The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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I wish I'd saved the money," says Stephanie Dolgoff, referring to the labor-preparation class she attended before delivering twins by C-section.
Dolgoff, who lives in New York City, is not alone in her disappointment. Once a rite of passage for women approaching their due dates, birthing classes have lost their luster; these days, women are more likely to learn about childbirth from the media. According to a recent survey, 68 percent of first-time moms had watched reality TV shows depicting birth, compared with 56 percent who'd attended a course. Marjie Hathaway, co-director of the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (aka the Bradley Method), acknowledges the trend. "Today, women are more focused on prenatal testing and monitoring the pregnancy than in learning how to give birth," she says.
"Fewer women are taking classes," agrees Jeannette Crenshaw, RN, LCCE, president of Lamaze International and clinical-faculty member at Texas Health Resources. One reason for the lower attendance is diminished interest in nonmedicated birth. "Many women no longer trust they can deliver without epidurals and other medical interventions," says Crenshaw, noting that TV shows often depict birth as a dangerous event, even for low-risk women. While information on birthing is widely available online and in books, it's not always accurate, she adds. And expectant parents may view childbirth education as unnecessary or inconvenient, partly because of the classes' inconsistent quality and their own busy schedules.
Research shows little difference in pain, labor interventions or birth outcomes between women who take childbirth classes and those who don't, but enrollees tend to be more successful at quitting smoking, keeping prenatal appointments and breastfeeding. And women who've found a good class often say it made all the difference during labor. Jennie Dunham of North Salem, N.Y., praises her Bradley course, which she says laid the groundwork for two joyful deliveries achieved without pain medication. "I didn't need to avoid the labor pain," she says. "I needed to learn the skills to cope with it."