than on my Lenovo laptop.


    The Portal experience is not a game changer, and I wouldn’t necessarily run out to purchase one. However, if the price ($129 – 179 in November 2020) is manageable, I think the improved audio / video quality and the ability to get the wide-angled shot offer some appealing benefits for me.

    For more info on using Zoom

    I have LOTS of tutorials about how to use Zoom – for brand new beginners, experienced hosts, musicians, preschool teachers and more. Check out:

    Note: the links to products in this post are affiliate links. If you click through to Amazon and purchase anything, I will get a percentage of the revenue. That helps support my work writing this blog and others.

    Teaching about Birth Plans

    Here are the steps I teach for how to develop a birth plan. I do a brief walk-through of a birth planning process. For each, describe how to do the step, who participates, and the primary goal.

    • Birth Plan Checklist – Pregnant Parent and Partner
      • Find a checklist such as The pregnant parent and the primary support person walk through this together, making sure they understand what each of the options are (and if not, learning more), and making sure the support person knows her preferences for each. There is no need to share this detailed checklist with their care providers, it’s just for their own reference – it’s worth tucking it in the bag they’ll take to the hospital in case they would like to refer back to it in labor.
    • Top 3 – 5 Priorities – Discuss with Care Provider.
      • While completing the checklist, they can determine what their top priorities are. They should discuss these with their care provider at a prenatal appointment. Will these choices be options for them during their birth process? What can they do to increase the likelihood of reaching those goals? This discussion allows them to develop realistic expectations and increase the chance the expectations will be met. (Note, sometimes this can lead a parent to re-examine whether the caregiver and birthplace choices they have made are the best fit for their goals.)
    • Written Birth Plan – To Share with Nurses at the Hospital
      • A birth plan is the primary tool for communicating with nurses about the family’s goals and priorities, and what kind of support from caregivers would be most helpful to them.
      • It should never be more than one page long (in a easily readable format.)
      • One format is to have three sections. The first describes who they are as a family and who will be at the birth and what they have done to prepare for this birth. The second gives the big picture of their preferences for labor support, pain medication, and interventions. The third is optional, and explains any special information that “if the nurse only knew this about me, they could better support me.” This is a good place to address religious or cultural preferences, history of sexual abuse or other personal history that may affect them during the birth process, any particular worries they have about the birth.
      • If parents are planning a home birth, they may not need a written birth plan for their midwife if they’ve been in deep discussion for the whole pregnancy. However, they absolutely should have a written birth plan in case of transfer. In a survey of birth satisfaction, some of the lowest rates were for people who had planned an out-of-hospital birth and transferred. They could increase the chance of a satisfying birth experience by taking time to articulate their wishes.
      • Sample birth plans are available at Feel free to print several examples to share in class to show there’s no one right way to write a birth plan.

    Childbirth Educators can support students with figuring out their top 3 – 5 priorities using the Birth Plan Card Sort exercise: Instructions are on the last page.

    Learn more about the steps of teaching about Informed Decision Making, including Values Clarification, and how to make the decision after gathering information.

    Simple Guide to Having a Baby 2016

    Simple Guide 2016

    The 2016 edition of Simple Guide to Having a Baby has gone to print, and will be available to the public at the end of July. (We’re hoping to have copies for sale at the DONA conference in Bellevue, WA) It will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and probably Target.

    Simple Guide covers essential information about pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and newborn care at a 6th grade reading level, in a short, accessible format. It is written by the authors of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn. Although we are writing at a different literacy level, we do our best to incorporate the same foundation of current, research-based information and our practical experience of working with thousands of birthing parents over many decades.

    What’s new in 2016: increased cultural diversity and sensitivity in photographs and writing, incorporation of the visual aid “The Road Map of Labor“, more links to online resources for more information, and more details on baby care. We have also extensively updated all the medical information. I have an extensive post on all the updates we did to Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn – we weren’t able to incorporate all of these details into Simple Guide, but they certainly did inform our revision of this shorter work.

    If you would like to write a review of Simple Guide, I do have galley proofs available. Contact me and jdurham at parenttrust dot org, and tell me about yourself and where you publish reviews, and we can make arrangements to get a proof to you.

    Pregnancy and Disability

    Janelle 32 wks

    Someone recently asked me to share my perspectives on how perinatal professionals can provide sensitive, supportive care for people with disabilities. Here are some initial thoughts on that question.

    First, a caveat to any advice I offer below: I can only speak to my own experience. The needs of each person are unique and depend on such things as:

    • What is the disability?
    • How long have they had it and how experienced are they at working around it?
    • What is their self-image / identity – if they think of themselves as “disabled” they are likely to have more worries about the perinatal period than someone who doesn’t see their disability as a primary part of their identity or life experience

    My experience: I had bone cancer when I was 15 years old, and had my leg amputated above the knee. I wore an artificial leg for a few years, but discovered I can move around faster and easier on crutches than with an artificial leg. I don’t really think of myself as “handicapped” because there’s little I can’t do. I can’t “run” very fast. But, I can ski, swim, roller-blade, ice skate, and ride a tandem bike. I can carry things while walking on crutches, take care of all my household chores, drive, work full-time, and so on.

    When I became pregnant with my first, I’d already been an amputee for 11 years, so I was very used to making the physical adaptations I needed to make. So, throughout my pregnancy, I never questioned my ability to handle pregnancy, birth, and caring for a baby. I didn’t know all the exact details of how I would adapt everything, but I had complete confidence I would figure it out. And I did… I’ve now birthed and cared for 3 children – I don’t actually find it that difficult.  (OK, honestly, we all find parenting difficult! I’m just saying that having one leg did not make it particularly more challenging.)

    My care providers vs. others:  During my pregnancies, I don’t remember my disability being a big issue for anyone. My care providers never implied that there would be anything especially challenging about my case, which I appreciated.

    But that’s not always the case. Once a public health nurse called and asked me to doula for someone delivering at Valley. I told her I didn’t travel that far. But then she told me why she’d called me specifically. The client was a double amputee who used a wheelchair. She had been told that she would need to deliver by cesarean because she was an amputee. I was dumbfounded! It’s not like you need legs to have a vaginal birth. I ended up not assisting that mother because of timing, but I did meet with her and talk to her about her options, and she did end up planning and having a vaginal birth.

    What care providers can do:

    • First and foremost: Assume she is capable of pregnancy, birth and baby care. (You may be one of the few who treat her this way.)
    • If you see accommodations that you think could be made, ask her if she would like your help brainstorming how to handle something. If she’s had her handicap for more than a few months, she probably knows a great deal more about her needs than you do. Respect that.
      • For example, I happened to have a dad who was an arm amputee attend a newborn care class I was teaching. I approached him on break, and said “I am wondering if you have any specific questions that are unique to your situation. I don’t know anything about having one arm, but I know a lot about baby care, so if you have things you’re wondering about, maybe you and I can put our knowledge and experience together and brainstorm some kind of solution together.”
      • Once when I attended a prenatal yoga class, the instructor approached me before class, and said “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you with the exercises.” I told her: “I can usually do a better job than you can of figuring out how to adapt things, but it helps me to know what my goals are. So, when you teach a position, if you can tell me whether the goal is to stretch my hamstring, or stretch my calf muscles, or strengthen my glutes or whatever, that helps me adapt the exercise in a way that reaches that goal.”
    • Don’t “other” someone.  Don’t do things that imply that they are a weird aberration from a normal human being. Examples from my experience:
      • When a caregiver is going to a pelvic exam on me, they always pull out both stirrups as per their usual habit. I like it if they then calmly put one away instead of getting all flustered and awkward when they realize that I don’t have a foot to put in the right side stirrup.
      • When a nurse opened a package of non-slippy socks, I liked that she calmly set one aside on the table, saying “here’s an extra for later”
      • If you make a “mistake”, calmly apologize and move on. Don’t make a big deal of it.
      • If someone gushes over me like “wow! You’re so brave to take this on. If I were handicapped, I would be too afraid to try this,” they may think that’s supportive, but it’s easy for that to come off as “something’s wrong with you. You’re less capable of parenting than other people are.”
    • Be sensitive about their “appliances”. Their wheelchair, hearing aids, glasses – whatever – should be treated with the same respect with which you treat their body.
      • My crutches may seem like inanimate objects to you, but they are an essential part of my independence and mobility. It is VERY important to me that no one take my crutches and move them across the room without my permission. Although I can hop short distances, I can feel “trapped” in place the second my crutches are out of my reach, which can be anxiety inducing.
      • I also wear glasses as I am very near-sighted. I need to know where they are at all times, because when I don’t have them on, I can’t find them! And I feel mentally competent with my glasses on, and severely limited without them.
    • A person with a disability also often has a long history with health care providers and medical institutions. Her experiences may be positive, negative, or a very complex mix.
      • If you sense any defensiveness or animosity toward you, or if she “over-reacts” to a situation, realize there may be a very good reason for her reaction.
      • Respect that she may have some expertise that a non-disabled layperson might not have. For example, I can tell you that I’ve had many I.V’s in my life, and been told by many health care providers that my veins are tiny and tend to roll, and it’s hard to get an I.V. into me. If a patient tells you something like that, respect that. I appreciate when care providers have said “Oh, thanks for letting me know. I’m actually going to ask X to come in and start this I.V. because she’s a wizard at finding a vein.”
      • Ask her: “I’m guessing you’ve had some experience with medical care – tell me what kinds of things you find most helpful or let me know if what I’m doing is not helpful.”
    • Don’t assume that their handicap defines them. Although the fact that I have one leg is certainly the first thing people notice about me, it is only a very small part of all the things that I am.
      • Someone once asked me: “Wouldn’t you have loved to take a childbirth class that was specifically aimed at people with disabilities and that could really focus on your unique needs?” I answered “not really.” Not that I have anything against the idea, but it also didn’t feel like something I needed. When I was pregnant for the first time, my disability was old news. I didn’t need peer support with it. Becoming a parent for the first time was new… I needed support from other expectant parents. Whether they had a disability like me, or liked Broadway musicals like I do, or enjoy Indian food like I do didn’t matter. The key was that they were other first-time parents like me.
      • If there are support services in the community that are unique to specific populations, learn about them! When you have a client that fits that demographic, let them know the resource is out there. But also tell them about all the other support services that might be a good match for them. Don’t assume you know which are the best match. Let them choose the support services that they feel best meet their needs.


    Decision-Making Values Clarification

    In teaching informed decision-making, it’s not just about teaching birth plans, or just teaching key questions. There need to be at least four steps:

    1. Figure out your goals and preferences first (values clarification)
      1a. Choose the care provider and birth place that are most in alignment with your goals, preferences, and unique health needs (caregiver choices)
    2. Articulate those priorities for care providers (birth plan)
    3. Then if an intervention is proposed that is outside your birth plan, gather data on it (key questions).
    4. Then take that information and weigh it against your values to make the decision that is right for you. (informed decision-making)

    And teaching these things is not just about Theory – we also have to Practice!

    A quick note about step 1a: Ideally, this would always be the process. If I was talking to someone in early pregnancy who hadn’t yet chosen, I would absolutely cover that step. But, in childbirth classes, when I’m speaking to people in their third trimester, that choice was made long ago. So I won’t cover 1a. (But some of the other steps may lead students to question for themselves whether the caregiver choice they made was the right one.)

    Let’s look at options for teaching each of those.

    1. Values Clarification: The goal is to talk about what they want their birth to look like – what kind of labor support do they want, what are their views on interventions and pain medications, how involved they want to be in decision-making, and generally: what would help this birth be satisfying for them. There are many ways you could do this. I created a worksheet that could be used in class, or as a homework assignment, that would be one way of exploring these questions. The pregnant parent fills out one form with their values, the partner fills out a slightly different form with their values. Then they compare their answers and discuss them. How do they come to have a common vision of their goals and priorities? (And if they can’t, with birth, the pregnant parent’s priorities need to win in the end, so they may need to agree to that.) They can also discuss here whether their caregiver and birthplace share those values. Here’s the Values Clarification worksheet.

    1a. Choose the caregivers that match that. (Check out the quiz at the beginning of the Great Starts Guide for one approach to this step.)

    2. Articulate those priorities in a birth plan – learn more about what to teach about developing a birth plan. (Or see Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn for more details on our approach to birth plans.)

    3. Key Questions. Here’s what we teach:
    Whenever a test or procedure is offered, first ask how urgent / severe the situation is and whether you have time to ask questions, discuss options, and consider the information you’ve learned. Then, ask:

    • Benefits: What’s the problem we’re trying to identify, prevent, or fix? How is the test or procedure done? Will it work?
    • Risks: What are the possible tradeoffs, side effects, or risks for my baby or me? How are they handled?
    • Alternatives: What other options are available? What if I wait? Or do nothing?
    • Next steps: If the procedure doesn’t identify or solve the problem, what will we need to do next?

    [Note: here’s a document you can print with questions for informed consent.]

    It would be all too easy to stop with the key questions, thinking we’ve done our job, but we just missed they key point of decision making: MAKING THE DECISION!

    We need to remind them that although their caregiver is an expert source of information and advice on benefits and risks, that only they can take into account all their goals and priorities and make the choice that is best for them. We also need to acknowledge that sometimes the choice we need to make is NOT something we wanted. But we want parents to feel in retrospect, that the choice they made DID line up with their values, and WAS the best decision available at the time.

    4.Teaching Informed Decision-Making. Check out my next post for this one…

    New Ways to Talk about Labor Pain V: Research on Effectiveness of 3 Mechanisms


    In 2012, a new Cochrane review of pain management for women in labor was released. Although it had positive things to say about the non-pharmacological techniques, it also said that research into their efficacy was unclear due to limited evidence…

    “WHAT WORKS: Evidence suggests that epidural, combined spinal epidural (CSE) and inhaled analgesia effectively manage pain in labour, but may give rise to adverse effects. … WHAT MAY WORK: There is some evidence to suggest that immersion in water, relaxation, acupuncture, massage and local anaesthetic nerve blocks or non-opioid drugs may improve management of labour pain, with few adverse effects.  Evidence was mainly limited to single trials. …INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE: There is insufficient evidence to make judgements on whether or not hypnosis, biofeedback, sterile water injection, aromatherapy, TENS, or parenteral opioids are more effective than placebo… Most methods of non-pharmacological pain management are non-invasive and appear to be safe for mother and baby, however, their efficacy is unclear, due to limited high quality evidence.”

    A 2014 review by Chaillet, et al (Chaillet, et al. (2014) Nonpharmacologic approaches for pain management during labor compared with usual care: a meta-analysis. Birth, 41(2): 122-37. is a significant addition to the research about non-drug approaches.

    Chaillet, et al pooled techniques into three categories. If you’ve read my posts from the past few days, you’ll be familiar with these concepts. Also, see the chart at the top of this post for more information.

    • Gate Control mechanism = apply non-painful stimuli on the painful area. Methods included massage, bath, positions, walking, and birth ball. The theory is that this will block some of the intensity of the pain.
    • Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (counter-irritant) = create pain or discomfort anywhere on the body. Methods included acupressure, acupuncture, TENS, sterile water injections. The theory is that this discomfort causes the body to release endorphins which reduce pain intensity. (Birth combs also fit in this category although they were not included in the research.)
    • Central Nervous System Control (cognitive/support techniques). Methods included  attention focus, education, relaxation, hypnosis, continuous labor support.

    By pooling studies together, you get larger sample sizes which increases the statistical significance of the results. Note, all techniques were compared to “usual care” which might have ranged broadly depending on the preparation of the laboring family and the support they were given by caregivers. It is possible that some in the “usual care” groups were also using a variety of coping techniques. So, the true difference between people who use some coping techniques and those who use none may be even greater than these results indicate.

    The results of this review were:

    • Gate Control mechanism. Those who used these techniques had lower pain intensity (as predicted), were less likely to use epidural, and needed less Pitocin.
    • Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (counter-irritant). Those who used these techniques had lower pain intensity, were less likely to use epidural, and more satisfied with birth. (Two trials found women felt safer, more relaxed, and more in control.)
    • Central Nervous System Control (cognitive/support techniques) Those who used these techniques were less likely to use epidural, Pitocin, less likely to need instrumental delivery or cesarean, and had a higher satisfaction with birth. The CNSC did not reduce the intensity of the pain so much as they reduced the unpleasantness of the pain. (See more on intensity and unpleasantness here.) So, although labor still hurt a lot, women felt better able to cope – more like they were working with labor pain.

    The most effective technique overall was continuous labor support, such as that offered by a doula. The effectiveness of support was already demonstrated in a Cochrane review by Hodnett et al, (Hodnett E, Gates S, et al.. Continuous support for women during in childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013. CD003766)

    The best results in pain coping were from combining the labor support and education which reduce the unpleasantness of pain with gate control or DNIC techniques that reduce the intensity of the pain.

    Recommended: be sure to also check out Henci Goer’s discussion of this study on Science and Sensibility.