If you're questioning whether you should take a childbirth class in your pregnancy, you're not alone. Many pregnant people and couples worry about the time, the cost, and the real question: does it even matter??
I'm not here to tell you what you should do. Only you know your life, your needs, your desires, your path. What I will do is offer my personal experiences and my professional knowledge. Then, you can decide.
I did not take a childbirth class until my third pregnancy. Why? After my first two births, I was left feeling like my involvement, power, voice, and choice were missing -- and I didn't want it to happen again. I needed a boost in confidence and I wanted that same boost for my husband, who I needed as a stronger presence at our birth. The information we learned left us feeling more sure about being able to handle -- together -- whatever would come our way during birth. No more "deer in the headlights" or wishy-washy decision making.
As a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, I have worked with parents and couples that I have watched begin as fearful and uncertain students transform into self-assured, knowledgeable expectant parents.
As a writer and researcher, I have read the studies (source) that show how taking childbirth classes improves peoples' satisfaction with their birth, communication with their care providers, participation in decision making, and is associated with an increased likelihood of vaginal birth.
As a doula, I have witnessed the power and pride that comes during birth when a parent can use a strategy, tip, or information they learned in class.
For me, there's no shortage of good reasons to take a childbirth class. But this post is about you! You have questions and I have answers.
Things to Know When Considering Taking a Childbirth Class
Finding a [good] class
If you live in a big city, near a big city, or in a thriving surburbia, you will have plenty of options for childbirth classes. You will have choices in locations, format (one or two day vs. a weekly "series" class), type (group or private), and brand or method (ie, Lamaze, HypnoBirthing, Birth Boot Camp, etc.). You may even have a choice of multiple instructors for one kind of childbirth class brand!
So how do you choose?? First, take a look at the class curriculum. What do they cover? What is it that you want to learn? Different teaching approaches work better for different people. A good childbirth class will at least cover the following topics:
- Labor, birth, and postpartum
- Positioning for labor and birth
- All kinds of pain management techniques
- Labor support
- Communication and decision making skills
- Comfort measures, including breathing strategies, relaxation, and massage techniques
- Risks and benefits of medical procedures
- Healthy lifestyles
Beware of a class that mainly focuses on hospital procedures and policies and what a person is allowed or not allowed to do at that given location. These classes may not give a thorough view of your choices in birth and may prepare you to be a "good patient" instead of an informed and confident consumer.
Yes, taking a childbirth class requires that you make time in your schedule. For those who are short on time (aren't we all?), a one-night-a-week childbirth class series is idea. Depending on the length of the series, you will have class anywhere from 4-7 weeks, usually in the evening, for 2-3 hours at a time. A weekly series class delivers information in shorter, easier-to-digest chunks, and the week in between provides space to consider and practice what you've learned and bring questions back to the class and your teacher.
On the flip side, it may be easier to schedule a weekend one- or two-day class where you knock it out in a short time frame. This kind of class is helpful when you're pressed for time. The drawback to these classes is that it feels like cramming for a test the night before -- there's a lot of information to digest in a short amount of time.
The cost of childbirth classes depend on many factors -- where you live, group vs. private (group classes are cheaper), the length of time and what is covered, and the quality of the class and experience/qualifications of the instructor. As with many services in life, you get what you pay for. The most expensive classes aren't necessarily the best, but if the cost of a class seems too good to be true, it probably is. Expect to pay $100 at a minimum on up to $400 on the very high end. The average class lands around $200-$250. Sometimes, instructors will offer classes on a sliding scale, have scholarships available, or be willing to take incremental payments for classes.
Your instructor's training, certification, and experience matters! Find out more about the instructor of your class -- look for credentials, certification(s), and level of experience.
You can find online classes for almost anything these days, including online childbirth classes. Online childbirth classes are good for last-minute preparation, difficulties with traveling to a class or finding a class near you, or finances (they are usually less expensive). However, the benefits of online classes don't generally outweigh the drawbacks. With an online class, you miss out on hands-on teaching and practice, parent-to-parent interaction, and real-time, in-person contact with an instructor. Online classes require your commitment to follow through, practice, and learn at home in your own time (which can be great for some and difficult for others).
When should you take a childbirth class? Ideally, you'll take a childbirth preparation class (think stages of labor information and tips for pain management and comfort measures) late in your second trimester or early third trimester. Any later in pregnancy and you risk going into labor before completing your class, plus, a good childbirth class teaches you how to evaluate the quality of care you're getting from your doctor or midwife. If you determine that you want to find a better care provider, it's best not to do so in the last few weeks of pregnancy (though it's almost never too late to switch care providers!).
Only you can decide if a taking a childbirth class seems right or beneficial for you. The evidence of benefits is out there, but everyone has unique circumstances to contend with. Personally, my only regret in taking a childbirth class in my third pregnancy is that I didn't take one for my first.
To learn more about Lamaze classes, check out Lamaze.org.