This week on our "11 Ways to Prepare for Your Best Birth", we arrive at:
#6 Prepare your Mind & Body: Take a comprehensive childbirth education class that includes newborn care and breastfeeding
Why In-Person Classes? Why don't I just read a book or take an online class?
In-person classes are ideal for many because you benefit from:
Getting to know other expectant parents, which is immensely valuable as you enter parenthood. You need to find your "tribe" to develop your support network for a healthy and happy parenting journey!
Learning about specifically relevant, local information on care providers and hospital protocols.
The combination of various teaching methods such as lecture, video, powerpoint, posters, activities, discussions, and physical bodywork provides a more comprehensive, valuable learning experience than any video or book can ever provide.
A conversational atmosphere. Class is a great launching pad for important conversations between you and your support partner(s) to process feelings, express concerns, ask each other questions. For those whose labor support is your committed spouse/life partner, this helps both to more intentionally strategize toward both a better birth and also to deepen and strengthen your relationship.
Hearing others' questions in class—ones that might not have otherwise occurred to you or that provide deeper insights.
Physical activities & bodywork. This is absolutely most helpful with a live teacher to instruct, adjust and advise on labor positions, massage & counterpressure techniques, and other tactile comfort measures for labor.
Why group over private?
There's certainly no right or wrong here but here are considerations:
#1 above, round 2. This benefit cannot be overemphasized. Unless you already have multiple friends who are in a similar life stage, I promise you that you NEED this. You need to have the support, community, opportunity to compare notes, sharing the woes and joys along the way that will lead to a healthier you and more thriving new family unit.
With group classes, you're getting a MUCH more comprehensive education for a significantly lower per-hour cost.
I acknowledge that, particularly where I live in NYC, people lead busy lives, and sometimes the group class schedule just doesn't work. Private is certainly the next best thing. It can also be a good option for certain very specific situations, such as someone who has given birth before and just wants a refresher or has other reasons that the group setting wouldn't be quite the right fit.
But the Cost! Babies are so expensive. Isn't class expendable?
A once-in-a-lifetime, sacred experience such a birth requires a good deal of preparation, and is worth the investment. It goes a long way for reducing fears and helping equip expectant parents with tools and strategies they need. I want to reiterate that a good birth class will also foster deep conversations and interactions between expectant parent couples, which will not only help them have a more optimal, healthier labor and birth, but also can enrich and strengthen their relationship—books or online classes cannot do this. Priceless!
Also, I think you'll find that your perspective of the cost will change dramatically once you have a toddler and start paying for various classes for them. In hindsight we can realize what a good deal most birth classes are! In NYC, for example, a really affordable price for kids' classes breaks down to about $20/hr. When I break down my birth classes to a per person/per hour cost, my classes cost way less than that, and are significantly cheaper than the hourly cost of most NYC babysitters. It's a steal when you consider it from these perspectives.
I recommend seeking out a class series that is not only going to equip you with information on and strategies for a healthy labor and birth, but also will equip you with newborn care skills, breastfeeding and postpartum self-care knowledge. I recommend this series be a minimum of 12-15 hours. Ideally you want to have the class to be spread out among 3-6 weeks and 6 classes, although 2- to 3-day intensives are very popular for many who have busy schedules. Intensives are not as ideal because so much information is packed into a small amount of time, and you don't get to know your classmates as well, either, both because most intensives are less conversational and are fewer days and break times together.
A common question I get is: Do childbirth classes include infant CPR? CPR classes are an a la carte, separate class in almost all cases (ie in NYC I don't know of any childbirth educators who incorporate CPR training into their series). I do highly recommend that expectant parents take a separate CPR class. Some popular options in NYC are:
CNTRescueTraining.com - Astoria, offer official CPR/First Aid certification
commonsensecpr.com/ - Manhattan, LIC & Brooklyn
littleheartscpr.com/ - Manhattan & Brooklyn
babybesafe.com - Manhattan & Brooklyn
Options & Methods
Here are some of the most popular certifications, methods or class types (first one is local to NYC):
Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York (FYI, my primary certification is with CEA/MNY, and I am on their board)
Lamaze (more about evidence-based principles than an actual method now)
Bradley - largely for those hoping for an unmedicated, natural birth
Not considered comprehensive childbirth ed, so please do not consider these substitutes, but could be nicely complementary and supplemental:
Some prenatal yoga teachers may offer some one-off childbirth specific classes such as breathing techniques or bodywork for labor that can be valuable
I caution expectant parents to steer away from any teaching that would teach or even insinuate that a completely natural, drug-free birth is the only way to go. What this all too often does is to set up parents for guilt and sometimes even trauma when the organic process of birth, which is unknowable and uncontrollable to a large degree, doesn't go exactly according to "plan". Better to choose a balanced class that acknowledges that, even if labor/birth doesn't go as planned, it can still be a positive and beautiful experience when we plan for it with strong intention and purpose.
Look for a class that is small (or small-ish). An ideal class size is around 5-7 couples; definitely no more than 16 people in a class in order to get individualized attention and to foster connecting with each other and developing your parenting "tribe".
How to Find
Ask your friends! If you don't have any friend who've given birth, maybe you have friends who have friends who have recommendations.
Yelp - read reviews
Websites below or above for specific methods; some have a by-location search/finder