Beyond Lamaze: The New Childbirth Classes

A fresh, all-inclusive approach to labor prep (that combines elements of Lamaze, the Bradley Method, and more) is a far cry from your mom's birth class.

Beyond Lamaze: The New Childbirth Classes JG1/Getty Images

When Julie Wax learned she was due with No. 2, she knew she wanted a labor and delivery class that would help her feel truly prepared. During her first pregnancy with her son, Craig, she chose a traditional program. "I just took what was offered through my local hospital—I didn't know I had other options," she says. "I didn't really trust what the instructor had to say because she didn't seem experienced in all the approaches. After that, I knew I wanted something different." According to Erica Lyon, author of The Big Book of Birth and consulting education director at Pregnancy and Parenting, an educational resource center for parents in Los Angeles and New York City, Wax is part of a growing movement of mamas who crave a broader education on birthing. "Modern women want to learn a variety of techniques," Lyon says.

It worked for Wax, who delivered her daughter, Lucie, naturally after completing a series of sessions at a doula center. This was no sterile, boxy classroom. Instead, Wax gathered weekly with other preggos at a cozy house where they all sat on couches and worked through their worries and questions together, while a doula led them through the latest info on birthing, including meditation exercises and tips for dealing with labor discomfort. It was there she learned breathing and pain-coping techniques that made all the difference when she delivered her daughter sans meds at a hospital with her doula by her side. Ready to go back to school? We'll steer you toward a comprehensive path to help you bring your bean into the world.

What Exactly Is a Modern Class?

"Blended programs incorporate many methods and prepare women for a safe, healthy birth by providing the most current, proven information about delivery," says Jada Shapiro, co-founder of Birth Day Presence, a childbirth education and doula service in New York City. These kinds of courses pull from several birthing options, like Lamaze, Bradley, Birthing from Within and Hypnobirthing, to create a hybrid approach. "Each mom is different and no one pain-coping strategy will help everyone," Shapiro says. "If you learn just one plan of action and that doesn't work for you in the moment—then what?" The wide-net approach often includes instruction on breathing, acupressure, guided imagery, birth ball use and positions for pushing, as well as the anatomy of labor and parenting skills.

How Can I Find a Good One?

Where not to look: "In general, avoid hospital-based childbirth classes because the curriculum tends to skew towards what to expect at the hospital—minimal focus on coping techniques and more focus on logistics," Shapiro says.

Start by asking your doctor or midwife for suggestions, but be wary if she only shares courses affiliated with her office, Shapiro says. To research childbirth education options near you, do a bit of Googling (search for "modern," "comprehensive" or "contemporary" childbirth education classes). If the course lists a specific method in its title, it probably isn't teaching a push prep medley. Also, check in where you work out. Many prenatal yoga studios bring in certified doulas and childbirth educators to host birthing seminars. Another source: your local maternity store. Retailers are often plugged into great resources and will invite experts to host sessions on labor and delivery.

Can I Take a Class From Home?

Yes! You can study up without straying from your sofa. If you're having trouble finding an in-person course or you'd just rather learn from home, search the web for childbirth education centers in big cities; many give access to their offerings via Skype (like Birth Day Presence). YouTube also has a trove of robust options, including Birth Boot Camp's series on modern childbirth education. Welcome to delivery prep 2.0!

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

You want a birth class that's current—but still gives you background on the nuts and bolts of labor and delivery. Use this checklist to ensure your education makes the grade.

  • Although certification requirements vary across birthing methods, the instructor should be certified in something—International Childbirth Education Association is the most comprehensive, but DONA International Doula certification, Lamaze and Bradley are also common. Additionally, make sure she's been teaching for at least five years.
  • The educator should be nonjudgmental, not pushing a specific agenda and recertified within the last three years.
  • The space should be comfortable with lots of practice props like yoga mats, birth balls and rebozos (scarves for labor).
  • An ideal course runs for 10 to 12 hours over a few weeks. Three-hour express classes exist; if you go that route, make sure there are breaks so you can process the info and ask questions you didn't think of on the spot. Even better, find an instructor who's up for providing her email address so you can tap her wisdom later.

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