You may be wondering if you should bother taking classes in childbirth preparation, breastfeeding, and newborn care. You can probably think of lots of reasons why not to take them: they cost money, you’re busy, you’re tired, you’ve already read a lot of books, and anytime you want to you can search online for any information you want. You may wonder: “I’m planning on having an epidural in labor. Do I really need to take classes?”
I’d like to tell you some of the reasons why it is worth your money and your time to seek out an in-person class with an experienced instructor, and a group of other expectant parents. And to back me up on this, I’ve included quotes from a Seattle area survey of over 600 new parents.*
Designated time: In our busy lives, with so many responsibilities and distractions, it can be difficult to set aside time to think about the upcoming birth, and to plan for life with baby. Signing up for classes means that you have committed a time on your calendar to focus on this preparation.
Honestly, simply having a structured format in order to discuss labor and birth with my husband was the most helpful part of the class. I’m not sure we would have covered all the bases on our own.
Synching up with your partner: Often for couples preparing for a birth, one person has done a ton of reading and thinking about birth, and the other has not. Taking a class together ensures that not only do you both have a good knowledge base, you also know what the other one knows, and it’s easy to refer to that common knowledge: “Remember in class when she said..”
The class I took was most helpful for my husband… I had been reading lots of books but he didn’t know much about labor. Also, seeing videos was really important for him, he says that he would have fainted at our son’s birth if he hadn’t prepared by watching birth videos.
The Big Picture: In the Information Age, there are so many sources of information, it’s easy to find out any little detail you want to know with a web search. But within the sea of information, it’s easy to get caught up in little details, and hard to know what information you actually most need to know. A childbirth education class helps to filter the information, and helps you understand the essentials.
It was good for me to have a source to check info I had learned in books and online… this helped cement the process in my head.
Specific and relevant information: Books and websites may offer outdated information, or information about regional practices which may or may not apply where you will give birth. A local class can cover the most current practices specific to your locale. For example, although the overall cesarean rate nationwide is 33%, there are some hospitals where it is 15% and some where it’s over 70%. Your instructor can help you learn local rates.
[The most important information was] Where to find help. Honestly, before you have a baby, it’s way too hard to imagine what it might be like. So, knowing where to go once you have the baby is really key.
Opportunity to ask questions, and to learn from your instructor’s experience: It’s also incredibly helpful to have a knowledgeable local guide you can ask questions of along your journey. Childbirth educators come from a variety of backgrounds. Many are labor and delivery nurses, labor support doulas, and/or are mothers themselves. From the wisdom gained from their experiences with birth, they can offer examples of what labor may feel like, share the lessons they have learned, and offer you personalized answers for any questions or concerns that you may have.
I liked all the medical information about what technically happens, but I also appreciated how they described what the experience of labor would be. Additionally… the ability to ask all the questions I wanted. Our class stayed very close and communicate daily via facebook, as well as getting together for baby play time.
Remembering the Information: A common tenet in education is that students only remember only 10% of what they read. So, even after reading extensively about birth, you may still have retained limited knowledge. And you may not be able to remember this theoretical knowledge during a labor contraction at 2:00 in the morning! On the other hand, students remember 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they do, 90% of what they say and do. Since most childbirth educators use a mixture of lecture, visual images (posters, videos, etc.), demonstrations, discussions, and practice sessions, all these learning modes will greatly increase your understanding, increase how much you remember of what you have learned, and help you know how to apply it and adapt it to the needs of the moment.
The Roadmap to Labor [tool from class] was a great resource during my actual labor–I kept looking at it to see how far I had to go! The videos and coping practice were also great. [I liked] Learning what “normal” labor looks like by rehearsing it in classes.
Hands-On Practice: During birth classes, the instructor will discussand demonstrate non-drug comfort techniques (such as baths, massage and relaxation techniques), and you’ll get a chance to practice them, ask questions, and get feedback on how you’re doing. During newborn care classes, there may be dolls for practicing swaddling, diapering, bathing, holding an infant, and positions for breastfeeding. This hands-on learning is helps everyone, but especially kinesthetic learners who learn best by doing.
- In the survey, mothers who had not taken classes tried an average 4.5 non-drug coping techniques, and 70% needed an epidural. Those who took condensed classes averaged 5.3 techniques, and 65% used an epidural. Those who took a full series used 5.6, and just 52% chose epidural.
And even if you’re planning on an epidural to manage labor pain, it’s good to have some other skills to aid you through the first part of labor. Also, it’s important to know that although epidurals provide great pain relief for the vast majority of women, there are about 5% of women who find they’re not effective. Just in case you’re one of these unlucky few, we want you to have other ways to cope with your labor!
The pain management techniques were much more helpful than I thought they would be. They seemed silly when we practiced them, but they really did wonders as my labor progressed!
Educational materials: Instructors may be able to offer a wide variety of visual aids, videos, comfort tools, and other materials you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Watching videos of labor and birth can be an excellent tool for preparing for the experience of labor. (Class videos are generally more accurate, realistic, and less sensationalized than birth shows on cable TV!)
It was helpful to watch footage of women in labor. If I hadn’t seen how crazy it really is, I would have lost my cool during my own labor.
Social interaction / Peer Support: Childbirth and parenting classes are a great place to meet other expectant parents, and share experiences. Some instructors foster community building by sharing the class roster with students, offering snacks at an informal break time to allow for socializing, and having a class reunion after all the babies are born. Some parents report that they made long-term friends in childbirth classes that provided support through the early years of parenting.
The best part of the class was the connections I made with other Moms-to-be.
Increased confidence and reduced anxiety: Most class participants find that attending a childbirth preparation class helps to reduce their fears and concerns as they learn more about what to expect, and thus have less fear of the unknown. They also have a chance to discuss their fears with the instructor and with other students, and processing fears out loud can make them less intense.
When asked “Looking back, how well prepared were you for what labor and birth would really be like? Rate on a scale from 0 (I was completely unprepared and didn’t have any of the information I needed) to 10 (I was very well prepared and had all the information I needed).” Those who hadn’t taken classes averaged 7.4, those who took condensed classes averaged 8.0, and students from multi-week series averaged 8.2.
When asked about specific aspects of preparation, over 85% of class participants said they felt well-prepared for knowing what to expect during labor, using a variety of labor coping techniques, understanding medical procedures, knowing how to ask questions to make informed choices, and understanding the basics of breastfeeding and of how to care for a newborn.
* Unpublished report: “Support for New Parents: A Report from our 2011 Survey of Seattle Area Families regarding their use of services for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum support.” Survey conducted by PALS Doulas, Parent Trust for Washington Children, and PEPS – the Program for Early Parent Support.