Childbirth classes - do I really need them?

Birth classes can increase your chances of a positive post-natal phase
Birth classes can increase your chances of a positive post-natal phase 

If it’s so natural – why do I have to prepare for it? I get that question often.

There are many reasons for effective antenatal education that focus on the positives of birth, including understanding the physiological process, being clear about the role of the pelvis, ensuring that a couple are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities and to being able to determine which, if any, of the technological interventions on offer may be right for you at any given time.

Different educators cover a plethora of information in their classes, over a series breaking things down into sections, or in a full day or weekend class.

Gone are the days though for many couples of turning up at the hospital without any idea on what you may be about to experience in birth. More than ever before, women and their partners are getting ‘info savvy’ and preparing for their big day in more ways than preparing a nursery for their baby to sleep in. Whilst hospital classes offer valuable information about the experience you may encounter within their establishment, most couples find that it is the independent childbirth education that they pursue that gives them the solid grounding in their knowledge about birth and parenting, and that fills the gaps that the basic hospital classes leave out.

Of course in realistic terms, there should be no reason for women to need to ‘learn’ how to give birth. Ante-natal education has become much more than a ‘how to’ approach in taking a class though, and much more about ‘how to have the best experience you can’ in the society in which we live. In our culture, birth has become medicalised to the point of many women giving over most of the control of their birth process, and statistics show that this is leading to a higher increase in post natal depression. A positive birth experience does much to ensure that a woman has a more enjoyable and positive post natal period, and this alone often encourages more women to work with their labours towards normal physiological birth, over a more medicalised model.  

Women are born with an innate wisdom that enables them to give birth, but in our modern western culture, ‘controlling’ the birthing environment has become so common place.

Women are born with an innate wisdom that enables them to give birth, but in our modern western culture, ‘controlling’ the birthing environment has become so common place that many couples are needing to learn skills not in how to birth, but in how to fine tune their responses to their birthing environment to ensure a positive birthing experience.

To birth instinctively, women need to surrender to their bodies, and the best way for a woman to do this is to feel safe. In most hospital scenarios, this is easier said than done. It is a common goal then of many educators to help women re-establish a connection with their bodies and help women to trust in their abilities to birth their babies with minimal intervention. To be able to avoid the ‘cascade of interventions’ present in many western society births, unless medical reason warrants such extra support, is the goal of many educators.

Ideally, childbirth preparation should encompass a wide variety of topics and components, and focus not only on the labour and birth but also the all important months either side of this magical day.

In my classes I focus on many topics, including the hormones of birth, recognising the different stages of labour, how to work with the pain of labour, how well informed support people can make your experience a more positive one, and the different choices that you will be required to make for your baby in the early post natal period. I encourage my class participants to get some solid information about breastfeeding under their belt before they have a hungry baby in their arms too, and the first point of call for that is often the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

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I believe that if parents-to-be can develop and hone their basic life skills through working towards a ‘natural birth,’ they will have an opportunity to grapple with their strengths and capacities in a way that will put them in good stead as parents.

A great acronym that I teach in my classes is BRAIN, a way of looking at the options before you, and questioning the pros and cons of each. BRAIN equates to asking yourself at each step of the process of making decisions - What are the Benefits of this? What are the Risks of doing this? Are there any Alternatives? What does my Intuition tell me? What may happen if we do Nothing? So many parents find this a useful tool once they have their babies in their arms, to weigh up important decisions, and even some of those little day to day things that need consideration.

Childbirth education has come a long way from learning the basics of timing contractions, how to fold a nappy, and giving out the menu of drug relief on offer on your big day of meeting your baby. Modern women want and deserve more, and with a wide variety of different classes available Australia wide, there are classes to suit every couple, whatever their dreams and desires for birthing and parenting. Do yourself a favour and get along to one in your area, or buy some classes as a gift for a friend expecting a baby... You wont regret it!

Donna Sheppard-Wright facilitates classes with Nurture Birth Support and also facilitates the Melbourne Beer and Bubs classes.

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