Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What to look for in a good Childbirth Education Class?

First of all, what is Lamaze?

"Lamaze...that's that breathing thing for natural childbirth, right? Hee, hee, hooooooo...." I have to smile to myself everytime someone asks me this question. At the beginning of each new series, I find that the first thing I need to do as a teacher is dispel some common myths about Lamaze classes. 

Lamaze was originally created as a method for mothers to birth fully conscious and aware- as opposed to the common way to birth in the 1950's- unconscious in twilight sleep. Before the advent of epidurals, the only way to be conscious and aware during birth was through natural childbirth, and of course learning how to breath and relax is critical to laboring without pain medications- thus the common misnomer that Lamaze is all about a particular breathing pattern.

Today however, Lamaze has evolved into so much more. Lamaze has taken the goal of birthing fully conscious and aware far beyond the original goal- to be awake rather than asleep. Today, a Lamaze prep class means having the facts, information, confidence, and tools that you need to make informed decisions about the safety and health of you and your baby; it also means understanding the deeper psychological and emotional impact that birth has on mothers and their families; and finally, it encourages mothers to learn how to reconnect with their bodies so that they can be present during the birthing experience rather than trying to escape from it. Rather than a focus on natural childbirth as an ultimate goal, the purpose of a Lamaze class is to teach couples how to be active and informed participant as they make decisions- whether they choose to have a natural birth, an epidural or a cesarean.

What Should You Look for in a Good Childbirth Class? 

Lamaze isn't the only childbirth class available (although it is my favorite). Today, in contrast to the 1970s when Lamaze was first founded, there are many different types of childbirth classes available. So what should you look for when you are trying to choose a childbirth class that's right for you? 

Comprehensive Childbirth Education:

While it might be tempting to choose a class that fits your current thoughts about childbirth, (i.e. a hospital tour that explains how early you can get your epidural, a class that focuses only on natural childbirth, or a quick weekend class that is convenient for your busy schedules) you might be doing yourself a disservice. Taking the time to find and attend a comprehensive childbirth class ensures that you have the broad knowledge base needed to explore and evaluate your values and ultimately make truly informed decisions. 

A comprehensive childbirth class will provide you with 1) a general overview of pregnancy, labor, birth, early breastfeeding, basic infant care, and postpartum recovery, 2) an in-depth presentation of common interventions used during labor and birth, including the tools to evaluate their potential benefits, risks, and alternatives, 3) a variety of labor coping techniques and time to practice using them, 4) and the information required to create your own birth and postpartum plans. The emphasis is on pregnancy, labor, and delivery, with general overviews of pregnancy, breastfeeding, parenting, and postpartum recovery. I would highly recommend taking comprehensive classes on breastfeeding and parenting as well, and signing up for a breastfeeding and postpartum support group after the birth, but for many a general over-view is enough. A comprehensive childbirth class takes time: don't expect the same quality from a 5-hour weekend crash course that you would from a 12 hour multi-class series. (Although a 5-hour crash course is better than nothing! These classes have their place as well.)

Evidence Based Principles:

Evidence-based childbirth educators take into consideration good research and are constantly re-evaluating what they teach to make sure they are in harmony with solid evidence. Evidence-based educators take into consideration not only good research, but also the experience and knowledge of care providers and the intuition and wishes of mothers and fathers, especially where there is little research available. Be wary of childbirth educators who teach according to their opinion, hospital policy, or studies conducted by their own organizations. A reputable and reliable source for studies that evaluate childbirth related research is the Cochrane Database; this database compiles studies from all over the world and combines and evaluates their findings- throwing out poorly designed studies or at least acknowledging their limitations. A good educator will refer to credible sources, such as the Cochrane Database, regularly.

A Variety of Teaching Methods:

Steer clear of lecture styles classes. Everyone learns differently, and very few prefer to be lectured. Some learn best by reading or looking at graphs, others through talking or discussing new ideas or experiences, some through actively doing or creating something new, and others through watching a visual presentation or video. A good teacher uses games and a variety of engaging activities, ignites lively discussions, and engenders laughter. Learning should be fun. Search for a teacher who not only knows about childbirth, but who is also a good teacher. 

Shared Social Experiences:

I know it's tempting to just sign up for a private class or read about childbirth through books when our schedules are busy. Instead, take advantage of a group class that allows you to get to know a cohort of couples over time. You will benefit from the shared experiences and discussions organic to these types of class settings. 

In addition, you gain access to a referral network rich with tips on where to find things locally, evaluations of local care providers, and local services such as placenta encapsulation services, chiropractors or massage therapists that specialize in pregnancy, a great prenatal yoga class etc. Many of the couples in my classes meet outside of class on the weekends or for dinner right before class. They also provide essential postpartum and breastfeeding support and encouragement for one another, and enjoy lasting friendships.

False Guarantees:

If your prospective teacher tells you to expect anything definitively (i.e. "You are going to want that epidural, believe me!" or "If you do these things, you will have a natural birth") run away!! There are no guarantees in childbirth. No matter what you do to prepare, you never know what crazy journey awaits you. I always tell my classes to keep an open mind and to expect childbirth to be nothing like they expected. It's just the beginning of a long adventure into parenthood, and the sooner you let go of trying to control every aspect of it the happier you will be.

My Lamaze Classes:

My Lamaze classes are designed to provide parents with the most current information about healthy birth practices, the tools to process that information in the proper context, and the confidence to make decisions that are in the best interest of their own and their baby's well being. I also strive to help parents develop their own understanding of what the birthing experience will mean for them and their family and how to incorporate their own culture, beliefs, and traditions into the experience to make it more meaningful. In addition, I guide my classes through an exploration of what it will mean to be a parent and provide a context for parents to discuss how they will approach parenting. We spend considerable time practicing new skills for laboring and birthing, including relaxation, movement, breathing, massage and counter-pressure, and rebozo/birth-ball techniques. Couples also learn about breastfeeding, caring for newborns, and postpartum recovery. 

My next class series will be October 23,30, & November 6, 13, 20 in Poolesville, MD 6:30-8:45pm (a 5-week series). 

Email me at for registration information and availability.  

It's a race: Moms vs Dads, Who Can Remember the Stages of Labor?


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