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Are Childbirth Classes Necessary?

Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN


Pregnancy is such an exciting time and with the changes that accompany pregnancy also come a lot of questions. We often rely on family and friends for answers to our questions, but are they always accurate? Since each pregnancy and birth are once in a lifetime events, it is so important that your information be factual and based on research rather than personal accounts.

Childbirth classes are designed to provide factual answers to your questions. The classes will give you a complete understanding of the process of birth and techniques that will help you through that process. Childbirth education is far more than learning to relax and breathe through contractions. When you understand the birthing process then you are better able to work with our bodies and not against them. Childbirth educators and doulas Connie Livingston and Sandra Dennedy have developed a checklist for finding the type of educational experience you need for preparing you for birth and early parenthood.

Step 1: Choosing an Educator It is important that you take the time to inquire about the qualifications of a childbirth educator prior to attending their classes. Childbirth educators should go through an intensive training course and demonstrate competency in teaching and in childbirth. Don't be afraid to ask for references or to see past course evaluations.

When choosing a class, determine whether the class is consumer oriented or provider oriented. Consumer oriented classes tend to encourage you, the consumer, to take an active role in choosing the options you desire for your birth. Provider oriented classes tend to inform you as to the care and procedures you can expect from the hospital and your doctor during childbirth, with little emphasis on alternatives.

Step 2: Private or Group Class Once you choose the childbirth educator, then you should determine whether to have private instruction or be part of a group class. Private instruction allows for more flexibility and individualization. Classes are arranged around your schedule and greatly benefit those who are not able to attend the weekly group classes. Moreover, private classes can benefit those who may have apprehensions about being involved in group activities. Also, private classes allow you to ask personal questions that you otherwise may not ask in a group setting. Some private classes are taught in the comfort of your home. This especially benefits those women on bed rest. Private classes will cost a little more, but it may be worth the difference.

Group classes greatly benefit those who prefer to meet other women or couples who are also pregnant. Group discussions on issues related to childbirth are common and oftentimes invigorating. Many hospitals offer group classes so you can become familiar with the policies and procedures of the hospital in which you plan to deliver. This affords you the opportunity to know what options you have and what you can expect during your stay. Since the class members have similar due dates, you may even see them in the hospital after you deliver. These friendships can last long after the birth of your baby.

Step 3: Types of Classes There are a variety of childbirth classes available to you. The most common is the basic childbirth preparation course consisting of at least 12 hours of instruction. There are also weekend courses that can help those on a busy schedule. The refresher course benefits those who've previously given birth and the teen course is especially designed to address the needs of pregnant teenagers. Some childbirth educators also offer hourly consultation for those who have questions to ask but don't necessarily want a structured course. This, however, is not advised for first-time moms or teenagers. Take the time to review the contents of each course to determine which course is best suited for you.

As I enroll women in childbirth classes, I get a lot of the same questions from expectant parents who aren't quite sure about what to expect or if childbirth classes are for them. Childbirth Educators, Connie and Sandy compiled some of the most common questions childbirth educators get from their prospective students.

Q: I know that I want medication during labor. Do I still need to take childbirth classes?

A: Yes. Childbirth classes are not just for those who desire natural childbirth. Discussing the option of medications and their benefits and trade-offs can help you make informed choices. Moreover, women should have a variety of ways to handle labor since there are no guarantees when it comes to medication. Women need to be aware of the possible side effects of the medications as well as the appropriate time medications should be taken.

Q: What will I learn from childbirth classes?

A: Childbirth classes are designed to give you information about all aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. The topics should include: nutrition, anatomy, exercise, emotional and physical aspects of pregnancy, breathing, relaxation, comfort measures, pain in childbirth, the stages and phases of birth, medications and interventions, cesarean birth, postpartum adjustment, breastfeeding, and newborn care. Upon completion of the course, you should have a complete understanding of the process of birth and how the options you choose in labor can effect the outcome of your birth experience.

Q: When should I take childbirth classes?

A: Childbirth classes should take place in your last trimester. Ideally they should be complete about three weeks prior to your expected due date. If classes are taken too early, you may find that you forget some of the information given in class. You must be the judge as to when you feel comfortable taking the classes.

Q: What qualifications should my childbirth educator have?

A: Childbirth educators who are trained and certified by an accredited organization such as the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), Lamaze International (ASPO), and the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (AAHCC), have demonstrated competency in teaching childbirth classes. Also, find out what teaching experience your childbirth educator has. Childbirth educators can come from a variety of backgrounds (social workers, nurses, professional labor assistants or doulas, dieticians, psychologists, teachers, etc.). Above all, the childbirth educator should have a passion for teaching about birth.

Remember that birth is a once in a lifetime experience. You will carry memories of your children's births with you for the rest of your life. One step in the journey toward a joyous and rewarding birth is being prepared. Childbirth education is just one of those steps.

For more information about pregnancy and childbirth education, check out Connie and Sandy's website at

My name is Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN. I am a certified childbirth and breastfeeding educator and have a bachelor of science degree in Nursing. I am also a Registered Nurse and am board certified in Inpatient Obstetrical Nursing. I have been a writer for as long as I have been able to write! From essays in grade school to articles in professional journals and parenting magazines, writing has been a passion of mine for most of my life. Of course, I like to write about what I am passionate about, that being pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. I have my own website for my home-based company, Birth and Breastfeeding Resources, at I sell baby slings and breastpumps from this site.

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