Before you reach your third trimester, you should be thinking about registering for a childbirth education class. Like most prospective parents, you're probably apprehensive about labor, delivery, and your first days with your new baby. The courses are an excellent way to prepare yourself and your partner for childbirth -- psychologically, emotionally, and practically.
If you possibly can, attend the childbirth class with your partner. It is likely that he or she has many questions and concerns, and it is helpful if you share the same information as the experience unfolds, whether or not your partner is planning to be your labor coach. Some childbirth classes have a special session just for partners that provides an opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns.
If you are a single mother, you have probably arranged for a friend, relative, or doula to attend your birth. If possible, have this person go to the childbirth education classes with you. Even if this is not your first child, you may want to take a prenatal course or a refresher course to brush up on new developments since you had your last child.
When and where should we take childbirth education classes?
You should register for a childbirth education course toward the beginning of your third trimester. Consider signing up well in advance, possibly as early as the end of your first trimester for a class that begins in your third, because the sessions often fill up quickly. By signing up early you can be fairly sure of completing the class even if your baby arrives ahead of schedule, and the information will still be fresh in your mind if your baby is on time.
Most prenatal education programs last about six weeks. Your healthcare provider can refer you to good classes; the hospital where you plan to deliver your child is likely to offer childbirth education courses as well. You may also want to check with a pregnancy resource center in your area, if there is one.
What will we learn?
The classes provide a range of information about childbirth, including details about the stages of labor, cesarean births, and pain management. Many also provide information about what you are likely to experience during your last months of pregnancy and about newborn care and breastfeeding.
Think carefully about what you are looking for in a childbirth class. Request an outline of the curriculum before you register. If you know which birthing technique(s) you might wish to follow (see below for more information on childbirth techniques), then make sure that is part of the course. If you are interested in natural childbirth, you'll want the class you attend to have that orientation. And if you have questions about caring for your newborn, select a class where basic infant care is addressed.
Here is a list of issues you may want to look for when selecting a childbirth education class:
- Fetal development
- Signs of problems as your pregnancy progresses
- Preparing your home for a new baby
- Choosing a doula or labor coach
- Home birth vs. hospital birth
- Preparing a birth plan
- Early signs of labor
- What to do after labor begins
- When you should go to the hospital
- What will happen when you get to the hospital
- Stages of labor
- Working with your doula or labor coach
- Breathing and relaxation techniques
- Pain management and natural childbirth
- How to survive a difficult labor
- Cesarean section, vaginal birth
- What will happen immediately after your baby is born
- Circumcision -- or not
- Breastfeeding; bottle feeding
- Basic infant care
- Emotional issues and the transition to parenthood
- Infant development issues
What are the different types of childbirth techniques?
British physician Grantly Dick-Read was an early pioneer in childbirth education in the 1940s. He believed that women tend to approach childbirth with fear because they lack knowledge, and that fear in turn intensifies the pain of labor. His training emphasizes parent education and relaxation techniques. Dick-Read's ideas were considered particularly innovative because he encouraged fathers to actively participate and support their partners during childbirth.
His approach broke with established medical practice and opened the door to the development of other childbirth methods.
The Lamaze method was developed by Dr. Fernand Lamaze and is the most popular childbirth method in the United States today. The Lamaze approach encourages women to take charge of their childbirth experience by dealing directly with contractions through breathing and relaxation techniques. Lamaze teaches women techniques that are designed to decrease their perception of pain. This method includes the father or partner as an integral part of the labor and childbirth experience. Lamaze doesn't take a position for or against the use of drugs during childbirth, but simply provides education so women can make their own choices.
The Bradley method, developed by Dr. Robert Bradley, is also called "Husband-Coached Childbirth" because it places strong emphasis on the role of the partner in the childbirth experience. Bradley favors natural childbirth, and encourages mothers to avoid medication or medical intervention unless absolutely necessary. Women who plan to have a home birth often follow this method. Bradley also emphasizes good health practices during pregnancy, including nutrition and exercise, and encourages women to take an active, educated approach to the childbirth experience.
Relaxation and breathing techniques are an integral part of the Bradley program. After birth, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed and to have immediate and constant contact with their infants. Childbirth programs that follow the Bradley method tend to start earlier in pregnancy, as they usually include more classes than other methods.
A less well-known childbirth program is the Alexander Technique, which encourages women to use posture and movement to manage pain during childbirth. Hypnobirthing uses hypnosis to cope with pain. The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) sponsors classes that emphasize individual choice and offer information on all the childbirth techniques and approaches to infant care.
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that one birth method is better than another, so it boils down to what appeals to you. If you aren't sure which program is best for you, find a class that incorporates elements from all the different childbirth schools.
Even if you don't come away with a strong preference for a particular birthing program, you'll learn a lot about the process and have a better idea of what to expect when you are in labor. Knowledge is power, and childbirth classes are an excellent way to take a stronger, more proactive role in your childbirth experience.
Murkoff, Heidi, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway. What to Expect When You're Expecting. Workman Publishing.
Nemours Foundation. Birthing Class. KidsHealth.
American Pregnancy Association. Having a Doula: Is a Doula for Me?
March of Dimes Childbirth Education Classes.
Caton, D., MD. Who Said Childbirth Is Natural? The Medical Mission of Grantly Dick Read. Anesthesiology. Volume 84(4), pp. 955-964. April 1996.
La Leche League International. Memorials to Leaders and Others Who Have Influenced LLLI. The Father of Husband-Coached Childbirth Robert A. Bradley, MD (1917-1998).
Bradleybirth.com. Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.bradleybirth.com/FAQs.aspx