Childbirth classes vary dramatically in philosophy and teachers' qualifications. A good class describes the stages of labor, offers information about natural and pharmacological pain relief and covers childbirth's many contingencies. Here are the best-known programs, each of which certifies its teachers:
Lamaze builds confidence in your ability to deliver without nonessential
medical interventions and teaches you to cope with pain in ways that facilitate labor. Classes offer scientific, evidence-based information to help you make choices with knowledge of the risks and benefits, no matter how labor goes. Average length: six two-hour classes.
* Best for women who are open-minded about the various birthing options. lamaze.org.
Husband-coached childbirth, or the Bradley Method, promotes natural birth and claims that 90 percent of Bradley students who deliver vaginally choose not to use pain meds. Length: 12 two-hour, weekly classes. "Childbirth is an athletic event," says Marjie Hathaway, co-director of the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth. "There's no sport you'd train for in less than 12 weeks."
* Best for women who are already intent on natural birth but
beneficial to all. bradleybirth.com.
HypnoBirthing, or the Mongan Method, teaches self-hypnosis, guided imagery and breathing techniques to bring about a nonmedicated birth. "HypnoBirthing helps women connect with their natural birthing instincts, which have been lost because of negative programming," says founder Marie F. Mongan. Length: five 2 1/2-hour classes.
* Valuable even if you're not sure you want to go natural. hypnobirthing.com.