Are there pre-requisites?
People come to childbirth education from all walks of life. Many come from a medical background: nurses, midwives, or physical therapists. Some come from psychology or social work, or have a background in teaching. Other instructors worked in a completely unrelated field and then during their own pregnancies, they became fascinated with all the details of the birthing process. After taking childbirth classes, become passionate about teaching other expectant parents. All these professionals can become excellent instructors.
Note: Some employers require that all their instructors be nurses, so if you’re not, you may want to start by checking in with potential employers in your community to be sure that you would be able to get a job once you’re trained.
Whatever your background, I strongly recommend that before you take a childbirth educator training, you have a really solid working knowledge of the birth process, so that during the training, you already know what you’ll be teaching and can focus on learning how to teach. You could ensure that you have a good baseline knowledge by reading Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn and then reading some of the books and websites that are referenced in that book’s “recommended resources.”
Choosing a Training
There are many great organizations out there for training and certification:
- Learn more about childbirth education methods
- Learn about options for certification as a childbirth educator
- Learn what childbirth educator certification is, and why it’s helpful
Another option could be an informal apprenticeship to a local instructor who will mentor you through beginning to teach. If you have a truly excellent local mentor, and if you know that you will be able to be hired or to work independently at the end of the process, this could work out for you. However, in general, working with an established program can provide a more rigorous preparation, and may look better on your resume when you’re looking for work.
Choosing an organization and choosing a training (see below) go hand in hand, so make sure you’re considering both sides of the equation.
Things to consider when choosing the organization:
- Does their philosophy align with yours?
- Do they offer a training workshop locally or somewhere you can afford to travel to?
- Are there local educators who are certified by that program who could serve as a mentor to you? (And perhaps connect you to leads for a job?)
- What is the time commitment and cost of the program? (Be aware of “hidden costs”, such as expensive reading materials, on-going membership fees, or organizations that require that every time you teach one of “their” classes, you have to hand out materials that you have had to purchase from them – the costs of this can add up quickly.)
- What do they provide in terms of support: a mentor? Continuing education? A study guide? Referrals?
Take the Training
You can do your training online or in person. Quality workshops range from 10 – 40 hours, and range in cost from $300 – 1000. Some of the certifying organizations only offer a few trainings a year, all in one location, all taught by the same team of instructors. (The training I teach follows this model.) Other organizations have multiple trainings, in locations all over the country / world, with a wide variety of instructors. I would recommend:
- In person or synchronous online training. Your childbirth educator training should follow and model practices that are most effective for deep learning. Birth prep classes for parents are most effective when they involve a small group (4 – 15 dyads) of fellow learners in engaged interaction with an instructor which allows for lots of questions and discussion, and a multi-sensory learning experience with music, AV, hands-on practice of comfort techniques, and more. Your childbirth educator training should offer this as well.
- 16 hours or more. A typical childbirth class is 8-12 hours long, so you need about twice that much time in a workshop to learn a) what content you’ll teach, b) practical guidance on how you’ll teach it, and c) theory to help you understand what works in classes and why.
- Student presentations. Choose a workshop that requires all students to do at least three practice teaching sessions during the workshop. Some of the most powerful learning at any workshop comes from applying in practice the theory that you’ve been learning. When you stand up in front of your fellow students to teach, it helps you discover what you do (and don’t) know, helps you work through some stage fright before supportive peers, and gives you clear honest feedback on your strengths and areas for growth.
- A lead instructor who has a strong background in childbirth education: someone who has taken trainings from multiple instructors themselves and can bring the best ideas of all those trainings together, someone who has trained in multiple disciplines (e.g. not just childbirth education, but also birth doula, postpartum doula, lactation consultant, postpartum support, etc.), and has many years of teaching experience. It is helpful if they also bring in a few guest lecturers so you have examples of different teaching styles during your training.
- Class size of 6 – 14 students. Big enough that you can learn from each other, but small enough for plenty of personalized attention from the instructor.
Many trainings do not meet all (or any) of these requirements, but there are several that do. For example, I teach the Great Starts Professional Childbirth Educator workshop in Seattle. It’s in-person or on Zoom synchronous sessions, 25 hours of training, has three practice teaching sessions, has a maximum of 12 students, and is co-taught by me, and three other instructors with decades of experience (Penny Simkin taught our training for over 40 years). We’ve all taken multiple trainings in many methods and have all worked as doulas, parent educators, social workers, and more.
Although certification may not be required for you, I recommend it. The steps typically include: observing other instructors, student teaching a series, observing births, and taking an exam to verify your knowledge. Going through these steps will make you a better instructor!
Find a Job
Many people plan to become independent educators and/or teach to a specialized population (e.g. teens, parents of multiples, incarcerated moms, parents planning home birth). Although this may be a good long-term plan, it is a difficult way to get started. I recommend that you work for someone else first, teaching a ‘mainstream’ population so you really have a chance to master teaching (see below) before dealing with the challenges of having your own business (see further below) or understanding the unique challenges of specialized populations. For those of you in rural areas, that may even mean commuting to a bigger town for a while to get that teaching experience before bringing classes to your locale. Or doing both simultaneously, if you just can’t wait to make classes available where you are.
The vast majority of childbirth class programs are sponsored by hospitals, although in some areas, public health or private clinics or non-profit organizations may offer classes. But generally, you’ll be looking at hospitals that have maternity care services. Our local hospitals occasionally post openings for educators in the hospital job listings. However, I recommend that rather than waiting for an opening to appear, you simply contact the childbirth education program proactively and ask whether you can submit a resume for consideration the next time a job arises. (Note: some employers require that all instructors be registered nurses, so you could check about this before pursuing things further.) Most programs I have worked with almost always have some classes they have a hard time finding instructors for (e.g. Saturdays in the summer, multi-week series that span the Thanksgiving to Christmas season).You may be able to get started with just some occasional classes in these least popular slots, and then the longer you teach, the more opportunity you’ll have for choosing classes that suit your schedule.
Compatible with Parenting Young Children
One of the nice things about working as a childbirth educator is that it can be very compatible with a day job, or can also work well for people who are “stay-at-home” parents during the day and have a partner who can watch the kids evenings and weekends while they teach. (Parents of toddlers often say it’s a relief to go to work in the evening and deal with calm rational adults who don’t scream if you cut their sandwich the wrong way…)
Another nice aspect is that classes are typically scheduled months in advance, so it’s a predictable work schedule in the maternity care field, unlike doula work or midwifery. (Note: some organizations struggle with filling all their classes, so have a policy that classes may get canceled a week or so before they’re supposed to begin. When you interview, it may be worth asking how often this happens for them.)
Decent Wages for a Part-Time Gig
The hourly wage for childbirth educators is fairly good, considering only 15 hours / $500 worth of training is required to start working in the field. Locally, in Seattle (your area may be different!), most organizations pay $20 – 35 per hour, depending on experience. One hospital that required all its instructors to be nurses was paying them overtime nursing wages, so they were running more like $55 – 60 per hour. But then that hospital out-sourced their teaching to an organization that does not require a nursing degree and pays less. One thing that is important to note, is that childbirth education is a part-time job. You can’t really work 40 hours a week, simply because you can only teach when students are available, which is typically evenings (Monday through Thursday) and Saturdays. So, not full time usually also means no benefits.
Getting Ready To Teach
Your employer may provide you with a detailed lesson plan, or they might give you a vague outline and expect you to fill in the details, or they might expect you to design your own curriculum from scratch. Even if you have a fully detailed lesson plan, you’ll still want to plan one to two hours of practice time in advance for every hour of class you will be teaching. The more lesson planning you have to do, the more prep time it will take. Instructors who have designed their own curriculum say that it can take up to ten hours to design and practice and refine one hour worth of class.
Continuously Self-Evaluate to Improve
If possible, teach several series in your first year. Think of every class as a learning opportunity that can guide you to become a better teacher.
- During class, when students ask questions, make a mental note of what they asked so you can think about how to include this information in future classes. It’s especially important to notice times when students ask a question about something you think you already covered – did you move through it too quickly? Was there something confusing about how you covered it? Also, tune in to your students’ reactions… are there things you say that scare them? Inspire them? Anger them?
- If students ask questions you don’t know the answer to, be honest about that. Say “I don’t know. But I will find out and tell you all next week.” And then do the research to find out!
- After each week of class, spend some time reflecting on how it went: what went well, and what could have been better.
- At the end of each series, read class evaluations, and use them to guide further improvement. Especially notice patterns in evaluations – for example, if only one person ever says that you were biased against pain medication, that probably doesn’t mean a lot. (Especially if you also have someone who said you’re biased toward medication!) However, if you consistently receive that feedback, you may need to think about how to adjust your teaching style.
- As you discover areas for growth, look online or look for books to help you improve. But also talk to your fellow educators, or the supervisor who reads all your evaluations, and find out who is strong in that area. Then ask to observe their class.
- If possible, ask an experienced educator to observe some of your classes along the way, and give you feedback about how to improve.
- Seek out continuing education. Some national organizations (Lamaze, ICEA, CAPPA) offer conferences and webinars that can help you learn new skills and knowledge.
Once you have several series under your belt, at some point you’ll feel like you’re mastering the skills of childbirth education. Don’t let yourself become complacent. Always keep working to improve. Many experienced instructors enjoy mentoring new instructors, because looking at the work through their eyes can help to give a new perspective.
Evolve and Expand Your Practice
Some instructors settle in to one teaching environment and one class format, and stay there for many years quite happily. But over time you may discover you’re ready for something new, or may need more work hours/income, or may want more independence. Here are some options:
- Broaden your class offerings. The easiest classes to fill with students are the mainstream labor preparation, breastfeeding classes and newborn care classes for first-time parents. However, if you’re working for an organization or have a private practice that’s well established, you might be able to offer occasional sessions of specialty classes like: early pregnancy, refresher classes, VBAC classes, cesarean preparation, baby care for adoptive parents, expectant grandparent classes, and sibling preparation. With additional specialty training you could offer infant CPR, first aid, car seat installation, prenatal yoga and more. Don’t expect most of these to be a huge draw – many fewer students enroll in these programs than in the primary training, but they may be possible.
- Expand your practice by adding on birth doula or postpartum doula work, or lactation consulting, or offering new parent groups.
- Start offering private classes one-on-one to parents who can’t attend regular classes, due to bedrest, scheduling challenges, or other issues.
- Start your own childbirth education business. If you choose to start your own business, there’s a lot to think about: finding a classroom, gathering AV supplies, marketing your classes, setting up a registration system and class schedule that works for you, and other details common to most businesses, like insurance and taxes.
To learn more about the training I lead in the Seattle area, click here.