By Allison J. Walsh, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE
Just as every pregnancy and birth is unique, so too is every childbirth class. While the options available to you may seem overwhelming, it is important to do your homework. A good childbirth class can not only prepare you for labor, it can expand your personal view of birth, lessen your fears and, most importantly, build your confidence in yourself and your body. To find one that works for you, take into account the following five factors.
The instructor can make or break a class. Before you choose one, call a few and ask questions about their curriculum, philosophy and teaching methods (there should be a variety). You want an instructor who can offer a wide array of coping strategies for labor and can address ways to communicate effectively with your health-care team. It is crucial for your instructor to provide current, well-researched information. Be wary if the chilbirth instructor simply presents hospital rules.
All aspects of a childbirth class should serve to build your trust in your body and baby: It should be taught in a manner that is empowering, respectful and hopefully even fun. A good instructor is an advocate who shares all of the information you need to make truly informed decisions.
There are many organizations that train childbirth educators but Lamaze International offers the only certification program for childbirth educators that is accredited by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). If your childbirth educator is Lamaze Certified she has demonstrated her knowledge and skills by passing a rigorous international examination that meets the highest standards for assuring professional competence.
Classes are held in hospitals, birth centers, health-care providers’ offices, homes or other community locations. In-home classes can be set up for one couple or for groups. Many women simply sign up at the place where they plan to give birth; before you do so, first check that the topics being covered will meet your needs. Again, if you attend hospital-based classes, be careful that they do not simply present the hospital’s rules.
You’ll likely get the most out of a small childbirth class: It will be more personalized and will allow for more questions and answers. Private classes are also available for couples with complicated schedules.
It may be tempting to sign up for an intensive day-long or weekend session, but there are many benefits to a course that meets five or six times over the span of a few weeks. At each session, there is time to review content from the prior one; this repetition will help you retain information. In between, you can reflect both personally and with your partner on what was discussed, and if questions arise, you’ll have the opportunity to pose them next time. It’s also helpful to be part of a group of people approaching parenthood at the same time. You might make new friends, and you will surely find others who share your thoughts, concerns and challenges.
A childbirth class should cover the following:
- the normal, natural process of labor and birth, and health-care practices that support it
- changes during late pregnancy and the stages of labor
- the important role that pain plays in labor and a wide variety of coping strategies for managing it
- the importance of labor support
- movement and positioning during labor and birth
- medical interventions and their indications, risks and alternatives
- how to communicate with your health-care provider
- developing a birth plan
- breastfeeding and newborn needs
Some partners are reluctant to attend a childbirth class because they don’t think it has much to do with them. Let yours know that you need his or her presence in class just as you will need it in labor. Together, make every effort to find a program that works with your schedules and with which you will both be comfortable.
Come to class prepared to focus: Turn off your cell phone and leave the rest of your life behind. Look at posters or visual aids around the room, and do any assigned reading. Ask questions and participate as much as you like, but remember that it’s fine to speak with your childbirth class instructor privately if there’s something you don’t wish to discuss in front of the group. Be open to learning and allow yourself to be amazed by the natural process of birth and the part you are playing.