pregnant woman on bed

7 Questions to Help You Find the Right Childbirth Class 

By Carol Caffin
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
December 08, 2023

A childbirth class or two (or four) can be the best first step toward a successful labor and delivery. But with such a wide array of classes to choose from, it may be challenging to pick the right one for you. Here are seven questions to guide your decision-making around birthing education:

1. Why should I take a childbirth class?

You may have read a few pregnancy books, but in order to feel prepared for when you’re actually in labor, you’ll likely feel more secure if you’ve taken a class that actually shows you what to do and helps you practice it.

“No matter what kind of birth you’re planning—medicated, nonmedicated, or a planned cesarean [section]—solid education provides a family with realistic labor and birth expectations and helps them feel more in control and positive with their birth experience,” says childbirth educator and doula Care Messer, of San Diego.

Certified nurse-midwife Aubre Tompkins, of Thornton, Colorado, agrees. “Childbirth is a momentous and transformational experience,” she says. “How you prepare yourself and your partner matters.”

2. What’s the best way to find a childbirth class?

Start with word-of-mouth recommendations. “I would recommend asking your provider which classes in your area are staffed by knowledgeable instructors,” says board-certified ob-gyn Raquel Dardik, M.D., of NYU Langone Health in West Palm Beach, Florida

Often, hospitals and birthing centers offer these classes, so check to see whether any are available where you plan to give birth. If they are, the bonus is that instructors may also help you get acquainted with the facility and its procedures.

You may also want to ask friends or family who’ve taken classes whether they would recommend the class they took. The challenge will likely be narrowing down your choices. If you know your preferred birth method, you can also start by looking for classes in your area (or online) that focus on those specific methods.

3. What are some childbirth methods a class might focus on?

Here are three of the best-known childbirth education styles:

1. Lamaze

Introduced in France in 1951 by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, Lamaze is the most popular childbirth method in the United States. Focusing on relaxation techniques and rhythmic breathing with the help of a coach, Lamaze is based on six birth practices, which include letting labor begin on its own, following your body’s urge to push, and keeping you and your baby together. Classes taught by Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators are available online and in person at hospitals, birth centers, and other locations throughout the country.

2. The Bradley Method

This method of birth is sometimes called husband-coached childbirth—but the coach can be any partner you choose. It was developed in 1947 as an alternative to “medicated” births.

At the core of the Bradley Method is the use of a partner for direction and comfort, as well as relaxation techniques that assist with pain management during labor and delivery. Courses are 12 weeks long and taken in the third trimester.

3. Hypnobirthing

This method teaches self-hypnosis that is designed to help birthing people move through labor in a more relaxed state. It involves visualization and relaxation techniques to help quell fear and anxiety during childbirth. This technique can be especially good for people who have had traumatic births previously or who have great fear surrounding childbirth. In-person and online courses are available.

4. What should a childbirth class include?

When you’re making your choice, here’s what to look for:

A Solid Curriculum

“A well-rounded curriculum should give you a good understanding of how your body works physiologically—for instance, the hormone loops that begin labor and keep things moving forward; connection and bonding ideas for you, your partner, and baby; and pushing positions, with information on how to prevent tearing,” Messer says.

In addition, she says, “Classes should contain evidence-based information, such as the benefits of eating and drinking in labor and why you might want to avoid an induction if not medically necessary.”

Many classes offer a syllabus or course description that explains what’s included in the curriculum that can give you insight into what you’ll learn, the birthing philosophy of the class, and how it’s taught. You will also want to make sure major topics are covered, like fears, pain management, avoiding or managing labor complications, and more.

A Qualified Instructor

Finding a qualified instructor is a key first step to a good childbirth education. “There is no single national credential or certification process for childbirth educators,” Tompkins says. However, there are numerous training and certifying organizations for childbirth educators, each with different certification requirements. Before signing up for a class, read or ask about the instructor’s credentials, experience, and teaching methods.

According to Tompkins, it’s important to ask these questions:

  • What level of experience does this educator have?
  • Who do they work with?
  • How long have they been teaching?
  • What do past students say about them?
  • Are they independent, or affiliated with a specific facility?

Having this information can help you feel more confident and secure as you narrow down your choices and make a decision about a potential childbirth class.

Hands-On Instruction and Participation

“Presentation is just as important as the material being presented,” Messer says. “Just like in college, if the professor is boring, monotone, and doesn’t have a good handle on the material, the information will fall short of your expectations and leave you feeling unprepared for ‘the test.’”

Find out how the class is being taught. For example, you may want to look for a class that involves practicing breathing and pain management techniques with your birth partner, using dolls and other props to learn how to change the baby, and interacting with other parents-to-be.

“If you are planning a hospital birth, you may consider attending classes offered there,” Tompkins says. “These will be geared towards helping you understand their specific policies and protocols.”

5. What if I’ll be having a C-section?

Cesarean births account for more than 30% of births in the United States, and it’s important to know a bit about C-sections in case the need for one arises.

“Most comprehensive classes will at least cover the basics of cesarean birth,” Tompkins says. If you’re at high risk for needing a C-section or are planning a scheduled C-section, look for a class geared specifically toward C-sections. But don’t skip out on the education about what happens during labor. Dardik says it’s important to know the basics of labor in case you go into labor before that date.

6. Are there any other specialized childbirth classes?

Many hospitals, birth centers, and independent educators offer holistic classes and classes for alternative birth methods, such as water birth, and specific circumstances, like VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). There are also classes for LGBTQ parents, single moms, parents expecting multiples, and those planning on an unmedicated childbirth.

7. Anything else I should consider?

Aside from birthing methods, class content, and instructors, there are other considerations that may factor into your choice of a childbirth class. These might include:

  • Expense: Costs can vary from free to several hundred dollars or more.
  • In-person vs. virtual: “During the pandemic, many educators began offering virtual classes,” Tompkins says. Some in-person classes have resumed, often with restrictions; others have continued to meet virtually. “Currently, online is safest for everyone, but not all educators are great at that,” notes Messer. That’s because in-person classes offer the advantage of hands-on participation and feedback from the instructor, as well as real interaction with other parents-to-be. For instance, you can actually get into a birthing position with your birth partner and practice breathing techniques or massage, or learn how to swaddle your newborn by practicing on a doll. The benefit of being in person is to have someone there to evaluate and teach these methods in a hands-on way.
  • Scheduling: The class you choose should fit into your and your birthing partner’s schedules. Online classes that are given live and involve participation and interaction will be offered on set days and times. Prerecorded online classes are often structured so that they may be taken at your convenience, but they may not offer the same type of interaction.
  • Number of sessions: Messer recommends a course that has four to six classes. “Birth has so many parts to it, and you don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. “As new parents, you will feel more prepared and confident when you have your education spread out over a few weeks.”
  • Class size: Classes should be small enough so that the instructor can spend a little time with each birthing parent and partner, particularly in demonstrations and exercises. Five to six pairs is usually a good size, according to Messer.
  • Timing: Taking classes earlier in your pregnancy is not necessarily better. Childbirth educators generally recommend taking classes during the third trimester, because you’re more likely to remember and use what you’ve learned in class during the birth.

Once you’ve chosen and taken the right class (or classes) for your needs, you’ll likely feel better prepared for your baby’s birth. “Parenthood is challenging, and having some idea of what to expect and what type of support you should have lined up will make all the difference,” Messer says. “Educators are here to help you have the best experience possible.”

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