Birthing Class Basics
There’s a lot more to learn than just breathing techniques.
Over the last few decades, experts have made huge strides in medical advancements in just about every area of practice—including childbirth. Today, providers are more equipped than ever to make the experience as comfortable as possible, and even though the basics of childbirth remain unchanged, there’s still a lot of new information to learn thanks to modern medicine and technology.
No matter how you bring baby into the world, childbirth is taxing on both an emotional and physical level. That’s where childbirth courses come into play, preparing you—inside and out—for the strenuous, yet rewarding, task ahead.
When you’re looking for a birthing class, first reflect on your own plans and preferences for labor and delivery to help narrow the types of childbirth classes to consider. If you know you’re headed for a C-section or multiple births, search for a course that focuses on that particular scenario. If you’re planning a natural birth, you may wish to take a longer class that will physically prepare you for the demands of unmedicated stages of labor by teaching you coping skills like pain management, breathing techniques, and intervention management..
If you’re not sure what exactly you’ll be stepping into, then it’s a good idea to try out a few different classes to help you prepare for any scenario. In fact, this is advised even if you have a birth plan in place that lists your preferences down to the last detail, because even if you know what you want, it doesn’t hurt to get comfortable with other possibilities, too.
“Learning about things that are outside of your birth plan does not make them more likely to happen,” says Maria Pokluda, a certified childbirth educator and doula and co-founder of BEST Doula Training, “rather, it makes it more likely that if [these unexpected things do happen] it will be a better and more empowering experience.”
Labor and delivery courses range from online classes to one-day meetings to three-month sessions. They might be offered through the hospital or birth center where you’ll be delivering, or they can also be organized by private groups—sometimes with higher costs associated. Contact your hospital or birth center to find out what programs they offer, or ask your care provider and friends for recommendations, then choose a class that suits your wants and needs as expectant parents.
What is the Goal of Birthing Classes?
“While this sounds like a very simple question to answer (to learn about birth), there are two different aspects to consider: the educator’s goal and the expectant family’s goal,” Teresa Maskery, a certified doula, founder of TRUST Prenatal, Postpartum, and Doula Training, and program advisor for the Childbirth Educator Program at CAPPA, tells Pregnancy & Newborn.
Maskery goes on to explain that a childbirth educator’s goal should be to provide expecting parents with evidence-based information that will prepare them for “their journey through late pregnancy and/or labor.” As for family goals, on the other hand, she says these can vary.
“Their goal might be to meet others and share stories, access quick and easy information, help alleviate anxiety, learn about natural birth, understand their options, and so much more.”
In addition to preparing families for late pregnancy and labor, Pokluda says childbirth classes should also teach families how to effectively communicate with their provider and care team in the delivery room. Also, a good class will help families learn what to expect in the immediate hours after their baby is born.
“After teaching the basics of birth, a great childbirth course should build a foundation to help parents communicate with each other and their birth team about what the options will be during delivery and how they want to make the best decisions for the birth experience and the health of the birthing parent and their baby.”
When Should Someone Start Taking Birthing Classes?
While Pokluda insists that “it’s never too late” to take a birthing class—as long as the baby hasn’t arrived, at least—there does seem to be a sweet spot.
“An ideal time to take a class is in the second trimester,” she says, adding, “If you take a class sooner, you may not recall quite as much on the big day [and] if you wait until later, you have less time to take the information learned in the class to start those important conversations with your partner and birth team about what is important to you in your delivery.”
However, Maskery points out that expecting families should take the number of class sessions into consideration when they’re deciding when to start taking birthing classes.
“Birth preparation classes can vary greatly,” she says, “Some classes are eight to 10 sessions long while others are two to three sessions.”
Regardless of how many sessions you’re scheduled to attend, Maskery advises families to try to complete their classes by the 35th week of pregnancy. This gives families a little extra cushion time in the event they have an early delivery, but not so much time that they’ll forget what they learned during class.
How Many Classes Should a Pregnant Person Take?
Every pregnant person is different, so the ideal number of birthing classes varies by individual. Additionally, the format of the birthing class can significantly impact how many classes an expecting parent should attend to get the information they need.
“The question should not be how many classes, but rather how much content does an expectant person need,” says Maskery.
With that in mind, expecting parents should consider what kind of format works best for them and will allow for retaining the information. “Some people prefer to take one longer course and others prefer to break it up into [several] smaller sessions,” says Pokluda.
In addition to considering birthing class session length as well as the overall time investment required when researching class options, they should also factor in what information will be covered. Both Pokluda and Maskery agree that the more information that expecting parents can get, the better, even if they have a solid birth plan. However, Maskery advises expecting families to “pay close attention to feedback from former students” when researching different birthing class options because the last thing you want is information overload—especially if you leave the class feeling more anxious than when you arrived.
Different Birthing Class Options
If you’re at a point in pregnancy where you are ready to start exploring different birthing class options, here is a little information on some of the different formats you can expect to come across during your research.
If you’re not tied to a particular method, a general childbirth education class might be your best bet. These are often offered through your local hospital as affordable or free services. (Tip: Be sure to check out the schedule early on because courses tend to 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 with 10 couples or fewer, ideally, where you’ll feel comfortable joining in the discussion and piping up if you have a question. If attending in person, carry a notebook with any queries 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 have the support of your partner, mother, or close friend, especially if it’s someone who will be in the delivery room with you. (Everyone wins when your support person knows his or her responsibilities!)
There’s a lot of preparation expecting parents have to do before the baby arrives, so if birthing classes fall off your radar, you might find yourself scrambling to find an opening for you before your due date. Don’t worry, though, because you might not be totally out of options.
If you’re looking for birthing classes late in the game, you might have to take what you can get in terms of format and timing, and you might be faced with higher prices.
“If the estimated due date is fast approaching, there is likely an educator in the area who is willing to do private classes—often in the client’s home,” says Maskery, “While this option comes at a premium cost, it is excellent for busy work schedules and has the added benefit of customizing content to [the family’s] particular needs.”
Even if you’re in early labor, you still might be able to get a crash course in childbirth thanks to technology.
“While it’s not ideal, if labor starts and there are no other options, there are a few free prenatal classes that can be found online,” says Maskery. However, she notes that if you’re experiencing painful contractions, you’re less likely to truly take the information in, since your focus will (understandably) be elsewhere.
In Lamaze classes, mothers learn to listen and respond to their bodies. They become confident in their ability to endure natural childbirth when they rely on inner strength, natural urges, and support from others. But Lamaze also educates families on possible medical interventions, so if any are needed—or pain relief medication, such as an epidural, is desired—expecting parents can have a full understanding of what their options are.
Lamaze courses are held in various locations—including online— by certified instructors. The main takeaways from this method are:
- Let labor begin on its own—even if it’s well past your due date (pending there are no complications).
- Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor.
- Bring a loved one, friend, or doula for continual support.
- Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary. (This does not always apply to pain medication.)
- 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.
The Bradley Method
The Bradley Method encourages unmedicated childbirth with your partner acting as your birth coach. Getting through labor is all about relaxation techniques, natural breathing, and self-awareness. There is also a strong emphasis on limiting risk factors by maintaining a healthy pregnancy through proper nutrition, exercise, and avoidance of drugs of any kind.
Courses last 12 weeks (from the fifth month of pregnancy until the baby’s birth), and prices vary depending on the area, format (in person, virtual, or hybrid), and instructor.
This birth method uses self-hypnosis techniques to help moms have a pain-free labor experience, but contrary to what you might initially envision, HypnoBirthing (also known as the Mongan Method) doesn’t require a swinging pocket watch. Hypnosis is defined as a state of focused concentration where the mind and body are able to relax simultaneously (for example, when you arrive home without remembering the drive). HypnoBirthing aims to enable birthing parents to escape their preconceived ideas of painful labor so they can relinquish their fears and give birth calmly.
Look for an instructor who has been trained through education and experience and is certified by the HypnoBirthing Institute. Though class time is recommended, particularly if it’s your first pregnancy, you can also learn the techniques online with visualization exercises.
Taking a meditation-based approach to childbirth, Mindful Birthing doesn’t deny pain as part of the labor and delivery experience. Instead, it helps you acknowledge and manage it, so you can apply meditation tools (like paying attention to breathing or focusing on the sensations in your body) to stay present and cope with pain one moment at a time.
Through the online course, expecting parents are taught the physiology of childbirth and encouraged to use their minds to work with intensity during labor. The meditation skills can help ease anxiety and manage stress during pregnancy and postpartum care.
If none of these class styles appeal to you, or you’re looking for classes that delve into specific topics, Maskery suggests looking into specialty childbirth classes instead. There are classes for everything from early pregnancy to advice for support partners to breastfeeding and even sibling preparation. “Don’t be afraid to go get the information you want,” she says.
Preparing for childbirth can be intimidating for any parent-to-be, which is why birthing classes can be so useful for expectant parents. Find what class fits into your schedule and your birth plan, take the opportunity to learn as much about the birthing process as possible, and you’ll (almost) be ready for your little one to arrive!
This article was originally published in 2010 and has been updated by Ashley Ziegler.