Women have been giving birth since the beginning of humanity. Nothing could be more natural, so the birth process should be completely intuitive for pregnant women, even for a first-time mom … right? Not exactly. Today’s procedures can be more complicated than those of yore, and while modern advancements can make the birth experience much more comfortable—and even enable deliveries 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, giving birth 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 (by teaching you plenty of coping skills, like pain management, breathing techniques and intervention management) for the demands of unmedicated stages of 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 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 kinds of programs they offer, ask your care provider and friends for recommendations, and then choose a class that suits your wants and needs as expectant parents.
The Basics of Childbirth Education
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 bring 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!)
Alternative Methods to Consider
If you’re searching for other options, you’re bound to encounter these well-known schools of thought. Read up on the similarities and difference among popular childbirth methods to find the best fit for you.
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 women on possible medical interventions, so if any are needed—or pain relief medication, such as an epidural, is desired—moms-to-be can have a full understanding of what their options are.
Lamaze courses are held in various locations by certified instructors. (Search for a class near you at lamaze.org.) The main takeaways are:
- Let labor begin on its own—even if it’s well past your due date.
- Walk, move around and change positions through 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 approach 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 baby’s birth), and prices vary, depending on the area and instructor. Trained instructors and additional information can be found at bradleybirth.com.
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 mind and body are able to relax simultaneously (for example, when you arrive at home without remembering the drive). HypnoBirthing aims to enable women 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 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. Find out more at us.hypnobirthing.com.
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 course, women are taught the physiology of childbirth and encouraged to use their minds to work with pain during labor. The meditation skills can help ease anxiety and manage stress during pregnancy and for postpartum care. Learn more about Mindful Birthing (and parenting) at mindfulbirthing.org.