Birthing classes are an important part of preparing to have a baby. They can help you develop a birth plan and ease your anxiety about the unknowns of labor and delivery.
For first-time parents, these classes can provide essential information, including:
- Ways to identify when you’re in labor
- What to do when your water breaks
- The different methods of delivery
- Ways for making delivery more comfortable, including breathing and relaxation techniques
- Pain management options
- Breastfeeding basics
- Tips for caring for baby at home
Birthing classes aren’t just for new parents, though. There are also “refresher” classes for parents who have older children but are expecting a new baby.
In addition to providing you up-to-date information on labor and delivery, birthing classes serve another important purpose. They are a great opportunity for your partner to get involved in—and to feel a part of—the baby’s birth. Most classes are designed for you and a partner, whether it’s your spouse, a partner, a relative, or even a close friend. Ideally, this person will be your “coach” and source of encouragement during your delivery.
Birthing classes also can be a good source of emotional support. You’ll have the opportunity to bond with other parents who have many of the same fears and concerns.
Perhaps most importantly, birthing classes can boost your confidence. Knowing that millions of other women have been through labor and delivery can help lessen your anxiety. Learning more about the strategies involved can help you feel more in control and ease your fears.
Path to improved health
Most hospitals offer birthing classes, as do some clinics and even independent educators. Typically, these classes are taught by nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, and other childbirth educators.
The facility in which you’re planning to give birth can direct you to the best source for birthing classes. If your plan is to have your baby delivered in a hospital, it’s often a good idea to take your classes there. Most classes offer a tour of the maternity ward as part of the class, so you’ll get to see firsthand where you will be when you give birth.
If your hospital doesn’t offer birthing classes, your doctor or midwife should be able to recommend a class that would be convenient for you.
Your preference of birthing method may also direct your class choice. While many birthing classes offer a general overview of all birthing methods, there are classes that focus on one method, such as a Lamaze class.
Most instructors recommend that you wait to take a birthing class until your last trimester of pregnancy, at seven or eight months. However, sometimes there are early pregnancy classes that you can take where you’ll learn about what to expect during your pregnancy. These types of classes are a great option for first-timers because they teach tips for having a healthy and safe pregnancy.
Classes are offered in various formats. Some are condensed into a single weekend, while others are offered one night a week over the course of 10 weeks or so. Longer classes are typically those that offer an overview of all delivery methods as well as tips for breastfeeding and baby care. Classes that target a specific birth delivery technique are sometimes shorter. There are also classes designed for parents who are having multiple babies (such as twins or triplets). If you had a c-section for your first birth and hope to have a vaginal delivery this time, there is a class for that, too. Choose the one that works best for you. Classes tend to fill up quickly, so you should reserve your spot early.
Sometimes, you can even find a private class, if you’re not comfortable with the thought of being in a group class setting. Some hospitals are beginning to offer online courses, too.
Expect to be required to pay for your birthing class, as this service may not be covered under your health insurance plan. Financial assistance may be available but will vary depending on where you take your class.
Choosing a class
This general birthing class will give you an overview of all things birth-related. This is a good all-around class, especially if you’re undecided about which birthing technique and pain strategy you’d like to use. Expect to learn about:
- Birthing techniques, including an overview of natural childbirth methods (Lamaze, the Bradley Method, and HypnoBirthing)
- Pain management strategies, including massage and relaxation methods as well as medical pain relief (this could be traditional pain medicines or an epidural, which delivers continuous anesthesia through a tube inserted in your back)
- The differences between a vaginal birth and cesarean (C-section) delivery (including recovery for each)
- Births that require medical intervention, including inducing labor (giving you medicine to trigger labor), or using tools such as forceps (a tool that resembles salad tongs) or a vacuum (a cone-shaped tool with a vacuum pump) to help extract the baby
- What to do when/if your water breaks
- How to time contractions and when to alert your doctor or midwife
- Postpartum care
- Caring for your baby at home, including baby first aid
One of the most popular birthing techniques in the U.S., Lamaze has been around since the 1960s. It’s most instantly recognizable for its breathing techniques. This conscious breathing helps shift focus away from the pain of contractions. It’s part of an overall relaxation method.
Other tools for relaxation used in Lamaze include walking, using a birthing ball (similar to an exercise ball), and massage—whatever helps get you through each contraction.
The philosophy behind Lamaze is to make a woman comfortable enough during labor to make her own decisions. Most often, it’s a path to natural childbirth (without medications/epidural). However, a woman practicing Lamaze could also choose to have medicine during her labor.
The Bradley Method
This partner-coached childbirth method teaches you to how to prepare for a natural birth physically, mentally, and emotionally. It stresses the importance of having a healthy baby with little to no medical intervention.
The Bradley Method is a 12-week course that includes an in-depth curriculum and study guide that walks you through the entire process of having a baby, beginning with pregnancy. It teaches relaxation methods for the expectant mother, but also includes a heavy focus on training your birthing partner (or “coach”) to be more than just a spectator. Coaches learn how to guide their partners through the pain. They also learn about effective birthing positions that can help relieve pain.
The philosophy behind the Bradley Method is that it takes months to properly plan and prepare for childbirth and parenthood. These classes promote “Healthy Baby, Healthy Mother, and Healthy Families.”
Also called The Mongan Method, HypnoBirthing helps women learn self-hypnosis techniques to deliver their babies in a calm, confident manner that is gentle on them and on the baby.
HypnoBirthing is taught during five sessions. Each session lasts 2.5 hours. During the sessions, you’ll learn how to use your birthing muscles, letting your body do the work of childbirth. You’ll also learn how to achieve a state of relaxation where instinct will take over, lessening the pain.
The philosophy behind HypnoBirthing is that birth is a natural process that women’s bodies are completely capable of doing. The reason that women fear birth is because they’ve heard horror stories about it. It’s this fear that creates tension and prevents the body from working through the pain. That makes the pain worse. These classes expose the myths associated with childbirth and help women see it as nothing to fear.
If breastfeeding isn’t covered in your birthing class, it’s a good idea to take an individual class on it, especially if you’re a first-time mother. The health benefits of breastfeeding your baby have been well documented.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends providing interventions to women during pregnancy and after birth to support breastfeeding.
CPR and first aid
Knowing what to do in an emergency situation that involves a baby or young child can mean the difference between life or death. If your birthing class doesn’t include this information, you should seek it out. Many hospitals will offer this as an individual class for parents and for those people who regularly are around children for any reason.
You’ll learn how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on infants and children, what to do if an infant or child is choking, how to treat wounds (including burns), and how to care for your child when a sudden illness strikes.
Things to consider
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, your delivery doesn’t go the way you’d hoped it would go. There are a number of medical reasons that could cause you to have to abandon your birth plan. If the baby isn’t head-down and your doctor can’t get the baby to turn, you’ll likely have an unplanned C-section. You could go into labor weeks ahead of schedule. You could go past your due date and need to be induced.
The lesson here is to plan the best you can but know that your body—and baby—will likely influence how and when you’ll give birth.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Where should I take a birthing class?
- What class or classes do you recommend?
- Who will deliver my baby if you aren’t available?
- Will you induce birth if I don’t deliver by my due date?
- I’m planning on a “natural” birth in the hospital. Can I change my mind during the birth?
- I’m planning on having an assisted at-home birth. What precautions should I take?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.