- John H. Kennell, MD
In preparing for your birth, one of the most helpful things you can do is to take a childbirth course series. There are many different choices of courses, and it can be confusing to decide which one you want. Adding to the confusion are the series offered by the hospitals themselves, which have the advantage of being short—only one or two sessions—and usually, low-cost or free. However, when it comes to childbirth preparation classes, there are distinct advantages to paying for a series with an independent instructor. Why?
Independent childbirth classes are designed to give you information about what helps the most in labor and birth. While the (often free) hospital-based classes are designed to inform you of hospitals’ standing policies regarding how labor and birth are typically treated, independent courses focus on what medical evidence has shown to be beneficial to mothers and babies, and to inform you fully about the risks and benefits of your different birthing options. As I discussed in my post “What is Evidence-Based Care?” there are often huge differences between typical care and care that is based on the medical evidence. Independent childbirth educators can offer you an in-depth understanding of the various tools available to help you achieve the birth you want, whether those are holistic tools such as relaxation, massage and aromatherapy, or medical tools such as an IV, epidural block, or Pitocin. Which tools you choose can strongly affect how your labor progresses, and a good childbirth educator can also help you learn how to navigate the pitfalls that come with the different choices.
Independent childbirth classes are designed to turn you and your labor support person into an effective team. Whatever choices you make in your labor and birth, you will need the support of an informed partner—husband, wife, friend, family member, or doula. Classes offered by the hospital tend to focus more on the role of the doctor and nurses than on the role of your birth partner—they generally treat the partner as someone there to observe, or at the most, to give the laboring mother ice chips and popsicles. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that when women have a partner trained in effective labor support techniques who stays with them continuously throughout labor, they have shorter labors, need fewer medical interventions (including c-section), have better health outcomes for themselves and their babies, and have fewer negative experiences. Independent childbirth educators specialize in teaching you and your chosen partner to work together to face the challenges of labor and make the best choices for you. The kind of support you need may change if you choose to get induced or to have an epidural, and a childbirth class will help both of you understand how, and what your partner can do to help labor progress in a healthy fashion.
Independent childbirth classes do not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Whereas hospital-based classes take only one approach—the one that tells you what they expect of you—independent childbirth classes come in many different styles and philosophies, and you are free to choose the one that you feel fits you and your partner the best. Many childbirth educators will teach the two of you in private sessions upon request; even if you are in a larger group class, the instructor generally takes the time to get to know each couple individually and address your questions and concerns directly, with individualized advice and exercises. Even when a hospital class is taught by certified Lamaze or Bradley instructors, those instructors are given strict guidelines for what they are and aren’t allowed to say or encourage during labor and birth. The same instructors teaching their own independent classes have much more freedom to address your particular concerns and help you prepare in the best way for you.
Childbirth educators choose to teach because they love helping couples prepare for and realize the birth they want, and most will do anything they can to help you through that process. Richmond has a wide variety of childbirth educators, and any of us would be happy to hear from you and work with you towards getting the healthiest, most positive birth you can.
Heather McLees-Frazier is a doula, childbirth educator, writer, and mother of (almost) three. This article is re-posted from her website, heathermcleesfrazier.com .