What information is covered in birth and parenting classes?
Here is a list of what would typically be covered in any childbirth preparation class.
- Tips for coping with the common discomforts of pregnancy.
- Basic exercises for pregnancy (e.g. kegels, pelvic tilts, and squatting)
- Healthy nutrition and substances to avoid for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Warning signs in pregnancy and preventing premature labor.
Labor and Birth
- Signs of the onset of labor: how to know that labor has begun.
- What to expect, and what to do during labor.
- The stages of labor, and how labor progress is measured.
- How to time contractions.
- When to leave for the hospital or birth center (or when to call the midwife to attend a home birth).
- Eating and drinking and other activities during labor.
- Comfort techniques and pain relief options.
- Breathing techniques, relaxation and visualization.
- Massage, positions for labor, and movement.
- Emotional aspects of labor.
- Ways that a partner can help to support a woman in labor.
- Pain medication options, with information about possible side effects.
- Medical interventions in the labor process: what they are, how to minimize the chance of needing interventions, and questions to ask to help you make informed decisions about interventions if the need arises.
- Information about physical recovery from childbirth.
- May include discussion of how the new baby affects parents’ lives, emotions, relationships, and social roles.
Variations between classes
It’s important to know that just because most classes cover the same general topics does not mean that all classes are the same! In 2007, Hsu and Morton conducted an ethnographic study of childbirth education classes. They observed classes in hospitals and private settings, taught by a number of different instructors. Although all the classes covered these major topics, they varied a great deal in how much time was spent on each topic, what coping techniques were taught, how interactive the class was, and what emotional tone the instructor conveyed.
As examples, we share two common stereotypes of childbirth educators…
One is the “earth mother” who has long, flowing skirts, and has candles burning and talks about the beauty and power of ecstatic, un-medicated birth. The majority of class time is dedicated to practicing pain-coping techniques. When discussing pain medication and interventions, her primary advice is to avoid them at all costs.
One is the nurse who wears her scrubs to class in the hospital auditorium and uses the hospital’s standardized PowerPoint to tell you about their protocols, and how you will be expected to behave during labor. She spends only a few minutes on non-drug coping skills, emphasizes the advantages of epidural for pain coping, and uses fear-invoking language about risks to explain why you should comply with routine interventions.
Are these stereotypes true? Well, both of these types of educators can and do exist, but there are also instructors everywhere else on the spectrum between them. A typical childbirth educator would convey some of these beliefs to their students:
- Birth is normal, natural, and healthy. It is not just a medical event, but a huge transition in the life of a family.
- Learning what to expect in advance helps parents better cope with and respond to the challenges of labor.
- Having continuous support in labor aids a mother in coping with labor, and enhances labor progress.
- Pain medications and medical interventions are useful tools, which can have significant benefits when used widely. However, they also carry tradeoffs and potential risks, so should be used only when needed. (And only the mother can decide when pain medication is necessary for her.)
- Parents have the right and responsibility to ask questions of care providers to aid them in making informed decisions about their care.
Newborn Care Classes*
- Basics of baby care: diapering, bathing, dressing, and holding a newborn.
- Normal newborn characteristics, behavior, and communication cues.
- Sleep patterns and sleep safety.
- Crying and calming.
- Feeding: how often, how much, and how to know that baby’s getting enough.
- Warning signs: when to call the doctor.
- Benefits of breastfeeding.
- How to hold baby and encourage baby to latch on to the breast.
- How often to feed, how much, and how to know baby is getting enough.
- Preventing problems, and coping with challenges that may arise.
- May cover pumping and bottle-feeding, and the return to work.
*Some hospitals and educational organizations include baby care and breastfeeding information within their childbirth preparation series. Others offer these as separate classes: typically 2 – 4 hours for newborn care, and 1 – 3 hours for breastfeeding. When you sign up for childbirth preparation, find out how much time is spent on these topics so that you can decide if additional classes would be helpful to you.