Updated: Dec 28, 2020
“Why Should I Take a Childbirth Class?”
Taking a quality childbirth preparation class provides a number of positive advantages:
1. Reducing Fear/ Increasing Confidence There are many fears and anxieties which stem from the vast unknowns of birth. In a childbirth class, you gain knowledge about what to expect regarding the labor process, common emotions, and medical procedures. You will discover new wisdom and skills, while also uncovering those that already lie within you— equipping yourself for a successful, positive birth experience.
A systematic review found that childbirth/prenatal education courses reduced fear of birth and pregnancy-specific anxiety (Stoll et al., 2018).
2. Reducing Epidural Use and Cesarean Surgery One study found only 24% epidural usage and 18% cesarean rate for women who were in a childbirth education course which focused on strategies to enhance relaxation, promote labor progression, and help laboring women to ‘work with the pain,’—compared to 69% epidural usage and 33% cesarean rate for women who were in a standard hospital childbirth course (Levett et al., 2016). Another study also reports significant reduction in cesareans associated with a childbirth education program (Madhavanprabhakaran, D’souza, & KarkadaSubrahmanya, 2016).
3. Connecting with Your Support Partner A childbirth class isn’t just for the birthing person—it also benefits the support partner in their role and experience. A class can increase communication— regardless of whether the support partner is the birthing person’s significant other, relative, or friend. For couples in particular, birth preparation is an opportunity to draw close, learn new things about each other, and develop ideas of family together.
4. Meeting Other Parents & Building Community You are not alone. In a childbirth class, you feel validated knowing other expectant parents have the same questions or concerns as you. On the flip side, you also learn from others who have experience with something you have yet to come across. Classes are an excellent opportunity to meet new friends and build a network of support.
5. Having Fun! Would you believe it if I said a childbirth class can be fun? Well they are! The topic of labor and birth unites people together, and can even bring forth a good laugh sometimes. Classes can have discussion, activities, and games—there’s something for everyone. In fact, at the end of class, parents often wish for more time because they were enjoying themselves so much.
“What should I look for in a quality childbirth class?"
It is important to note that not all childbirth education is created equal. There are countless types of childbirth classes that vary by philosophy, format, location and cost. Choosing the right one depends on a number of personal factors, so one size does not fit all. However, there are some things to look for in a quality childbirth class:
1. Evidence-Based Information on Best Practices When it comes to your care during birth, you want to know your options and understand common medical procedures. A quality childbirth class will cover this thoroughly, basing its information on what research studies show to be best care practices for mom and baby. The class will cover benefits, risks, alternatives, and other key parts of informed decision-making.
2. Demonstration & Practice of Various Labor Coping Strategies Pain coping strategies are effective when they are practiced and mastered. A childbirth educator should devote time to demonstrating techniques and trying them out in class, and then encourage you to keep practicing at home with your support partner. Even for those planning an epidural, these coping strategies are helpful because an epidural may not be immediately available or as effective as expected.
3. Addresses & Respects Your Individual Needs Your individual questions, concerns, beliefs, and goals for birth should all be honored. The class/educator should not push you into a certain agenda, but supports the fact that this birth is yours. The class encourages self-advocacy and shared decision-making between you and your care team.
4. Incorporates Different Learning Styles People have different learning styles and personalities. A quality class will accommodate these differences by using a combination of learning techniques such as: lecture, discussion, reading materials, video, visual aids, demonstration, games or activities. Humor also helps to make new information more easily digestible and memorable.
5. Appropriate Class Time, Class Space, and Class Size to Achieve the All of the Above While there are exceptions, most hospital classes tend to: have larger class size (10 to 20+ couples); have less class time (just one or two days); focus on their particular hospital policies/procedures that aren’t necessarily best practice; and charge a cheaper enrollment fee. On the flip side, independent/out-of-hospital classes generally tend to: have smaller class sizes (8 or less couples); have more class time (meet several times over several weeks); focus on evidence-based best practices, informed- & shared- decision making; and charge a pricier enrollment fee.
The bottom line when it comes to birth preparation is that you are informed, supported by your circle of care, and choosing what feels right for you
Disclaimer: This information is NOT medical advice. This information is based on the references cited and my personal experience in birth work. While research is a strong tool for understanding practices and outcomes, results are not always generalizable nor are outcomes guaranteed. This is due to the fact that perceptions of childbirth, epidural usage and cesarean rate are affected by many other factors such as: individual health, socioeconomic status, cultural background, hospital policies, and so forth. Research may evolve as it is updated.
Stoll, K.S., Swift, E.M., Fairbrother, N., Nethery, E. & Janssen, P. (2018). A systematic review of nonpharmacological prenatal interventions for pregnancy‐specific anxiety and fear of childbirth. Birth, 45(1), 7-18. doi: 10.1111/birt.12316
Levett, K.M., Smith, C.A., Bensoussan, A., Dahlen, H.G. (2016). Complementary therapies for labour and birth study: a randomised controlled trial of antenatal integrative medicine for pain management in labour. BMJ Open, 2016 6. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2015-010691
Madhavanprabhakaran, G.K., D’souza, M.S., & KarkadaSubrahmanya, N. (2016). Effectiveness of Childbirth Education on Nulliparous Women’s Knowledge of Childbirth Preparation, Pregnancy Anxiety and Pregnancy Outcomes. Nursing and Midwifery Studies, 6(1). doi: 10.5812/nmsjournal.32526.