Pregnancy can be a time of wonder. The growth of a baby inside a woman’s body is astoundingly miraculous and we know so much more about the secretive processes that unfold during pregnancy thanks to ultrasound and modern science. The fact that our body can change so dramatically and support new life can usher in a new awareness and depth to our worldview and life. This gestational time can ignite the flame of hope, envelop us in the wondrous haze of dreamy possibilities and urge us toward a deeper sense of self-knowing.
Pregnancy can also be a time of worry. Suddenly, we realize that there is so much we don’t know. There is uncertainty. Some of the changes in our body and experience can be difficult. We must navigate life from a new identity. Our relationship with our partner begins to change and we may have anxieties about how a baby might impact this relationship dynamic overall. And, how exactly, is that baby going to come out? And what to do after this little person does?
When we lived in small, integrated communities before modern industrialization, our community held the knowledge and wisdom it accrued over time when women had babies. We trusted our communities and followed what was done, likely without question. It just happened as everyone did it, with a sense that one could not control much and life went on.
As social creatures, we still operate on this type of trust: that others with more knowledge will guide us and we will just follow along with what everyone else (society) seems to do. So, the society we live in impacts our lives a lot. When we take a good look at our current modern circumstances, we find our society deeply influenced by capitalism, economics and institutions with a prioritization of work favoring those in power over individuals and family structures. Our current healthcare system is based on a consumer model - it is big business that prioritizes profits and efficiency over personal experiences and often, unfortunately, good health outcomes.
What does this have to do with pregnancy and birthing a baby, you ask? Well, in essence, there are many challenges that currently exist with maternity care and becoming a parent in modern times. Pregnancy and giving birth are transformative and important life experiences for families.
Many of the support structures that used to be in place for new families in prior generations - such as extended family and a social understanding of the importance of this time for new babies - has been eroded or completely evaporated leaving couples bringing babies into the world on their own without adequate support structures in place. This can make the transition to new family life fraught and distressing in a way it does not need to be.
This is why taking childbirth classes and other prenatal classes is so important during pregnancy - it plays an essential role in modern life. There are a lot of potholes that new parents have to navigate around and try to avoid falling into – preparation can help prevent negative experiences, misunderstandings and make sure it’s a better experience overall.
You are going to have a baby whether you take a childbirth class or not. Your baby is coming out, whether you are ready or not. This is a time of big emotions and big changes. Why not be ready? Actively learning and being in a supportive environment can positively influence your choices, your experience and how prepared you are for this huge life transition. It can also make a big difference for your baby’s experience.
There are many types of childbirth preparation classes and it can be confusing to figure out which one to take. I teach the Bradley Method® - which is a 12-week course that focuses on truly comprehensive preparation and supporting the physiologic (or natural) processes. There are so many great things about the Bradley Method® whether you seek to have a natural birth or not because it’s about so much more than preparing for the birth (although that preparation is essential).
Here’s just a few of the many ways childbirth classes can help you:
Reducing your fear of the birth process and increasing your confidence: Reducing fear and feeling grounded is important because fear can make your labor longer, more painful and more difficult. Unmitigated fear can increase the chance of complications and poor outcomes. When you have an understanding or roadmap and are prepared this can give you actionable skills and confidence - which is the antidote to fear - so that you can handle your labor and birth.
Making sure your partner is knowledgeable and prepared to support you: It’s also important that your partner understands all the process that is unfolding so they are not marinating in fear themselves. That’s going to have a negative impact on your experience. Your partner (or other ally) also needs practical skills to support you in pregnancy, labor and birth as well as after the birth (known as the postpartum period). Your partner probably wants to do a really good job supporting you but doesn’t know what exactly to do. Make sure it’s spelled out for them - classes give your partner a light in the dark.
Increasing your chances of having a vaginal birth and reducing your risk of a cesarean birth: While you can’t control everything that happens in birth, you can prepare to give yourself the best chance possible of having a good birth experience. Cesarean (or surgical birth) and medicated birth rates in the U.S. are unnecessarily high and reflect the prior weaknesses I wrote about in our healthcare system. More than half of cesareans are not necessary in the U.S. The World Health Organization suggests cesarean rates that top 10% in any institution increase risks of morbidity (a bad or harmful outcome) and mortality for mother and baby. You should care about this because an unnecessary surgical birth increases risk for you in this birth and future pregnancies. Make sure you know what you can do to increase your odds of a safe and good birth experience and avoid unnecessary or unwanted interventions. If your birth needs intervention or surgery, make sure you know what questions to ask and what to advocate for. Make sure your class active prepares you - not all classes are equal. You can find out the statistics of my class couples here.
Helping you communicate effectively with your healthcare provider: Whether you have a midwife or obstetrician (OB/GYN), you will want to be knowledgeable so you can have great discussions with them and be able to articulate what is important to you. Ignorance is not bliss. When you are not knowledgeable, don’t understand terminology or know what your options are (or even that you have the right to ask about them), you are likely to get the lowest quality of care because of the type of medical care system we have and that your provider is forced to work under - there are lots of gaps. Most providers want to do a good job and most new parents want the best care - it’s important to speak the same language and be able to communicate effectively so everyone is happy and there is less chance of misunderstandings.
Creating a deeper bond with your partner: Spending dedicated time each week preparing for your baby and this new phase in your life can help your relationship in so many ways. When you take class together, this is often the catalyst for conversations between the two of you based on what you learned in class. Your partner is learning how to support you and the application of this knowledge makes it less likely there will be hurt feelings and resentment down the road. Practicing the labor rehearsal techniques can be fun and make for good laughs. Having a new baby can be a very joyful experience yet also a real life challenge; the changes can be a major stressor on a relationship - create a strong base by both of you being prepared, connected and a team.
There are so many more benefits to prenatal education and taking a really great childbirth education course - this is a truly abbreviated list. Take advantage of this time by investing in yourself. Investing in your baby. Investing in your family.
So, should you take a childbirth class? Yes.