How can I find a good childbirth class? How do I know which class is the best?

What does a good childbirth class provide? Some (ideally all!) of the following:

  • evidence-based information on what happens during pregnancy, labor, birth, and early weeks of babyhood
  • personalized help in choosing among your options
  • tools and skills to help you prepare for labor, birth, and parenting
  • opportunity to meet other expectant parents
  • support and encouragement

How can you find a class that will do a good job in providing these things? You can investigate the following features of classes in your area:

Is the teacher independent, or does she work for a hospital or caregiver?

Most childbirth classes are offered by hospitals, birthing centers or clinics. The benefits of these classes is that they are low in cost or free. Sometimes, classes offered by hospitals may not be free to provide a full range of information to you; they may be able to tell you only about the things that the particular caregivers at that hospital are comfortable with.

Is the information provided evidence-based?

Evidence-based information means that research has been done to see whether or not something works. If it is shown to be helpful, it is called evidence-based – i.e. it is based on evidence to show its effectiveness. An example of evidence based information would be an explanation of the benefits of being upright and mobile during labor where research has clearly shown that this is beneficial to mothers and babies.

Information, or birth practices, can also be based on experience, or simply gut feeling. This does not mean the information is not right, simply different and not backed by research. It may be that research has simply never been done on this topic. For example, there have been no studies done on rotational positioning – a method of rotating a baby during labor with maternal positions to reduce the risk of cesarean. Despite the lack of research evidence, anecdotal evidence, or personal experiences, show that it may well be beneficial.

In some cases, birth practices are carried out despite the evidence that shows them not to be beneficial, or in some cases to be harmful. Examples of this are routine episiotomy (the cut made to the birth opening as the baby is being born), women lying on their backs during labor and separating mothers from their babies by putting babies into hospital nurseries.

A good childbirth class will make it clear which information is evidence based – on research or anecdotal information – and which practices are not evidence-based or are harmful. Materials provided by the teacher such as handouts should cite medical studies and other sources of nonbiased information.

How many couples usually attend each class?

If more than about 8 couples attend a class, it can be very difficult to maintain a personalized, interactive atmosphere. Classes hosting 4-8 couples are usually able to spend plenty of time on individual attention. They also provide you with the opportunity to interact with other pregnant women and expectant fathers, building relationships and a helpful network for support after your baby is born.

How much time is spent lecturing?

What portion of the class is spent in interactive discussions or activities where you get to contribute (not just raising your hand to ask a question)? The more lecturing, the less the information is made relevant to you as an individual. Active teaching is a specialized skill. Unfortunately, this is not a standard part of the training for most midwives. A teacher who has trained specifically in childbirth education is more likely to have learnt active teaching skills.

What kind of tools and skills will you learn?

Providing factual information is one thing, but lots of times you could read that in a book. A good class will help you learn practical strategies for identifying your own needs, communicating with each other and with caregivers, decision-making skills, coping with unexpected situations, and more.

Does the class represent a specific philosophy or approach to birth?

Is it one you are comfortable with? Or would you prefer a class that is not tied to a single philosophy?

Does the teacher or organization help you to connect with the other parents?

Will there be a “reunion” when all the babies are born? Do you have the chance to join a mother-and-baby group? Is there time spent during class getting to know one another? Active teaching skills focus on the importance of enabling interaction between group members and building these relationships.

To find out about these aspects of a childbirth class, talk to your doula, read the promotional materials, chat with the teacher, ask for contact details of parents who have taken the class and speak to them, check local internet resources that might discuss class options … anything that can help you find out more! If you can to speak to those who have taken the class, ask what impact they feel the classes had on their birth.