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Childbirth education: Get ready for labor and delivery

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Do you know what to expect during labor and delivery? Whether you're a first-time mom or a delivery room veteran, here's why you should take a childbirth education class.

By Mayo Clinic staff

By now, you've probably surrounded yourself with articles on childbirth and heard countless labor stories from friends and loved ones. But do you really know what to expect during labor and delivery? A childbirth education class can make all the difference.

Why should I take a childbirth education class?

Whether you're a first-time mom or a delivery room veteran, a childbirth education class can help you prepare to meet the challenges of labor and delivery. Consider the opportunities:

  • § Learn things you never knew about labor, delivery and postpartum care. You'll find out what happens to your body as your baby makes his or her way into the world - from just how messy delivery can be to why you may need to leave your contact lenses at home.
  • § Address your fears. What if I don't make it to the hospital in time? What if I lose control during labor? During class, you'll have the chance to talk about your fears with other couples who probably share the same concerns. The instructor can dispel myths and help put your mind at ease.
  • § Connect with your partner or labor coach. A childbirth education class offers your partner or labor coach the chance to learn about childbirth, too - as well as how to support you during labor.
  • § Discuss options for handling pain. You'll practice various methods for coping with contractions, such as breathing, relaxation and visualization. Most classes also cover the pros and cons of common medications, such as narcotic analgesics and epidural blocks.
  • § Get the basics on Caesarean delivery. You'll learn why a C-section may be needed - and what to expect if you deliver your baby surgically.
  • § Check out the facility. You may tour the facility and see various devices that may be used during labor or delivery, such as a fetal monitor.
  • § Brush up on newborn care. In addition to labor and delivery, you'll likely get a primer on newborns. Common topics include breast-feeding, diapering, bathing and comforting.
  • § Gain a sense of control. Knowledge is power. You'll feel less vulnerable during labor and delivery if you understand what's happening.

Are there different types of childbirth education classes?

Yes. Some classes cover specific types of births, such as C-section, vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) and multiple births. Refresher courses are available for parents who simply want to review the basics. Other classes focus on specific methods of childbirth. For example:

  • § Lamaze. The goal of Lamaze is to increase confidence in your ability to give birth. Lamaze classes help you learn how to respond to pain in ways that both facilitate labor and promote comfort - including focused breathing, movement and massage.
  • § Bradley. The Bradley Method considers birth a natural process. You're encouraged to trust your body, focusing on diet and exercise throughout pregnancy. You're taught to manage labor through relaxation, deep breathing and the support of your husband or partner.

You may also find classes on other approaches to childbirth, including hypnotherapy and water birth.

What's the best way to find a class?

Childbirth education classes are offered at most hospitals and birthing centers. Some classes are available online or in video format. Ask your health care provider about available classes.You might also check with other parents who've recently had babies.

When should I take the class?

Childbirth education classes are often recommended near the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy - but anytime before you go into labor would be helpful. Typically, classes are offered as one- or two-hour sessions over the course of several months or as full-day weekend sessions. The earlier you register, the more options and flexibility you'll have regarding class dates and times.

How much will it cost?

That depends. Short courses may be offered for a nominal fee. More intense courses may cost $100 or more. Some insurance plans offer reduced registration fees or reimbursement plans for childbirth education classes. Fees at some facilities may be based on your ability to pay.

What is my health care provider's role?

Your health care provider is there to help you have a positive birth experience. With his or her input, use what you learn in your childbirth education class to create a birth plan. No one can guarantee how labor and delivery will unfold, but together you can design a birth plan that meets your expectations for labor, delivery and postpartum care - and that promotes the best care for you and your baby.

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