Why Childbirth Education Attendance Has Dropped
Several trends have evolved to erode childbirth education:
- The popularity of epidurals. Three-quarters of the moms in the Childbirth Connection study had one. "Epidurals are promoted as a risk-free way of dodging the agony of childbirth, so you have people saying, 'Why do I need to learn breathing techniques?'" Goer says. Epidurals do have risks, she clarifies, and, of course, women do need to manage quite a bit of pain before they're given drugs.
- Rising cesarean rates. This helped empty childbirth classrooms as well, Murkoff says. An amazing one in three women now ends up with a surgical delivery. "It's cutting, so to speak, into attendance," Murkoff adds. "Some women are even asking ahead for surgery. It's not surprising, then, that they're questioning why they'd need to study up on nature's birth plan."
- Many patients simply prefer to get information closer to home. "They're listening to friends and family members," says Gail Herrine, MD, an ob-gyn at Northeast Hospital of the Temple University Health System, in Philadelphia. "Some of them are also using the Internet and magazines, and they feel that's enough." Dr. Herrine nonetheless strongly encourages her patients to attend childbirth classes.
- Pop culture often portrays childbirth instructors as hippies indoctrinating their pupils in a philosophy of drug-free, natural childbirth. And sometimes that's not far off. When her ob suggested she take a childbirth class last year, Lucia Smith, of Hopewell, New Jersey, complied, but the educator's anti-epidural rant made Smith tune out. "I don't like pain!" Smith laments. Who can blame her?
- Time. No one has it, and childbirth-education classes often demand whole evenings or afternoons. "Some classes we looked into stretched over weeks, requiring us to run to them after work," says Tanya Henry, of Chicago, whose son, Emmett, was born in January. "The only one we could handle was at our hospital -- a one-day, eight-hour class on a Saturday. It made for a long day, but it fit our schedule better."