The idea of childbirth education is a relatively new concept. A century ago, women didn't go to their local hospital or birth center or sign up for Lamaze classes during pregnancy. Why? Because birth was a part of their culture. 100 years ago women lived in relatively small communities and within their lifetime they would have attended several births. Since childbirth took place at home, it was common for a woman to be attended by a local midwife or physician, as well as her sister, mother, grandmother, cousins and other community members. Women were familiar with the process of labor and birth and the emotions and behavior associated with it.
Here's the deal. Your body already knows how to have a baby. The baby will be born one way or another whether you know what's going on or not. So why did we start having childbirth classes?
We forgot how to have babies!
Around the turn of the century, economic changes cause families to be less self-sufficient, and advancements in medicine caused people to be less trusting of traditionally trained midwives and more trusting of the medical establishment. With the advent of "twilight sleep" in 1914, more and more women clamored for childbirth in the hospital with medications that would remove any memory of pain. As a result women and our culture quite literally forgot how to have babies! My grandmother has vague memories of the process that are patched together scenes in between someone putting a rag soaked in ether over her face that caused her to lose consciousness. One of her friends relayed to me how when she "came to" the nurse introduced her to both of her children days later, and she was surprised to find out she had been pregnant with twins!
The popularization of Childbirth Education
In 1951, Dr. Fernand Lamaze came out with his "method" of childbirth, based on his observation of birthing women and techniques he saw that worked. It wasn't until the 1960s that this approach was popularized in the United States, after Marjorie Karmel published her book, Thank You, Dr. Lamaze. In the 1970s, Ina May Gaskin and her husband Stephen established The Farm in rural Tennessee, published the book Spiritual Midwifery (there's a picture of my mother in the book!), and the natural childbirth movement took off as women discovered the value of their partners in the delivery room combined with relaxation, breathing and continuous emotional and physical support during labor.
The Evolution of Childbirth Education
Since the 1950s, childbirth education has evolved to include many approaches that go far beyond the "hee-hee-hoo" breathing many people still associate with early versions of Lamaze. Many hospitals include childbirth classes, and there are various methods of "natural" childbirth education including The Bradley Method, Hypnobabies, Hypnobirthing, Birthing from Within, Yoga Birth Method, and GentleBirth, to name a few. Most include the same kinds of things: explanation of the stages of labor and events in physiological childbirth, and information about relaxation techniques and hospital interventions. They vary in how they approach the idea of pain and pain coping techniques, or whether to view it as pain at all.
top 3 reasons you shouldn't take a childbirth class
There are plenty of reasons you should take childbirth classes, but I'll tell you the reasons you shouldn't take them. Don't take a childbirth class if:
- You think it will guarantee bad things won't happen. The most predictable thing about childbirth is its unpredictability. There are many indicators that contribute to a healthy delivery, but no one can guarantee anything. If you focus on being informed, prepared and having a positive experience, rather than a perfect one, you are more likely to set yourself up for success.
- You think it will teach you how to eliminate all pain or discomfort. There are as many views on childbirth as there are people on the planet. The truth is perception is reality. History tells us women have been trying to eliminate the discomfort of childbirth since the beginning of time. Whether you desire pain medication or not, or whether you have vaginal or surgical birth, you are going to feel something! Focusing on how you will approach whatever situation fate presents no matter the outcome can help you remain both realistic and optimistic.
- You think it will make your partner an expert childbirth coach. Asking someone to coach the Super Bowl who's never played a game of football is a huge request. The same can be said for childbirth. Men and Women who have never had babies can make fine Midwives and Physicians, but they've spent a lot of time studying to do so! Just because someone is a father or mother doesn't mean he or she is wired to become a childbirth expert or have the experience necessary to support you in the way you need in childbirth. If you want a coach, you'll be much better off hiring a doula who can help your partner enjoy the birth of your baby and be involved at the level he or she is best suited. A great childbirth class will help your partner be involved at the level he or she is most comfortable doing so, so they can enjoy the birth of their baby too!
Top 3 Reasons you Should Take a Childbirth Class
- You want to increase your confidence. Many women have fear and anxiety about childbirth for a variety of reasons. Learning about how capable your body is of birthing your baby and how many things can go RIGHT will reduce fear and increase confidence in your overall experience. Don't wait until it's happening to you to find out what's going on! Childbirth preparation will normalize all the things about labor and delivery that would otherwise feel foreign. Your class should also emphasize how your unique personality and makeup have perfectly prepared you for your unique experience!
- You want to communicate and connect with the people supporting you with medical and emotional care. A great childbirth class will give you tools you need to understand the language of your nurses, doctor, midwife, doula and communicate your wishes. It is incredibly empowering to be able to say what you want and more importantly, WHY you want it! It's important to plan for the process collaboratively with your Care Provider and make sure everyone, including your partner, friends and family are on the same page so you can enjoy the birth of your baby!
- You want resources to help you if and when you need them. In many ways, childbirth education is like insurance. You learn about options and procedures ahead of time so you aren't surprised or shocked when they are presented. You have an opportunity to think things through ahead of time so that if your path ends up going in a direction you didn't expect, you know how to navigate it. Again, the most predictable part of childbirth is its unpredictability. You may have no difficulty breastfeeding whatsoever, but in the case you do, you'll be glad your instructor told you about Lactation Counselors should you need them!
Find the class that's right for you
There are plenty of options out there, so it's important to find what's right for you. Your Birth Experience (YBE) recognizes there are many methods and mindsets that help women and their families birth confidently. At YBE, we want to empower you to be in tune with who you are and what you need so you can make truly informed decisions in birth that are right for you. Check out our DIY Childbirth Class option, or see if there is a YBE Instructor near you!