Choosing a Birth Class

Photo showing double hip squeeze technique for labor pain

Why should I take a childbirth education class?

Having a dedicated time that you (and your partner) have set aside to focus on birth and parenting helps ensure that you’re prepared when the time comes. Although there is plenty of information online and in books, your instructor can give you the big picture of which information is most important to focus on, and can help you assess whether the information you found elsewhere is current, local, and relevant to your situation. Great instructors use a wide variety of teaching techniques to make sure you understand the information, can remember it during labor and/or during sleepless nights as a new parent, and can adapt it to your unique needs. You’ll also have the chance to meet other expectant parents. Learn more about the benefits of childbirth classes.

Note: I recommend in-person classes, not online classes. Online classes might offer great information, but you miss out on some of the benefits of the classroom experience.

What topics are typically covered in classes?

Childbirth classes cover:

  • Pregnancy – nutrition, exercise, tips for handling discomfort, and being aware of warning signs.
  • Labor and birth – how you’d know labor was starting, how labor will progress, non-drug methods of coping with labor pain, pain medications, and other medical procedures.
  • Postpartum – physical recovery and emotional adaptation.

Newborn care classes cover basic physical care, health and safety, calming crying, and infant sleep. Breastfeeding classes cover how to breastfeed, how often and how much to feed, how you’ll know your baby is getting plenty of milk, preventing and treating challenges, and pumping. Learn more about the content of childbirth classes.

When should I sign up for a class?

It is best to choose a series where the final class in the series will be 3 – 5 weeks before your due date: that’s late enough in your pregnancy that you’ll still remember the information when labor starts, but early enough to be sure you complete the classes before your baby comes. If you’re already at the very end of pregnancy, you may be able to find a one-day class you can attend in those final weeks.

How can I find out what classes are available?

Most hospitals that provide childbirth services offer classes. Some doctors’ offices, midwives, and public health agencies may have affiliated classes. There are also independent educators. Try a web search for “childbirth classes” in your area, or search on these websites for local teachers:;;; You can also ask for referrals from your doctor, midwife, doula, friends, family, and co-workers. Ask them not just about which classes they recommend, but also ask them specifically what they liked about the classes. The class that was a good match for your friend may not be the best class for you.

How would I choose the best class for me?

You could take classes at your hospital, which will focus on exactly what you can expect for maternity care there, and will cover basics of non-drug coping techniques. Or you might choose an independent class, which covers the basics of the hospital experience, with more class time on coping techniques and on how to make informed choices about your maternity care options.

Classes may be one long session, multiple Saturday mornings, or multiple weeknights. Although it might seem simpler to fit a one-day class into your schedule, I don’t think they’re the best choice. Generally, you will understand and remember the information better if choose several short sessions than if you choose one long marathon day.

Look for an instructor who is knowledgeable about current local practices, who uses a wide variety of techniques to help you learn and retain information, and whose philosophy is similar to your own. Learn more about options for birth classes.

What “methods” are taught for birth preparation?

There are a variety of methods taught, and they vary in what non-drug coping techniques they cover, and how they address pain medication and medical procedures.

If you are looking for a broad-based class which teaches both about natural coping techniques and pain medication, and teaches you how to make informed choices about your options, you might consider an instructor trained by ICEA, Lamaze, Great Starts, or CAPPA. If you would like to learn about non-drug coping techniques, but minimal information on medical procedures, you might choose Bradley, Birthing from Within, or Hypnosis based classes. If you want a class that focuses on pain medications and what procedures to expect at your hospital, you could be well-served by a hospital-based class taught by a labor and delivery nurse who may or may not have been trained in a childbirth education method. Learn more about methods of childbirth preparation.

If you’re in the Seattle area, and looking for great classes, check out those taught by my employer, the Great Starts program of Parent Trust for Washington Children,

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3 thoughts on “Choosing a Birth Class

  1. Jun

    This page is very helpful to parents like me who are looking around for a good childbirth education class. I’m thinking of signing up for Birth for Men. It also covers nutrition, labor and birth, and postpartum. You suggested that 3-5 weeks before the due date is good enough. How are you going to address mothers who are high risk?

    1. Janelle Durham Post author

      For someone at high risk of a preterm birth (e.g. pregnant with multiples) they should schedule a class that would be complete by 34 weeks. If they are at higher risk of interventions (e.g. cesarean birth), they should be sure their class addresses interventions (hypnobirthing classes typically do not, some Bradley classes may focus on how to avoid interventions rather than how to make informed decisions about whether they may be necessary for your birth)


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