You know the old saying: Babies don't come with instruction booklets. Luckily, most hospitals and birth centers offer a variety of classes for expectant moms and dads. Classes aren't mandatory, of course, but they can be a great help because they instill you with confidence about your ability to manage your pregnancy, the delivery, and the beginning of your baby's life. Some hospitals offer classes for free; others may charge a nominal fee. Your obstetrician may have information about classes in your community.
Childbirth education. Learning about labor and delivery beforehand can help relax you by taking away some of the unknowns. Classes are usually taught by a nurse or midwife and are offered in the evenings for several successive weeks or on a weekend. The best time to take a childbirth class is in weeks 34-36 of pregnancy; that way you can complete it 4-6 weeks before your due date.
During a childbirth class you'll learn how to know you're in labor, what to take with you to the hospital, what happens once you check in to the hospital, relaxation and breathing strategies for coping with pain, information about delivery, details about pain medication, instructions for fathers/coaches, and explanations of unexpected events that may occur during labor and delivery.
Most classes also include a tour of the hospital's maternity area and delivery rooms. This is a great time to ask questions and familiarize yourself with your hospital's procedures. Many hospitals offer a class for first-time parents and a refresher course for those who already have a child but would like to update their knowledge. Some even offer classes for siblings and for first-time grandparents.
Your hospital might also offer classes about specific topics such as vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), planned cesarean, natural childbirth (giving birth without pain medications), and giving birth to multiples.
Baby-care education. Classes that teach about infant care can be instructive and fun for expectant parents who have little experience with newborns. An infant-care class will cover such topics as how to give your baby his first bath, how to take care of the umbilical cord stump and circumcision site, the many colors of infant poop and what they all mean, what to do when a baby cries, and so on. Classes in infant/child CPR and baby massage might also be available.
Breastfeeding education. It may sound ridiculous that you would need to learn how to breastfeed -- isn't it a natural experience that comes easily to baby and mother? Unfortunately the answer to that question can sometimes be "no." Learning about breastfeeding beforehand can save you and your baby from the stress of trying to figure things out in the hospital and during the first few weeks postpartum. During a class on breastfeeding you'll learn about the benefits of breastfeeding, what happens during first feedings, how to get a baby to latch on to the breast, different ways to position the baby during breastfeeding, what medications are safe and unsafe for nursing mothers, how to use a breast pump and store milk, how to prevent plugged milk ducts, and what to eat (or avoid) while nursing. You may also receive information about how to get in touch with a lactation consultant if you need help after your baby is born.
Many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes. You can also turn to La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org), an international organization that promotes breastfeeding, or your pediatrician's office for more information.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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