When you think of childbirth education classes, you may automatically think about being taught how to cope with labor by learning breathing techniques and how to control pain.
Most childbirth education courses offer much more than this. You will find a broad range of them with different focal points and philosophies.
Here are some of the things a childbirth class might offer:
Nutrition. You may be taught the basics about eating during pregnancy, or your class might go into a lot of detail about recommended vitamins, calorie requirements, and even recipe suggestions.
Body awareness and conditioning. Many teachers will include Kegel exercises or yoga postures to help prepare your body for birth.
Visualization and relaxation. Your instructor may take you through one, or many, visualizations to help prepare you for labor and birth. Some may teach meditation techniques.
Communication and community. Being in a group with other parents-to-be is an important part of most childbirth education classes. You can discuss issues ranging from worries about parenting to finding a pediatrician. You may develop friendships that can last for years and give you the beginnings of a community of fellow parents.
Labor preparation. You may learn breathing and other techniques that can help you manage pain and other stressors of labor.
Parenting and breastfeeding preparation. Most teachers include preliminary instruction on breastfeeding and the basics of newborn care.
How to be your own advocate. You and your partner will learn how to ask questions and take appropriate steps to help ensure you will have the type of birth experience you want.
In order to help you choose a course and teacher that is compatible with your particular needs, it helps to look at the different organizations that certify childbirth educators. Each has its own specific philosophies and techniques. You may find instructors who are certified by one of these organizations and teach only those methods, or you may find an instructor who incorporates a number of different philosophies.
Lamaze International: Lamaze promotes a natural, safe and healthy approach to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting and serves as a resource for information about what to expect and what choices are available during the childbearing years. Lamaze education and practices are based on the best, most current medical evidence available, and can help reduce the use of unnecessary interventions and improve overall outcomes for mothers and babies. Working closely with their families, health care providers and Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators, millions of pregnant women have achieved their desired childbirth outcomes using Lamaze practices.
These Six Healthy Birth Practices form the foundation of Lamaze education and are tried-and-true ways to make birth as safe and healthy as possible:
· 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 Certified Childbirth Educators (with the LCCE credential) offer interactive childbirth education in a variety of formats throughout the childbearing year to support informed decision-making. This may include a series of classes with a group of parents, several independent classes, or one-to-one teaching. Classes may be in-person or online. First time parents should receive a minimum of 12 hours of instruction.
Bradley Method: The Bradley Method promotes natural childbirth and attempts to achieve this goal with a very thorough and detailed course program for new parents. They teach avoidance of drugs during pregnancy, birth, and while breastfeeding unless absolutely necessary. A key component of the method is to train the husband as a coach and the main supporter during labor.
Classes are held over a period of 12 weeks and include information on nutrition, as well as relaxation and natural breathing as tools to use during labor. Parents are taught how to handle unexpected situations and how to self-advocate. Bradley courses follow a strict formula and are the same wherever you take them.
Birthing From Within: The founder of Birthing From Within, Pam England, draws from several different cultures in her philosophy, focusing on the spiritual nature of giving birth. Parents are not forced to learn any one method. Instead, they can use different ideas and sources to help them though labor and birth. The goal is to be present for your baby’s birth. In general, classes tend to be experiential, incorporating active exercises for learning, rather than lecture-oriented.
A typical class is divided into three parts: (1) a multisensory activity, using song and drumming, for example; (2) pain-coping practices such as Coyote Circle, where parents learn that vocalizing during labor is normal and helpful; and (3) practical information about specific topics such as, “How to push your baby out.”
Birthworks: Birthworks’ major goal is to develop a woman’s self-confidence and faith in her ability to give birth, and was inspired by the work of famous French obstetrician, Dr. Michel Odent. Odent believes that women need to give birth in any way that is comfortable for them, and Birthworks encourages women to use their intuition. Women and their partners are encouraged to begin the course as early in pregnancy as possible, or even before becoming pregnant. This is because a large part of the course helps parents learn how to choose and communicate with care providers.
Nutrition is also taught, as well as a method known as Pelvic Bodyworks, which teaches women how the pelvis moves and opens in different labor position. The classes generally meet for two and a half hours each week for ten weeks. Women with any type of medical history are encouraged to attend, including women who are expecting twins or who have had previous cesarean sections.
International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA): ICEA’s philosophy encompasses the idea of birth as a major family/life event, rather than a medical procedure. ICEA encourages family-centered care, and believes that birth professionals should guide rather than direct women. An ICEA-certified teacher is expected to know detailed information about pregnancy, labor, nutrition, and preparation for parenting.
Each ICEA teacher devises her or his own curriculum and class length. Your instructor can choose to receive additional certification through ICEA on prenatal fitness, baby care, and breastfeeding—so this may or may not be a part of the course offering.
Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE): ALACE seeks to link women together to try to make up for the fact that most are no longer well connected to female relatives from previous generations. This organization feels that birth has come to resemble a mechanized medical emergency, and that this conjures images of fear and pain. ALACE’s method views birth as a sacred passage and creative expression of love.
This program was developed by midwife Rahima Baldwin. Childbirth preparation is geared towards women giving birth in any setting, from home to hospitals. The principles of mind-body integration are taught, along with relaxation and coping tools to work with pain. Women who have had previous C-sections are encouraged to attend. Class length and curriculum vary according to the instructor.
Hypnobirthing: Based on the work of Grantly Dick-Read, MD, who first began the natural childbirth movement in the 1920s, Hypnobirthing’s philosophy is that childbirth does not need to be painful. Pain is thought to stem directly from fear. This program uses hypnosis to help women through the process of labor and birth. Hypnosis is introduced as a naturally induced state of relaxed focused concentration, similar to states we slip in and out of throughout the day as we focus on routine tasks.
Hypnobirthing also offers women suggestions on how to avoid over-medicalized birth experiences. It is taught in four two-and-a-half-hour classes. You will learn the basics of hypnosis techniques, prenatal bonding with your baby, relaxation, breathing, and visualization techniques.
Other types of childbirth education: Some hospitals offer a very shortened version of what most childbirth educators recommend. If the class only meets four times for an hour and a half, for example, that may not be enough to cover any subject in detail. Much of the time in the course may be devoted to touring the facility. As well, you may find it more beneficial to take a course close to your home so that you can meet other parents who live nearby and begin to develop your new community of fellow mothers.
Generally speaking, it might be wisest to take a class not affiliated with any large medical or birth institution. This way you can be assured of the most objective possible picture of pregnancy and labor.
While the best choice is to take a local class taught by a live instructor, childbirth education courses are also available on video and even online. Courses are occasionally offered in vacation settings, such as a mountain or seaside resort.