You've read pregnancy books. You know the breakdown of what to expect during the rest of your nine months. But actually giving birth is another story -- one that's not easy to learn about by simply reading.
You probably have many questions: What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like? Will the hospital staff offer anesthesia or expect you to ask for it? What should you be doing in those hours between calling the doctor and pushing the baby out?
Finally, have you ever watched a video of someone giving birth? Probably not, if you're like most first-time expectant parents. And that's why childbirth classes have become as much a part of pregnancy as baby showers and heartburn.
Why Take a Class?
The concept behind childbirth class is simple: Expectant parents will be more at ease during labor and delivery if they're prepared. Mothers will be less likely to hyperventilate during contractions if they've been instructed how to breathe, and fathers will be less likely to faint if they've seen a video of a woman giving birth. That's the theory, anyway.
Sometimes students complain that inexperienced instructors are more confusing than helpful, and some moms report that breathing exercises were promptly forgotten when labor hit. And even a fantastic teacher can't take all the pain and worry away.
But even a poorly taught course can be useful, if only for the opportunity it gives you to focus on the delivery one night a week.
Another boon: Classes help you meet other expectant mothers, reminding you that you're not, in fact, the only woman in town waking up every three hours to either pee or panic. Many playgroups are formed out of childbirth-class contacts.
What Will I Learn?
Though courses vary in philosophy, they all cover much of the same information. Both you and your partner attend a series of classes, usually beginning in the third trimester. Expect discussions on how to recognize when labor starts, instructions for relaxation and breathing, and a review of pain-relief options. Some courses emphasize natural techniques such as visualization and massage; others focus more on epidurals and other medications.
Classes also emphasize the importance of the partner, which is helpful to expectant dads who may have been feeling useless during pregnancy. And classes force Mom to consider what the birth may be like for Dad.
What to Look for in a Class
A good childbirth class will have:
- An qualified, experienced, and personable teacher with good references
- A comfortable and convenient location
- Small class size
- Enough class time to cover the basics and allow students to practice some labor techniques
- An environment of open communication where questions are encouraged
- Various learning techniques including lectures, reading, talking, watching videos, and viewing demonstrations
Making Your Choice
When choosing a class, consider these points:
- Does the childbirth class agree with your personal philosophy on giving birth?
- Is the class offered at a convenient time during the day or evening when you feel most focused and relaxed?
- Are you comfortable with the class size?
- Where will the class be held? Are you comfortable with the location? Is it convenient to get there?
- How does your partner feel about all of the above considerations?
Deciding which childbirth class to take doesn't have to be a hassle. Quite the opposite -- it's actually a good opportunity to clarify some of your preferences regarding your birth experience.
Julie Weingarden is a freelance writer in Royal Oak, Michigan.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.