By Nicole Gregory
There’s no law that says you have to sign up for a childbirth prep class just because you’re pregnant, but doing so can help you discover the childbirth experience you want and then help you achieve it.
These classes, led by childbirth educators, doulas, nurses, midwives or other trained professionals, typically offer support and information that reduce a woman’s anxiety about what’s ahead and provide techniques for coping with the stages of labor and birth. That support alone—the expertise of the class leader and the camaraderie of the other participants—is critical. A 2007 study conducted at the University of Toronto showed that women who had continuous support during pregnancy were more likely to have shorter labor, more likely to have a spontaneous (rather than induced) vaginal birth and were less likely to use pain killers or to report dissatisfaction with the childbirth experience.
Unlike learning about labor and birth at home by yourself from a DVD, a class offers a community of women, a safe place where questions and fears can be brought into the open. “Being together once a week for six to eight weeks and sharing feelings about becoming a mother can help women so much,” says Julie Freitas, a Los Angeles childbirth educator with 38 years of experience. “Being with other couples and hearing their questions and concerns, talking with them about their solutions—it enhances the experience of being a couple. For a couple of hours you can focus on the baby coming and leave other concerns behind.”
Although many childbirth preparation classes aim for a nondrug childbirth, most teach techniques that can be used right up until an epidural is injected, and sometimes after. Most classes require pregnant women to sign up late in the second trimester or early in the third, so the earlier you start researching your local options, the better. Here are some choices to investigate.