Once you've decided which type of childbirth class you'd like to take, you need to find a good instructor and a class. Here's the information you need to consider to make the best choice for you and your baby.
Your childbirth class instructor -- who may or may not be medically trained or have personally experienced labor -- is responsible for explaining what happens to your body during labor, delivery, and its aftermath. That's why it's important to know the background and credentials of your instructor.
Childbirth educators should go through intensive training in childbirth and teaching techniques. There are three major childbirth groups that train and certify instructors:
These organizations have their own philosophies and training methods.
Good instructors encourage questions and pepper their classes with anecdotes of births they've witnessed, an invaluable resource to nervous first-timers. Ask for references from past students to get a sense of your teacher's strengths and weaknesses.
Having searched out a doctor or midwife, a pediatrician, and possibly child care, the last thing most couples have the energy for is finding a "perfect" childbirth course. Ask your ob-gyn, midwife, or experienced friends for recommendations. Look into classes that are taught in doctors' offices or at the YWCA.
The easiest way to find a class, however, is to sign up for the one offered through the hospital or birthing center you'll be using. Along with convenience, hospital-run classes offer benefits such as details about which procedures are standard, whether you'll be allowed to take a video camera into the delivery room, and even where to park your car when you arrive. You may also get some insider tips about, say, how to request a favored birthing room or what extras you should pack in your bag (snacks for your partner, extra pillows).
No matter where you take your course, it's important that you have an instructor with whom you feel comfortable. A woman who is sure she'll want an epidural doesn't want a teacher preaching the wonders of natural childbirth, and vice versa.
Plan to complete a childbirth course about two or three weeks before your due date, suggests Marsha Rehns, editor of CBE Reporter, a quarterly newsletter for childbirth educators. "Later than that is cutting it close, but if you take it too early, you may forget the material," she says. If your instructor is just okay, but not great, hang in there; you may pick up tips from the other couples or at least learn from the tour and video.
For Ann Douglas, author of The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby (Macmillan), and mother of four, childbirth classes were definitely worthwhile. "In every class there is the moment when they show the birth video for the first time," she says. "You're sort of horrified -- but totally fascinated -- when you realize you're soon going to be doing what the woman in the video is doing."
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.