Women have been giving birth since the beginning of humanity. Nothing could be more natural, so the process should be completely intuitive … right? Not exactly. Today’s birthing procedures can be more complicated than those of yore, and while modern advancements can make birthing much more comfortable—and even enable births that wouldn’t have been possible in earlier eras—they also mean that there’s much more to learn nowadays. No matter how you slice it (no C-section-related pun intended), giving birth is taxing emotionally and physically. That’s where childbirth courses come into play, preparing mind and body for the strenuous-yet-rewarding task ahead.
When you’re looking for a birthing class, first consider your own plans for labor and delivery. If you know you’re headed for a C-section or multiple birth, search for a class focusing on that particular scenario. If you’re planning to give birth naturally, you may wish to take a longer course that will physically prepare you for the demands of unmedicated labor. And if you’re not sure which path you’re headed down, a childbirth class can help with that too!
Labor and delivery courses range from one-day meetings to three-month sessions. They may be offered through the hospital where you’re delivering, or they might be organized by private groups with higher costs associated. Contact your hospital or birthing center to find out what kinds of programs they offer, ask your doctor and friends for recommendations, and then choose a class that suits your needs.
If you’re not tied to a particular method, a general childbirth education class may be your best bet. These are often offered through your local hospital as affordable or free services—be sure to check out the schedule early on, because courses do fill up, and they may not be offered all the time.
In a basic labor and delivery class, you’ll learn what to expect at the hospital, from check-in through delivery and beyond. Look for a small class—10 couples or fewer, ideally—where you’ll feel comfortable entering the discussion. Carry a notebook with any questions you have, and make sure you gain the answers you need to feel confident going into childbirth. You may choose to attend class alone, but it can be nice to bring your partner, mother or friend, especially if it’s someone who will be in the birthing room with you. (Everyone wins when your support person knows his or her responsibilities!)
Planning to go au naturel? You’re bound to encounter these well-known schools.
In Lamaze classes, mothers learn to listen and respond to their bodies. They become confident in their ability to deliver naturally when they rely on inner strength, natural urges and support from others. Instruction is based on the following practices:
- Let labor begin on its own.
- Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor.
- Bring a loved one, friend or doula for continuous support.
- Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary.
- Avoid giving birth on your back, and follow your body’s urges to push.
- Keep mother and baby together—it’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding.
Lamaze courses are held in various locations by certified instructors. Search for a class near you at lamaze.org.
The Bradley Method
The Bradley approach encourages natural childbirth with coaching by your partner—getting through labor is all about relaxation, natural breathing and self-awareness. There is also a strong emphasis on limiting risk factors by staying healthy during pregnancy through proper nutrition, exercise and avoidance of drugs of any kind. Courses last 12 weeks (from the fifth month of pregnancy until baby’s birth), and prices are generally between $200 and $400, depending on the area and instructor. Trained instructors and additional information are listed at bradleybirth.com.
Tip: The International Childbirth Education Association (icea.org) is a great place to search for local family-centered courses. Certified educators teach perinatal fitness, childbirth and postnatal care; they present their own material, but each is committed to giving parents the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about pregnancy, birth and newborn care.