The only thing more overwhelming than naming your baby and finding the perfect stroller is choosing a childbirth education course. While all classes aim to educate participants about birth and parenting, their philosophies can be quite varied. Familiarizing yourself with the available options and creating a birth plan can help you pinpoint the class that is right for you.
Draft a Birth Plan
Three months before the birth of our son, my husband and I began looking for a childbirth education class. My first instinct was to sign up for the lengthiest, most in-depth course I could find. When I mentioned this to my midwife, she suggested that I first write a birth plan.
A birth plan is a written description of your ideal birthing experience. To begin with, find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted (you can do this alone or with your partner). Write down, in as much detail as possible, where and how you would like to give birth. Would you be more comfortable delivering your baby at home with a midwife, in a birthing center, or in a hospital setting surrounded by the latest medical equipment? Are you open to using pain medication or is your heart set on a natural childbirth experience? What would help you relax? Soft music, dim lighting, aromatherapy?
Although it is unlikely that the actual delivery will exactly match your birth plan, knowing what is (and is not) important to you can make selecting a class a whole lot easier.
What to Expect
Despite some differences (see summaries of classes later in this article), all childbirth education courses aim to de-mystify the birthing process, reassure women of their body's innate ability to give birth, and encourage couples to communicate openly with each other and their healthcare team. Childbirth is presented as a natural, albeit challenging, process rather than a risky medical procedure.
Whether you opt for an intensive, one-day workshop or a series of weekly classes, you can expect a supportive, informal atmosphere. Both partners should wear loose, comfortable clothing, and many classes ask that you bring a mat and two pillows. The group's facilitator leads participants through a variety of breathing, relaxation, and visualization exercises meant to ease a birthing woman's anxiety and physical discomfort. A wide range of prenatal, pregnancy, and postpartum issues are also covered. These may include the importance of diet and exercise, safe sex in your last trimester, postpartum depression, and day-to-day care of your newborn.