Do You Even Need Childbirth Ed?

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Did you know that only about 50% of expectant parents take any kind of birth preparation course? It’s sort of staggering when you think about it.

We take Driver’s Ed before getting our license, enroll in higher education to become a teacher, doctor, or social worker. There are endless online videos and platforms that will teach you how to caramelize onions or play the harmonica - but having a baby - literally getting a human being out of your body (and keeping it alive!)- that’s something a lot of people think they can just “wing.”

I understand part of it. Humans have been doing this – literally – forever. Shouldn’t it come naturally? Also, there are hefty power dynamics at play causing people to simply “trust their OB” lest they be pegged “alternative” or “anti-science.” And of course, there’s the reality that birth is completely and utterly unpredictable – so if you can’t plan, why prepare?

Why should I take a childbirth education class?

I’ve been teaching childbirth education classes since 2013. I’ve taught in small boutiquey settings and at major metropolitan hospitals. I’ve taught thousands of families preparing to give birth with the epidural in a hospital setting and those hoping to give birth without pain medication either in a hospital, birthing center, or at home. As a doula, I’ve seen awe-inspiring births and gut-wrenching challenges. My own birth, in fact, was far from what I had hoped it would be. And, through it all, I’ve learned two things.

1. Your birth story matters. How you welcome your baby into the world (and I don’t mean vaginally or via cesarean birth, I mean how you’re treated throughout the process and therefore the story you tell yourself about your body, your ability to care for your baby, and your position within institutional power dynamics) – is woven into the fiber of your identity for the rest of your life. Knowing this, Dr. Neel Shah, a U.S. - based obstetrician who’s leading the charge to improve Maternal Health Outcomes, said, “Safety during labor is the floor of what people deserve. What we should all really be aiming for is the ceiling: care that is not just safe, but also supportive and empowering.”

2. You have more control than you think. It’s easy to feel powerless going into something so big and unpredictable. And it’s true that you can’t guarantee a short, easy, vaginal birth (or your hopeful equivalent). But, as Megan Davidson, author of Your Birth Plan explains “Even with the possibility of being let down, we make plans. We do this because making plans ultimately reduces the chances of having those disappointing experiences.” You can think of making plans for childbirth like we make plans for travel adventures. Davison writes, “we book airline tickets, even though flights are sometimes cancelled, delayed, or overbooked. We reserve hotel rooms and rental housing even though we’re occasionally disappointed by the quality or cleanliness of our lodging.” And, the powerful reality, that often goes overlooked, is that the _work we do to prepare_ for labor can help us become better versions of ourselves in the long run, regardless of how labor unfolds. Birth physiology and labor coping preparation teach us about hormonal health, postural alignment, pelvic health, and stress management. Understanding the societal context of birth invites us to learn how to navigate power dynamics in the medical system and advocate for ourselves and loved ones. I can say personally that I am in a better emotional, physical, and professional state - not just after having kids, but because of it.

So, in short, while we know there’s _no one right way,_ in this case I think it’s fair to say that almost everyone would benefit from a childbirth education course to help you approach your labor, delivery and postpartum experience as an educated health care consumer!

That said, between all the big name childbirth education companies (think Lamaze, Hypnobirthing, Bradley Method etc) and individual doulas or labor and delivery nurses teaching classes, how do you know what to look for?

What to look for in a childbirth education class?

When comparing childbirth education classes you might consider weighing basics like convenience and cost, but given the sensitivity of the topic and variability in quality, I would urge you to explore a bit further to avoid an underwhelming experience.

We recently conducted a study of postpartum families who attended their basic hospital childbirth education class and one woman, Jessica (pseudonym), shared “It was kind of like, this is the service that my hospital recommends, and I did it. I thought upfront that there would be some specific information about like, ‘this is our hospital policy. This is like how this is what we have on hand to help you with the X thing.’ They didn't really have as much of that, as I thought they would, because they just used somebody else’s curriculum.”

Reading Google reviews is a wonderful way to get a sense of what a class and instructor offer. The three elements I would absolutely look for in a childbirth education class are

1. The curriculum and approach being unbiased.

2. The course being taught by someone who knows how to teach (and understands the science behind how people learn)

3. The information being practical for you and your partner (if applicable)

Given the unpredictability of birth and the likelihood that you’ll assume a personal failure “if things don’t go according to plan” good childbirth preparation classes should walk you through what to expect and how to optimize for each and every kind of birth without glorifying or vilifying certain interventions. Essentially you want something that will make you confident, while staying flexible.

To make it worth your time, you’ll also want to make sure you’ve found something that’s not simply a regurgitation of information you could have googled. There’s a huge difference between learning from an expert and an educator. While knowledgeable, experts are often not skilled at communicating information in a way you’ll be able to retain and, more importantly, recall.

And, lastly, make sure the course will offer practical take-aways. While birth history and birth physiology are truly fascinating to study, this is not an arm-chair learning moment. You will not use what you do not practice, so take a class that forces your hand!

Find live, virtual & on-demand classes and support groups near you:

← Blog