Choosing Your Childbirth Education Course

Choosing Your Childbirth Education Course

First, we hope you have had a chance to check out our 3-part series on “How To Prepare For Childbirth”. It is a broad, in-depth description of how to prepare both your body and you mind (as well as your partners!) on the wonderful changes you will soon experience. This blog, on the other hand, is more focused about the perks about taking a prenatal class on pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum (after birth) period as part of your broader preparation. With that in mind, let’s jump right in!

Why do you need to take a childbirth preparation class?

Expanding your knowledge about pregnancy, birth, and babies helps lower your fear and boost your confidence about the changes you will experience. We recommend to every single client that they take a childbirth class and read books or watch videos about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding (if they plan on it), and infants! We even lend them books from our “lending library” so they don’t have to buy them. Expanding your knowledge lets you find out more about all the options available to you, makes you feel empowered and in control of your birth, and ultimately leads to a better birth experience.

What can you expect from a childbirth education class?

There is definitely variation between classes, but you are looking for one that discusses normal pregnancy and birth, common interventions and options during birth, and basic newborn care. We would recommend one that includes (or offers separately) infant CPR, how to address and work through common fears and concerns of new parents, and the emotional changes experienced during this time frame.

We also recommend that all parents learn at least some ways of staying comfortable during labor and positions that facilitate this. Most parents (even those who plan to definitely get an epidural!) have to deal with the sensations of early labor without any medication. Rarely, some clients struggle with epidurals that are stronger on one side or are less effective than they desire. So learning about how to handle the sensations of labor ahead of time will prepare you so that you can have a more enjoyable experience, no matter your circumstances.

Some childbirth educators even offer extra courses for grandparents or to help siblings adjust to being a big brother or sister. You will decide whether these courses are worth the extra money, but it is important to keep in mind that there are definitely some recommendations that have changed since your parents were raising their babies. It might save you battles after the baby comes to invest in updated information for them now. Especially if that information is given by someone whose diapers they didn't change.

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Where should you take your childbirth education class?

Wherever you feel comfortable! You have two choices for where to take classes: either a hospital-based class or an independent childbirth educator. We recommend an educator who does not work for a hospital or birth center but you have to make the choice that makes you comfortable. Here’s why we recommend this.

Hospital-based Courses

Benefits:

The first benefit to taking a class at the same hospital where you plan to deliver is that they will automatically include a tour of the labor and delivery ward, which may decrease your anxiety when you come in labor. You might feel more comfortable at the hospital than someone who goes there for the first time in labor.

Another benefit, is that you also get used to going from your house to the hospital. You learn common traffic issues of the commute and how to prepare for them.

Drawbacks:

The risk is that a hospital-based course may have an agenda. They might try to sell the idea of a “right” kind of birth, which coincidentally matches the kind of birth that your hospital offers!

The other worry is that it may not discuss some of the “crunchier” aspects of birth (extensive comfort measures, holistic birth practices, or natural alternatives to modern medical management).

If you do take your class from your hospital, we urge you to ask questions about things like their cesarean birth rates and how many of their patients actually have low intervention births (those which include things like intermittent fetal monitoring, eating/drinking during labor, and free movement of laboring parents), which are recommended by American College of OB/GYNs (ACOG) as well as the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM).

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Class from an Independent Educator:

Your other option is to find a local childbirth educator who offers independent childbirth classes. Their credentials vary but are often from organizations like Lamaze International, International Childbirth Education Association, the Bradley Method, Hypnobabies, and Birthing From Within. You can use the main organization’s webpage to find a local class or find some on our Resources Page.

Benefits:

You might get a more holistic, broader type of childbirth education than at the hospital. They will talk about how to maximize your hospital birth but they will also talk about other options like birthing at a birth center or at home, both of which are definitely available in Knoxville.

There will often be a greater emphasis on the emotional journey of pregnancy and birth (which is important!). You will also likely learn more coping techniques for dealing with the sensation of labor other than just medication.

Drawback:

You might not get to tour labor and delivery. If you plan a hospital birth, you can almost always schedule your own tour of labor and delivery, even if you didn’t take the hospital’s class. It’s just that the responsibility for scheduling fall on you and your support people.

Another drawback is that you might learn that the birth you initially chose, might not be the one you want after learning more information. This can be terrifying as a parent!! BUT, it is so important to remember that very few of your decisions are set in stone prior to birth. You may reconsider birthing with your medical provider or with your chosen hospital. And that’s okay. Check out our separate blog on “Finding the Right Medical Provider For You” for our perspective and advice on changing medical providers later in your pregnancy.

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The one day course vs. the weekly courses

We are increasingly busy as a society. You may struggle to commit to every Tuesday night for 6 or 8 weeks. Shouldn't you be worrying about dinner or resting after a long day at this time? The temptation is then to book the forever-long-Saturday-course that is often offered as an alternative. While we definitely recommend the Saturday course over no childbirth class, we recommend finding a way to make a weekly course work.

First, it is so hard to pay attention and retain anything after a few hours. According to the forgetting curve, you forget 70% of new information within 24 hours and 90% within a week. A weekly course allows you to refresh important information so you actually learn it better.

Second, it's an uncomfortable way to spend your precious weekend. Especially for a parent in the third trimester when you have to pee all the time and are generally uncomfortable sitting for 8 hours.

Last, weekly courses force you and your support people to set aside time that is dedicated only to preparing for your birth and child. You are held accountable for at least 2 hours each week to prepare, which can make it easier to set this time aside. And if you choose an independent educator, they often offer private courses that they can adjust around your schedule for a time that works well for you and your family.

So what is the take-home message?

The most important thing to remember when preparing for your birth is to do something that makes you feel confident and comfortable with the process your mind and body are going through. It may feel intimidating, because there’s a lot to learn and there are SO many options of how to do it. But you’ve got this! Whatever you chose, whether that is a hospital-course, an independent course, or just reading books and watching birth videos online, find something that makes you feel good and stick with it. You’ve only got this one chance to prepare for this birth, so do some research, surround yourself with a support team, and rest assured that you’ve got this!