Childbirth Classes

Childbirth Preparation Classes
by Sharon M. DiRienzo RNC

A question that confronts all first-time pregnant women and their partners is whether or not to attend a childbirth preparation class. After all, having a baby is a natural process, right? What can there be to learn? Millions of women have done it before. I’ll just "roll with the punches".

Everyone would agree that pregnancy and birth are major life events. Being pregnant for the first time, women are filled with many emotions (sometimes conflicting). Joy, fear, anticipation, anxiety, and happiness mix with all kinds of physical changes such as nausea, urinary frequency, hunger/cravings, shortness of breath, etc. Along with the emotional and physical changes come many questions: How big will I get? How long can I work? Why do my ankles swell? How much calcium do I need a day? What do I need to do to get ready to breastfeed? What will labor feel like? How will I know I’m in labor? The list is endless!!!

So, as you can see, there actually is much that can be learned by taking childbirth classes! Learning about the anatomy of the abdomen and pelvis and how it all fits with the growing baby helps in the understanding of the processes of pregnancy, labor and birth. One of the biggest advantages to attending a class is to learn how you can help yourself break the fear-pain cycle during labor through the use of guided imagery, rhythmic breathing, or relaxation techniques, thus allowing for a sense of control and mastery over what may be seen as an uncontrollable event. Knowledge is a powerful tool that can eliminate or reduce the fear of going through the new experience of labor and birth.

Classes are offered through hospitals, physician offices, clinics, birth centers, or independent self-employed childbirth educators. All classes, no matter where they are offered, teach some kind of breathing techniques to be used when in labor. There is no one right way. All techniques will accomplish the same thing if learned, practiced, and used. If you have strong preferences as to class size or type of relaxation or breathing that is taught, you will need to ask those questions when registering for a class. Ask your physician or midwife about recommended classes. Many places offer a variety of options for class length to fit the needs of the working woman/couple, so ask about them when you call. Remember that it’s most important to take some type of class that fits your needs and lifestyle rather than take none at all!

Taking a class will also help to clarify any misconceptions or misinformation that abounds about the labor and birth process. There are so many "old wives’ tales" and "horror stories" that can be eliminated or explained through the simple process of education. So, why not just read a book? Well, for one reason, not all people learn well by reading. We all learn in various ways, and all classes (regardless of their formal name) utilize many methods of teaching that will appeal to all types of learners. There are books and articles to read, videos to watch, slides or overheads to go along with the lecture topics, visual props (like a plastic pelvis, doll, uterus, and placenta to name a few), and practice time for breathing and relaxation. Most instructors have worked in some aspect of obstetrics, so they can offer stories and accounts of actual pregnancies (without revealing confidential information of course) and first-hand knowledge of processes that occur.

Another advantage to attending classes is the contact with others who are "in the same boat" as you. The more outgoing attendees tend to ask a lot of questions that others may want to ask but don’t, yet everyone gets the benefit of the answers! And once the first question gets asked, an avalanche of others begins! It’s a great way to get information across without feeling like you’re sitting through a high school lecture. It’s a time for meeting new people and sharing experiences, fears, and joys. A tour of the labor floor and maternity unit is often part of classes held through hospitals and offices. Tours give everyone an opportunity to see what the areas look like, the kind of equipment they would expect to see, and give a general sense of what to expect when you are admitted in labor. For many women, this will be their first experience being a patient in a hospital, and actually seeing where they will be is calming.

Childbirth preparation classes will provide you with knowledge, breathing and coping techniques, tips for coaches, and medication and analgesia information—everything needed to make informed choices. It’s then up to you to design an individual birth plan that fits your needs and to discuss those options with your physician or midwife. The benefit you get out of taking childbirth classes directly relates to what you put into it. It can be a fun experience for both you and your coach, or it can be a chore—it’s up to you. Sign up for a class in your area (preferably one in the facility where you will be giving birth), keep an open mind and positive attitude, relax, and have fun. You will be glad you did.

Editorial provided by Sharon M. DiRienzo RNC, MSN and Health Educator with Women’s Health Source at Bryn Mawr Hospital (Jefferson Health System) in Pennsylvania. Sharon has 14 years of obstetrical experience as Staff Nurse, Clinical Educator, Manager and six years as a Certified Childbirth Educator.