I am only just a tad bit biased 😉 but I'm going to have to say a resounding YES, YES, YES - prenatal education classes are so important! However, many people still seem to think that they don't need to attend Childbirth Education classes. Common reasons I've heard are:
I already attended a class with a previous pregnancy.
I don't need one because I have support from a doula.
They're boring and too time consuming. I also can't find one that is close by and convenient.
Of course, it is personal preference, but it takes just a tiny bit of research to see why antenatal classes are important.
Here are five reasons why ANY expectant parent should attend an antenatal class:
· Empowerment. Penny Simkin, renowned Physical Therapist, Childbirth Educator, Doula and part founder of DONA international, conducted a study about birth satisfaction. Through her research, she found that it did not matter so much what went on with the birth and whether or not it wavered from the birthing person's initial plan. What mattered MOST was that the person had a sense of ownership and felt empowered by making their own decisions. Dissatisfaction came from experiences where families felt that choices were made for them. Childbirth Education classes helps encourage this empowerment, through the next 4 areas.
· Knowledge. This is (sort of) a given. Good quality Childbirth Education classes are brimming with up to date, evidence based, information. Knowledge really is powerful. Antenatal classes empower parents through information, allowing them to make choices that will affect their care. In the 1960s to mid 1980s, Childbirth Education was at its peak, with classes being seen as essential to any pregnancy. Armed with this new found knowledge about birthing options, consumers demanded better care. And "hospitals responded by increasing birthing choices, improving anaesthesia and birth facilities (Simkin, 2016)."
Nowadays, knowledge still is powerful and useful to inspire change. Going into a birth experience armed with knowledge will help birthing families make informed decisions, based on their personal needs. Learning what is "normal" helps allow families to gain a better trust in their bodies and their own decisions, as well as that of their care providers. It helps them understand when interventions are truly needed and when they can be avoided.
· Fear. Connie Livingston discussed fear of childbirth in a recent Webinar on Childbirth Education. She outlined the fact that the majority of birthing families harbour fear towards childbirth. Childbirth Education classes offer a forum for families to work through their fears and concerns, through a variety of means. This may be through discussions, art or writing, role play, and other games and activities.
· Practical Preparation. A large component of prenatal classes should be practical. Of course, no labour is predictable. But the more we see and do something, the more likely our bodies will respond that way in other situations (muscle memory!). High quality prenatal education will weave the practice of labour positions, affirmations, breathing, and much more, throughout the sessions. It will also offer families ways to incorporate practicing the material into their daily lives.
· Advocacy and Support. One great benefit of childbirth education classes is that participants are put in contact with other families that are growing at the same time as theirs. This is an amazing resource for the duration of their pregnancies and the postpartum stage. Likewise, the leader of prenatal classes can act as an advocate, pointing families in the right direction, in order to access pertinent resources.
But of course, not all classes are created equal and not all of these outcomes will be achieved with every prenatal class. Like with most things, we need to consider the details and what elements will suit our individual needs.
Here are 5 things to consider when choosing a class:
1. Venue. Where the course is located, as well as the specifics of the space, will undoubtedly affect how you respond to the material.
When choosing a class it helps to consider the following: Is it convenient for your family? Will you be able to attend all the classes, based on the location? What is the space like? Does it feel safe and comfortable? Do you prefer a hospital setting/a studio/a home?
2. Duration. It is clear that the more time we devote to learning a topic, the more likely we are to properly understand it. It is also valuable to learn information across a longer span of time, as this helps us digest it and really take it in. However, we are all busy people with many life obligations! Just make sure you’ve weighed up the value of the length of different classes.
When choosing a class try to think about the following: How long is each class? Does it span across a month or two? Is it one weekend long? How much time are you willing to devote to this learning experience?
3. Topics covered. Families who have had very little experience with birth and infancy, will require a very different class to parents who already have 1 or more children. Likewise, previous work or life experience will influence what you already know. Keep in mind though that every pregnancy, birth and postpartum period is different. Even Childbirth Educator Connie Livingston, who has 5 children, attended a Childbirth Education class with each pregnancy!
When choosing a class it might be useful to think about the following: Is this a class specific for completely new parents or a “refresher class” for “experienced” families? What areas will the classes focus on? Is there a lot of time built in to practice labour positions, breathing, and other birth coping mechanisms? Will the class cover medical interventions, such as epidurals or inductions? Is infant care covered and in what depth?
4. Experience of teacher. Experience in years doesn't always equate with the best quality (although it can). Actual life experience will likely greatly affect the quality of a class.
When looking for a class thinking about the following may be useful: Where did the teacher train and with what organization? What other life and past work experience does the teacher offer that will add to the classes? Does the educator have children of their own and do you feel this is important?
5. Style and philosophy of classes. If you want to avoid “boring classes” ensure that you’ve looked around at different classes and “interviewed” a variety of teachers. Find the teacher that speaks to you. Ask about their class outline and what practical activities will be involved. Great teachers are more than happy to talk about and fine tune their classes to meet students individual needs.
When choosing a class you may want to consider the following: Will the classes offer a holistic model or a more medical model of care? Are the class plans developed by the teacher, an organization, or a combination? What types of activities and resources will be offered? Is there a reading or reference list offered?
So what do you think? Is Childbirth Education important? What would/do/have you looked for in a prenatal education class?
Simkin, P., (2016 September) The Tipping Point(s) in Childbirth Education and the Price of Ignorance. [Webinar], Gold Learning Childbirth Education Online Symposium. Retrieved from: http://www.goldlearning.com/ce-library/all-lectures/product-type/webinar/symposium-childbirth-education-detail
Simkin, P., Allen, C., Livingston, C., Weeks, C., Gates, V., Weiss, R.E. (2016 October). Why Childbirth Education is Still Important. [Webinar]. InJoy: Birth and Parenting Education. Retrieved from: http://injoyvideos.com/why-childbirth-education-is-still-important