BIRTHING CLASSES: Do I really need them?


Guys, don’t believe the hype. Birthing classes, childbirth preparation classes, Lamaze classes, prenatal classes, perinatal classes, antenatal classes… Whatever you want to call them, they are not compulsory.

It makes sense to do some preparation of which birthing classes are a great option but some of you may prefer just to read books, watch DVD’s, talk with friends or relatives who already have children or simply Google everything you need to know in preparation for the birth. Depending on how relaxed you are about the whole thing some of you may choose not to do any formal preparations, preferring to ‘fly by the seat of one’s pants’ on the knowledge humans have been doing this for thousands of years.

There is no right or wrong here just what works for you, modern day birthing classes aim to provide up to date information on all aspects of the labour and birth (be it natural or Caesarean), as well as pain relief options, support strategies also incorporating early parenting skills like breastfeeding, bathing a newborn, settling a crying baby… Personally looking back I can’t recall anything specific from the birthing classes I learned where either during the birth or postnatal I thought to my self “I remember what they said to do in this situation” but this doesn’t mean I think they were a waste of time. What I think we did gain from these classes was comfort in the environment with which we were having the baby (our classes were held in the hospital where our daughter was born and included a tour of the deliver rooms) as a result on game day it wasn’t like we were going there for the first time, surely this had some calming effect with the assembalance of familiarity we had with the place. My partners mothers group ultimately grew out of the birthing classes we attended and this group of women arguable kept her sane during the tough times (at least she claims they did, now I don’t deny they tried to keep her sane, my argument is they failed). And despite not specifically learning anything from the birthing classes we attended there was something nice about going through the whole process with a group of ‘like people’.

Talking through from the final stages of labour, the birth and then the early parenting days that made me feel more ready to take on what ever was thrown at me in the weeks to come.


History Of Birthing Classes

Birthing classes started around the 1940′s and 1950′s and initially was for pregnant women to learn breathing techniques and psychological approaches to use during their labour with the aim of assisting in achieving a natural (drug free) birth.

These days prospective parents take birthing classes for many reasons regardless of their individual birth plan. Good birthing classes should provide up to date information on all aspects of the labour and birth as well as early parenting skills and dealing with the emotional changes of new parenthood.  Many prospective parents take classes to meet other pregnant women and their partners and build a social support network this way.  


Types Of Birthing Classes

Birthing classes general aim is to provide the basics about the physical labour and birth process. This includes what you can expect for your care over this time, natural and medical pain relief options and learning support strategies to use during labour. Good birthing classes and educators will be flexible enough they can adapt each class to suit the individual needs and beliefs of all participants.  Birthing classes can be a great forum to ask lots of questions and can help you make informed decisions about key issues surrounding your baby’s birth.   The idea is that as a result of attending birthing classes both you and your partner will acquire the skills and confidence needed to make birth a positive experience.

While the basic information covered in birthing classes will essentially be the same, obviously they will vary from once class to the next and one educator to another. Individual educators will have their own style just as different birthing classes will have different learning objectives. Meaning that the type of information that is imparted and the support strategies that are taught will vary widely from educator to educator and course to course. Hence, it is wise to ‘shop around’ or get a recommendation from ‘like’ people before finalising on a class.

Specific Types Of Birthing Classes

There are a number of different types of birthing classes most birthing classes will fit roughly under one of the following categories

·       Early Pregnancy Classes

These are birthing classes done during the woman’s early pregnancy (before 20 weeks).   Covering things like diet, exercise and lifestyle changes during pregnancy as well as caregiver and birthplace choices.

·       Class series

Typically the most common type of birthing classes.  Where you meet once a week for several weeks about a 2 hour session each time.   Generally advised that you start these series some time between 28 to 34 weeks of the pregnancy.

·       Intensive course

An intensive course covers similar information provided in the weekly classes but is usually structured into 1 – 3 sessions of 4 – 8 hours completed over one weekend or consecutive weekends.

·       Refresher course

For those who have previously had a child and do not want to attend full birthing classes again may choose to do a refresher course.  These courses can provide more up to date  knowledge if it has been a while between pregnancies also can be used to go through concerns there may be following the previous birth experiences.  Active birth – staying active during labour to achieve a natural birth

·       Hypno-birthing

Birthing classes focusing on using techniques of self-hypnosis for relaxation during labour and birth.

·       Private classes

Birthing classes taught in your home, could be for the full course or a refresher course as required.

·       Parenting classes

Some birthing classes include early parenting skills.  However there are also separate parenting classes, which could be taken either during the pregnancy or after the birth.  The classes may be general newborn and infant care or more specific focusing on a certain subject such as breastfeeding, baby massage or sleep and settle techniques.

·       Postnatal groups

This may be a one off or weekly meetings for support and education.  These can sometimes be combined with exercises or yoga sessions.

·       Online classes

Replacing face-to-face birthing classes or in complement to them.  Obviously comes with the benefit of being able to complete at both a time and speed that suits your needs.   As well as the option to focus more of your time on the areas that are more important to you and vice-versa.  Meaning you don’t have to put up with that annoying ‘soon to be parent’ in the face to face birthing classes asking a million stupid questions on issues not relevant to your particular situation.

·       Fathers classes

Birthing classes geared just for new fathers are also becoming more and more popular, these are often aimed at catering specifically for the partner’s needs during the labour, birth and early parenting.  See the following like for one such option

·       Preparation for breastfeeding

Often more specific courses can be offered focusing on a particular part of the pregnancy, birth or early parenting such as breastfeeding classes.  Check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s classes for pregnant women for more details


Who Teaches Birthing Classes?

Childbirth educators can have a variety of different backgrounds from maternity health care professionals such as a physiotherapists midwifes or registered nurses who have specialised childbirth education qualifications.  Many other individuals in related fields such as counselling, massage, alternative therapies, or early childhood care also get involved in childbirth education.  However many birthing classes are taught by non-healthcare professionals but general public who have completed an extensive course on childbirth education.


Choosing And Booking Your Birthing Classes

Birthing classes may be provided free of charge, or for a cost which can vary widely.   You can find out the options for birthing classes in your area by asking your obstetrician, family doctor, midwife, or friends who have attended birthing classes in your area.  Your local hospital or birthing center should also have a list of classes.  Typically birthing classes are provided through public and private hospitals, community health centres as well other venues arranged by private educators such as health care providers arranging courses in their practices.  Not only will location and cost need to be considered in choosing the appropriate class but obviously identifying what you want to get out of your birthing classes.  We suggest sitting down with your partner or support person and spending some time considering what you expect from the birthing classes  so when inquiring you can match your goals with the objectives and/or a lesson plans of the appropriate birthing classes.
Generally, birthing classes are not started until the 3rd trimester when the mother is about 7 months pregnant, which makes sense because if you learn everything too early on in your pregnancy, you may forget most of it by the time your due date approaches.  However in say that some birthing classes may begin during the first trimester and focus on all the changes that pregnancy brings and take you right through the pregnancy but the norm is 5- to 8-week courses or intensive weekend courses offered late in pregnancy focusing mostly on labor, delivery, and postpartum issues.  Regardless which birthing classes you are looking at taking, booking your class should be done well in advance because it is quite common for them to fill up quickly.


*** The information contained here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment in any manner. Always seek the advice of your doctor with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition.

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