What everyone wants you to avoid is the bad information that's so easily available. "Google 'epidural' and you'll get nearly 3 million hits, more than you can realistically access," Murkoff says. "And because the Internet comes to you unfiltered, there's a lot of misinformation."
For that reason, a class is definitely worth considering. Henry says the one-day class she and her husband took was well worth their time. "We liked spending a day focused on preparing, and having a labor and delivery nurse there to answer our questions," she says. "And since it was at the hospital, when the big day came, we already knew exactly where to go."
Going into childbirth blindly can be something you later regret, Dr. Herrine adds. "Labor is not a great time to start learning the ropes and making major decisions. The woman is usually pretty toasted and not thinking clearly." Dr. Herrine also points to a growing trend that gives doctors and nurses less time for bedside tutorials. More hospitals are getting rid of maternity wards as insurance rates and malpractice suits rise and Medicaid reimbursement drops, leaving a smaller number of hospitals to juggle the same number of deliveries. In Philadelphia, for example, where Dr. Herrine works, only eight hospitals have maternity wards, down from 18 hospitals a decade ago. "That means less staff to coach patients through labor," Dr. Herrine says.
As a reporter, I can understand both sides: why you'd skip class, or why you'd take one. But as a mom, I have to say I never would have gone into my first birth without some childbirth education. I ended up having a c-section -- my son was breech, and he wasn't coming out! -- but still, I felt more in control and less fearful armed with some childbirth knowledge. I'd rather have the know-how and not need it than wish, at one of the most important and intense times of my life, that I'd studied up. Just more food for thought.
Originally published in the July 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
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