Most hospitals and birthing centers offer programs to give expectant parents an overview of everything from signs that you're in labor to the nitty-gritty on vaginal and c-section deliveries. These classes are great for first-timers. "If you know what to expect, you'll be less fearful, less anxious, and better prepared to make decisions," says Sheri Bayles, RN, a childbirth educator in New York City. In addition to taking you through the labor process, a class will teach you about different medication options and how to develop the best birth plan for you. No matter what you view as the "ideal" delivery, you'll learn that there are factors beyond your control -- like how fast your labor progresses -- that can change even the most detailed birth plan. So it's best to be fully informed about the labor process and to know all your options.
The Bradley Method is a technique that encourages expectant moms to have a natural birth. It's taught in a 12-week course and emphasizes good nutrition, prenatal exercises, and relaxation. If you know you want to have a more natural birth experience, the Bradley Method might be the best option for you. "We teach abdominal breathing, relaxation, massage, and many more ways to work with your body to manage the pain," explains Candace Hutchens, a Bradley Method instructor in Austin. Some couples hire a doula (an experienced nonmedical assistant who provides physical and emotional support) to attend their birth, as well as having a doctor or a midwife.
The Lamaze philosophy takes a more neutral stance on pain medication and medical interventions. These classes include information on normal childbirth, deep-breathing exercises, distraction techniques, and comfort measures. But you'll also learn about epidurals, c-sections, and other medical interventions, so you'll be prepared for whatever comes up. If you haven't already decided on an all-natural birth, you might be better suited to Lamaze. Go to lamaze.org to find a class near you.
Classes in basic infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation are beneficial for anyone who'll take care of your baby -- not just Mom and Dad. Unintentional choking and suffocation are the leading causes of all injury deaths for infants under age 1, according to the American Heart Association. It's worth taking the two- to four-hour course to learn how to recognize when a baby needs rescue breathing, start CPR, and care for an infant who's choking. Even if you're on your second or third child and have taken the course before, it's a good idea to take a refresher class or at least get up-to-date CPR instructions and information from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. "I have former students who've had to use the techniques they learned in class," says Lisa Gatto, certified CPR instructor at Isis Maternity in Needham, Massachusetts. "But, most important, it gives caregivers confidence that they'll know how to help the baby in case of an emergency." Find a local course at redcross.org.
If you're planning to nurse your baby, many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes that teach such things as infant positioning, pumping and storing milk, and how to deal with potential problems. Infant-care classes can also be helpful, especially if this will be your first time taking care of a new baby. Instructors go over basics like bathing, taking a temperature, diapering, circumcision care, feeding issues, and car safety. Of course, if you already have children, they can join in the fun as well. Sibling-preparation classes are usually designed for children ages 3 to 10 to give them a preview of what to expect when their new sibling is born. Depending on the class curriculum, they might learn how to hold the new baby, help with tasks like diapering, discuss how they feel about having a new sister or brother, and get to see the maternity and nursery areas of the hospital too. Talk to your pediatrician or ob-gyn to find these classes in your town.
Most classes focus on Mom, with Dad there for support. Here's a course that's strictly male -- no moms allowed. In the Boot Camp for New Dads program, veteran dads bring their babies to class to help rookie dads learn burping, changing, and swaddling techniques. Other topics include: taking care of Mom after birth, juggling work and family time, and baby bonding. There's an hourlong discussion at the end so the rookies can ask questions and the veterans can share the lessons they've learned. "The open conversation helps dads-to-be feel ready to care for their newborn," says Robert Grand, course facilitator for the Boot Camp for New Dads program at St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange, California.
Laugh and Learn About Childbirth DVD, $40
American Heart Association's Infant CPR Anytime Personal Learning Program, $35
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way: Revised Edition, by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg, $15
National Fatherhood Initiative online classes
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
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