Take a Class - Get A Clue

Childbirth Education Primer


Kristen emailed, asking: When should I start childbirth classes? What kind and how do I find them? Darn good questions, Kristen. The quantity of classes, techniques, theories, and books about how to birth a baby are intense. No doubt, you've got a friend or sister who's all about one particular brand of childbirth or maybe you're thinking an epidural starting about now is a good plan. Maybe you've hit the Internet and been deluged with info touting the merits of one breathing technique over another and warning about the perils of uneducated childbirth. Back to our history lesson. Not that long ago, mothers delivered without advanced childbirth degrees and somehow managed without 24/7 Newborn Television.

Childbirth is a life-altering event like no other. Women (and their partners) who head into it armed with information tend to have an easier time of it. Easier? Less frightened, stressed, and often less painful. And I said tend to. Some come to the labor room armed with unattainable and inflexible goals and demands learned in class. Some come in defensive and resistant to trying options other than those they've studied. For the majority though, childbirth classes give a much needed clue. That said, I have an awful lot of patients who never take classes, pick up a pamphlet or talk to other women about what to expect. That's OK too. We still let them have their baby. It's part of the labor nurse's job to educate as we go. It's amazing how far pure instinct will take you.

How do you choose a class? It depends on your goals. Childbirth education is one of the tools in your toolbox. Is your goal an all-natural, unmedicated, vaginal birth? Is it to manage early labor then get an epidural? Is it to understand the basic birthing process or to meet other pregnant couples? There's a class for all that and more.

If you really, really, want an unmedicated birth, start your research now. Hypnobirthing, Bradley-Reed, Birthing from Within and Lamaze all teach techniques for "natural" childbirth. Through a series of lectures and hands-on practice, you'll learn anatomy, physiology, breathing, relaxation and hypnosis techniques intended to make labor more manageable—some even claim "painless." They vary from one long weekend to 12 once-a-week sessions. The techniques are best learned early and practiced often to give you the best advantage when the big day comes. Some women need no other tools and sail through labor using their well-practiced skills. Some use these skills for early-active labor then move on to other tools as labor progresses. Some find labor totally overwhelming from the start regardless of what they've studied and struggle with shifting gears. That's the toughest scenario but again, it's the labor nurse's job to help these women adjust.

Do you still need a class if you're having a C-section or want an epidural? Well, yes and no. We recommend some sort of prenatal education if for no other reason than you'll know what the heck's going on. If you're a first timer, your body's never been through anything remotely like birth before. It's terrifying for women who have no idea why they're hurting, what the medical staff is doing and why we keep asking them to take their underwear off. Prenatal classes also familiarize patients with stuff like "what's an epidural, a C-section, or a breast pump?" Knowledge is power and labor is powerful.

If you're not stuck on one particular style of birthing, ask your doctor/midwife what she recommends. Lots of OB/midwife practices and hospitals have really extensive education packages that might be covered by your insurance, including breastfeeding, sibling and early parenting classes. Talk to friends and family about what worked for them. Beware of those that are militant about one particular style of birth. One woman's Hypnobirth is another woman's hell. Childbirth is as individual an experience as you can get. It's not one size fits all. It's heartbreaking when women who've counted on birthing one way end up with a totally different scenario then feel like they've failed. No matter how hard you cram for it—birth is an unpredictable, multiple-choice test. There's no way you can know all the answers. Flexibility makes the whole labor, birth and parenting (yep all the way through the teen years) thing easier. This is no time to be rigid.

That said, there's one student in class who's totally not paying attention. Your baby. Those little guys never read a darn thing. They don't care how much you pant and visualize. They're going to do their thing regardless and "their thing" has a total impact on "your thing." Just because you studied and practiced is no guarantee your baby will be positioned perfectly to descend with the most ease or handle the stress of labor easily. Childbirth is the ultimate algebra equation. A = mom, B = baby, C = labor process, D = Dad, E = doc/midwife. Add, subtract, multiply and solve for all variables. Good luck with this. It's a pretty hard test. Good news, everybody finishes with a passing grade and a take home prize.

Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.