The right birthing class helps you prepare for labor and birth so you feel calm and confident about going natural! This guide will walk you through why childbirth classes are so important - and how to pick the right one - so you have the great birth you're hoping for!
Birthing classes in their current form didn't start with the dawn of humanity - in fact, they're less than a hundred years old. As Certified Nurse-Midwife Kathryn Leggitt of the University of Minnesota notes[^1], it wasn't until the 50's and 60's, when woman started to realize heavy anesthesia comes with major side effects, that a desire for more natural birth took hold. Women started to ask for something safer - and they wanted to be awake to meet their babies.
Moms-to-be hoping for a natural birth had nobody to ask about birth. Most of their mothers had given birth while heavily medicated and remembered only going to sleep pregnant and waking up to be told their baby was in the nursery. Natural childbirth classes came into existence to help women work with birth after a generational loss of birthing wisdom.
Ultimately, the interest in natural childbirth lead to many positive changes for birth - including dads being included in their babies' births and mamas and babies being together. Dangerous practices like the "twilight sleep" were abandoned (and safer options found for moms who need medications).
Some of the most important results are those we're just beginning to see today. For example, an understanding of the design and hormones of birth and how they create a safer experience with better bonding for mama, baby, and family.
I know what you're thinking - "my role in birth is easy - I have the baby!" You might also wonder why this even matters when you're considering a childbirth class - a fair question!
Getting clear on your role in birth helps you to choose the class that's best for you and for your baby. In general there are three roles in birth:
You work with your body and your baby. You're not passive, someone who just "sits there" while labor happens to you. You are an active participant, and your baby is too. Your job is not to avoid pain. Your job is to work with your baby and move him or her through your body.
That's an important thing to realize, because many "natural childbirth methods" are focused only on one thing: pain. But pain isn't the point of birthing - having a baby is!!!
Here's something encouraging if you are worried about pain...
...working with your baby and letting the hormones of labor flow naturally actually decreases pain (or removes it completely). A nice side effect from the primary work of birthing baby 😀
Today we no longer have moms in twilight sleep to give birth, and though natural childbirth still isn't the most common choice, many women do choose to have their babies naturally. Are childbirth classes still necessary?
Don't we realize now that birth is just natural?
While I believe completely that birth is "just natural" and in fact I trust birth and women's bodies completely, we still need birthing classes.
Birth is incredible. Birth is miraculous. And birth is intense.
Above moment captured by Photo: Art by Jessica, serving Aurora CO & Tucson AZ
I often use analogies from sports to talk to women about birth, and it works here, too. You would never consider running a marathon without training for it. You wouldn't consider climbing a mountain without preparing. Both of these are things that your body is capable of. Both of these are things that are natural to humans (running and climbing!). But you realize the need to prepare.
You need to prepare for birth. Much wisdom that women once carried and shared for birth is gone. And there are some cultures that never did a good job of preparing women for birth. Today good natural birthing classes help us to do the preparation, and to make the skills they teach part of us... they become part of your birthing instincts.
It's important to be choosy when it comes to finding a good class. You want a class that gives you both knowledge and skills:
Knowledge is the information you need to understand how labor works, interventions, etc. This knowledge empowers you to make informed choices - and it keeps you feeling like you are in charge of your birthing experience.
Skills are what you use during labor to work with your baby. Though knowledge and information are vitally important, you also need to know what to do when you're in labor - no matter how easy or challenging it might feel in a given moment. Skills boost your confidence.
A good class gives you both of these. Important topics to look for in a class series are:
How to prepare physically for birthing - much of a great natural birth is made during pregnancy. A class that covers excellent diet, prenatal exercise, etc. gives you and your baby the best possible preparation for a smooth birth. Remember, a well-nourished mama has a well-nourished baby and placenta... and a uterus that is ready to do what it needs to.
The "mechanics" of birth - you probably already have an idea about the way birth works because your pregnancy books cover the First Stage, Second Stage, and Third Stage of labor. You can read about dilation and effacement, contractions, etc. All of these things are valuable to know and a good childbirth class should cover them. There is more to know, however...
The hormones of labor and birth - a good class will cover birth hormones. We have just started to understand the hormonal impact of birth, and it is BIG - hormones literally orchestrate all of a labor. Interrupting the hormonal flow of birthing can create pain and "stall" a mama's labor out.
Looking at birth in only mechanical terms completely ignores the role that hormones play, assuming that you can work on a birthing woman kind of like you work on a car (crank this part open and there comes baby!). But women are not cars and birth can't be controlled quite so easily 😉 Understanding the hormones of birth gives you what you need to keep your birth going more smoothly. In addition, hormones help keep the third stage much safer for you by preventing excess bleeding, etc. Your birthing class needs to cover this!
Working with care providers - (regardless of your choice of home, hospital, or birthing center, or midwife or doctor) is really important to having a good birth experience. It starts in pregnancy and feeling confident in your care during pregnancy. You should feel like you are the one leading your care and that you can talk with your provider about any issues. Sometimes that's intimidating, but your childbirth class can help you discover how to talk to your care provider (so that they really listen!). It should also cover how to create a birth plan and talk that over with your midwife or doctor.
Preparing for birth mentally and emotionally - getting ready for birth is not just a physical thing. Eating right, exercising, and practicing your birth skills are important, but you also need to work through any emotions, concerns, or anxiety you have about birth. This is a huge topic and any class you choose should cover it completely. Your childbirth class teacher is one of your biggest resources for discussing what's on your mind, so make sure you choose a class where the teacher is open to listening to you and guiding you to where you feel confident and ready for birthing.
Understanding interventions - we touched on this above, but understanding the interventions and complications possible with birth helps you to feel confident and informed. You'll be able to confidently say no to interventions that you do not need or want. And if something happens and you and your baby need an intervention, you'll be the one calling the shots after listening to your care provider's recommendations. In other words, you won't feel bullied into something you're not sure you need. Your classes should go over each possibility and help you understand the pros, the cons, and results of choosing "wait and see" for each complication and intervention.
Handling pain - As you can see at this point, there are many things that go into a good pregnancy and a great birth, but many women do still worry about the intensity of labor. And it can get intense! Your classes should go over skills to help you handle your birthing time (including what you can do when you "lose it" - it happens and you can totally "get it back" if it does!). Ideally your classes will cover a wide variety of techniques that help you stay active while finding your rhythm in labor. They'll also cover how to rest if you need that, and how staying hydrated, eating, etc. can help you handle labor.
Above moment captured by Photo: Art by Jessica, serving Aurora CO & Tucson AZ
Hospital childbirth education classes usually teach the stages of childbirth and focus on breathing techniques to assist with labor pain. There's a class where pain relief options are discussed, and an anesthesiologist may present material on labor medications during the class.
Many hospital classes teach only what is permissible at the hospital. They don't go into detail on how movement and position changes during labor can help women and tend to focus more on medication for pain relief.
You'll learn about cesarean sections, complications, and about newborn procedures. These procedures may be standard at the hospital and you'll have little choice in the matter. A hospital class will go over "textbook" labor and delivery. Be aware that the class will probably be biased to hospital policy.
Cost: Some hospital classes may be covered by insurance. If not, they're generally between $30-60 per couple.
Length: Usually done in 6-week series. Some hospitals offer a "refresher" class that is held in one longer session.
Dr. Fernand Lamaze began developing prepared childbirth techniques in the 1950's. Lamaze childbirth education classes are taught by certified Lamaze instructors.
The Lamaze philosophy teaches that childbirth is normal and natural. In Lamaze childbirth education classes you will review the physiology of normal labor, birth, and postpartum periods. You may also cover breastfeeding.
Contrary to popular belief, Lamaze classes do teach more than just breathing techniques - they also cover massage, hydrotherapy, using heat and cold and general relaxation techniques to aid in pain relief.
You'll also cover complications, cesarean section, and medical options for pain relief. You will review the postpartum period and newborn procedures.
Cost: Nationwide average cost for Lamaze classes is $110
Length: Usually done in 6-week series. Sometimes Lamaze instructors offer a longer "refresher" session similar to the hospitals.
Named for Robert A. Bradley, the Bradley Method is also called Husband Coached Childbirth. Dr. Bradley was a large advocate for the father to be allowed in the delivery room. He observed when the husband was allowed to help his wife labor, the woman often had an easier delivery and was less likely to opt for medications to relieve pain.
The Bradley Method is taught by certified Bradley couples. These couple teams teach the method, which focuses on natural childbirth.
Bradley classes begin earlier than most other childbirth education classes because the Bradley class is a 12 week series. The classes tend to be very comprehensive. They cover pregnancy, labor, birth, and the postpartum period (including breastfeeding).
Your Bradley class will cover natural childbirth and teach your labor partner how to be an active "coach" during labor. The focus is on husbands, but you can take somebody else as your coach.
You're taught how to be a responsible consumer when making your choices about where to give birth and what procedures to allow. The classes will also cover possible complications of pregnancy and birth (and how to avoid many), as well as cesarean section. You'll also cover emergency childbirth management.
If you desire to take a class with an instructor and other couples, Bradley classes are my recommendation to you.
Cost: Bradley Classes tend to run between $250-350, depending on area
Length: 12-week series
Birthing From Within (BFW) childbirth education classes were developed by Pam England. BFW teaches that birth is a rite of passage and not a medical event.
The classes are taught by BFW mentors with a strong focus on empowerment and on nurturing the mother-to-be (parents-to-be). The classes teach about birth from the mother's, father's, baby's, and culture's perspective.
BFW childbirth education classes "help parents build a pain-coping mindset so they may fully participate in birth's rite of passage."
A unique aspect of the BFW method is the focus on birth art. Pam England is a strong believer that birth art can help mothers (and fathers) to work through feelings and thoughts about pregnancy and birth. It is useful to help sort through feelings about the current pregnancy, as well as past pregnancy and birth experiences.
The childbirth education class is usually six weeks long. The classes teach you to create a birth space no matter where you are birthing. They focus on helping you develop a pain-coping mindset. This includes numerous practice techniques that are very helpful.
Cost: Birthing from Within classes tend to be around $250-350 per couple
Length: Usually a 6-week series
Hypnobabies is a childbirth hypnosis method created by Kerry Tuschhoff. It's a comprehensive class series that covers nutrition, healthy pregnancy, tools for birth (such as using birth balls), and using hypnosis during your birthing time.
The focus of Hypnobabies is on a peaceful, comfortable childbirth.
Classes can be taken with an instructor or through a home study program that includes all study materials and guided relaxation and hypnosis conditioning tracks. There are positive affirmation tracks for pregnancy and your birthing time, and tracks to play while you're birthing your baby.
Hypnobabies has a nice emphasis on birthing your baby gently. I have personally used Hypnobabies in my pregnancies - Click here to read my experiences.
Cost: Hypnobabies instructor-led classes are similar to other instructor-led classes at around $250-350. Home Study classes are around $170
Length: In-person class series are usually 6 weeks, and the home study program is divided into 6 weeks; There is quite a bit of "homework" with Hypnobabies, usually done during about 1/2 hour daily (using a guided CD or mp3 track)
Photo moment below captured by Photo: Art by Jessica, serving Aurora CO & Tucson AZ
Obviously I'm biased, but I believe that my online birthing class series, MamaBaby Birthing, is an excellent option for many families. Because the classes are fully online, you can go through each lesson at your convenience - and you can listen to or watch any lesson again.
In addition to the self-paced lessons, I also offer a live, weekly Q&A call so you can get personal answers to any questions you have about pregnancy and birth. I'm here for you.
MamaBaby Birthing classes have a strong emphasis on prenatal nutrition and having a healthy pregnancy. I also cover healthy movement and how it influences baby positioning for a smooth birth. We cover all the stages of labor, and how much hormones can impact your birthing time. You'll explore sessions just for you as the mama-to-be, and sessions with your birth partner (so he feels confident at being what you need him to be!). And we discuss preventing complications and navigating interventions for yourself and your baby.
Because I believe in you and I believe in birth, I created a class series that gives you all of what you need to know - and helps you as you work through what you're thinking and feeling about birth. You'll go into your birthing time with tools, information, skills, and the confidence you need 😀
Cost: MamaBaby Birthing classes are $97 for lifetime access
Length: The 6-week series is self-paced, so you can take as much or as little time as you want to go through it. There's also a "crash course" section if you're close to your due date!
[^1]: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/holistic-pregnancy-childbirth/how-has-childbirth-changed-century (accessed 1/8/17)