by Kelly Devi Swails, RPYT, CCCE, CLC
When expecting moms ask me if they should take childbirth education, I believe what they are really asking is: How will this benefit me and my partner? The most obvious answer is that childbirth education (a.k.a. childbirth preparation) helps you gain an understanding of what happens with your body, and your baby, just before, during and immediately after labor. You are likely to learn about various medical procedures that may, or may not be necessary on the day of your labor. There are also the basics, like: signs of labor, and when to go to the hospital. But there are a few substantial benefits childbirth education offers that help to improve and empower your birth experience. These hold true whether your birth includes medications, surgery or is completely natural.
Normalizes birth and increases trust in the body. Women instinctively know how to give birth! But, let’s face it, our society does not largely support this fact. Generations of women have lost sight of their innate capacity and many harbor doubts and even distrust of their bodies. Such feelings create unnecessary fear and effectively mute a woman’s instinctive body wisdom. This can result in a more challenging, and yes, painful birth experience. Childbirth education classes (depending on the scope of the class) are often designed to help women reconnect with the power and ability of their bodies by normalizing and reframing the birth process. Some childbirth education classes also guide couples in ways to remain active participants in the birth via informed decision making. This has been shown to increase a woman’s overall satisfaction in her birth experience, and consequently how she views herself in the months and years beyond birth (regardless of delivery mode). Even if medical intervention is necessary or wanted, a woman who enters birth and motherhood informed, calm and believing in herself will generally have a much easier time than one who is fearful, unsure or doubtful of her body.
Ways to reduce pain and facilitate labor (And… ways your partner can actively support you). In many childbirth education classes, couples gain solid information and may practice techniques that help reduce pain and build confidence in the body and birth process. This helps women learn, but more precisely; trust that there are indeed many simple things they can do to effectively, and more easefully facilitate birth. This is also very useful for women electing an epidural as there will be time in early labor, prior to the procedure, and again during the pushing phase of labor when it helps to have an idea of how work with, and not against the body. For partners, this practice fosters confidence in their role of birth support. They learn exactly how to provide practical, effective hands-on support and advocacy.
An overlooked, long term benefit of learning these techniques for pain and stress management is that they are highly transferrable to many other uncomfortable or challenging situations in life. I regularly rely on variations of these techniques for dealing with the inevitable physical, emotional and mental discomforts life sometimes tosses in my direction (or that of my loved ones). As a new parent, this is a nice gift to yourself!
A forum to connect with others. That’s right! Meeting and talking with other couples is a huge benefit of childbirth education. Talking as a group, asking questions and learning from each other creates bonds with other new parents in the community. This is an invaluable, far reaching benefit that is not gained by reading books or surfing the Internet. Meeting other couples in your community is a fantastic way to build an ongoing social network of parents. Numerous friendships, parent groups and play dates have their roots in the connections made during childbirth education class.
Finding the class for you. Childbirth Education classes are not one-size fits all and can vary widely in focus and depth of material covered. Before signing up, find out the scope of that particular class and determine if it fits your needs. Consider the background of the facilitator (some are more clinical, while others are more body/mind focused). This will help inform you about the philosophy of the class and ensure it’s the approach that resonates with you. If you’re still unsure, reach out to the instructor and ask questions.