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What will I learn from a childbirth class?
A childbirth class is a great way to prepare for labor and birth. Depending on where you go, classes range from a one-day intensive workshop to weekly sessions lasting a month or more. The typical class consists of lectures, discussions, and exercises, all led by a trained childbirth instructor.
While approaches vary, the goal is to provide you with information to prepare for childbirth, help you make informed decisions, and minimize your fears. You'll also learn techniques to help you relax and cope with labor.
Most hospitals offer classes, or you can take one through an independent instructor or organization. Classes range from courses that begin early in pregnancy and continue through the postpartum period to one-shot refresher sessions.
Look for a class that covers:
- The signs of labor
- The normal progress of labor and birth
- Techniques for coping with pain
- How your partner can help you during labor
- When to call your doctor or midwife
In addition, childbirth classes generally cover some of the more common childbirth complications and how they might be handled. Most show videos of both a vaginal birth and a c-section.
Classes may also teach the basics of breastfeeding and newborn care. (If you'd like more detail about nursing and baby care, you can generally find separate in-depth classes on these topics. Early pregnancy classes are usually available as well.)
A bonus: Childbirth classes provide a great opportunity to meet other expectant parents who will have a child the same age as yours. Some participants stay in touch long after the classes are over.
What sorts of childbirth classes are offered?
Some classes teach a particular childbirth method, but many – such as the ones offered at a hospital – don't promote any particular technique. You may want to research the classes available in your area so you find one that meets your needs.
If you want to give birth without an epidural, for example, look for an instructor who spends a lot of time exploring the different natural methods of pain management. On the other hand, if you're sure you're going to ask for an epidural or another form of pain medication, a course taught by a stringently antidrug instructor is not for you.
Here's a look at some options:
According to Lamaze International, the goal of Lamaze class is to help women learn to trust their inner wisdom and make informed choices about their healthcare. In Lamaze class, women learn various simple coping strategies, breathing and movement techniques, and different ways to comfort themselves during childbirth.
The Lamaze philosophy stipulates that "birth is normal, natural, and healthy" and that "women have a right to give birth free from routine medical interventions." But Lamaze also educates women so that when interventions are needed or pain relief medication is desired, women are able to give consent that is well informed.
Bradley Method classes
The Bradley Method embraces the idea that childbirth is a natural process and that, with the right preparation, most women can avoid pain medication and other medical interventions during labor and birth. The curriculum emphasizes the importance of diet and exercise during pregnancy, teaches deep breathing techniques to manage pain, and involves the husband or partner as an integral participant in the birth process.
Some childbirth instructors are certified by the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA). ICEA provides education and training programs for prospective teachers, and helps expectant parents find classes with certified instructors.
The ICEA doesn't promote particular techniques, so class content varies depending on the instructor. If you're thinking of using an ICEA-certified instructor, ask what information and which techniques for coping with labor will be covered in class.
HypnoBirthing, or the Mongan Method, teaches women how to use deep relaxation, visualization, and self-hypnosis to experience "a calm, serene, and comfortable birth." While the focus is on natural pregnancy and birth, the techniques are also useful for mothers who require medical intervention during labor and delivery.
Other methods and techniques
There are other, less well known (and, in some instances, less widely available) childbirth techniques. Here are a few that you may want to look into:
Birthing From Within is a spiritually focused approach to preparing for birth and parenting.
BirthWorks encourages the pregnant woman to have faith in her body's knowledge about labor.
The Alexander Technique, a movement-awareness method, can help women physically prepare for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood by focusing on freedom of movement, balance, support, and coordination.
If you're into yoga, you might want to explore prenatal yoga classes. Many women find the breathing, stretching, and meditation taught as part of various types of yoga very helpful during pregnancy and childbirth. Chat with a local yoga instructor, or ask at a hospital education center, birth center, or adult education facility.
How can I find a childbirth class in my area?
Most hospitals offer classes as part of their education programs. This is usually the least expensive way to go, although these classes do tend to be more crowded.
The International Childbirth Education Association has a certified member's directory that allows you to search for instructors by state.
Birth centers often offer their own classes, which are geared toward their particular birth philosophy. If you're interested in exploring other options, ask your obstetrician or midwife for suggestions.
If an in-person class doesn't work for you, try BabyCenter's online childbirth class. It's free (unlike many traditional childbirth classes), and you can watch it as many times as you'd like. The two-hour class is a good solution for parents-to-be with busy schedules, women on bedrest, and second-time parents who want a refresher course.
Video: Free online childbirth class
Learn about the five signs of labor, episiotomies, pain management options, and more in our free childbirth class videos.