Why do I even need to take a Childbirth class? I’m just going to get an epidural...

We know that the majority of parents do not take a childbirth preparation course and there are many possible reasons for this (too costly, too time-consuming), but overall, the general consensus is that mothers-to-be are just planning to check into the hospital, let their doctor or midwife “get them through it” and to have an anesthesiologist at the ready to ensure a pain-free birthing experience. With this being a common view on birth, why even bother with a childbirth education class?

Well, we can suggest several reasons that pregnant women and their partners should take a childbirth preparation course.

1. To become aware of the processes, whether medicated or not, that a woman’s body will go through in the course of labor and birth.

Learning about the anatomy and physiology of birth makes a woman more aware, and thus more in-tune, with what her body is doing and how she may feel while her labor starts and progresses. Her understanding will help her feel calmer, more in control and less frightened.

2. To learn how to manage labor before getting an epidural.

A woman that spontaneously goes into labor is going to have to manage her labor, at the very least, until she can get to the hospital, get through triage, be admitted, be examined and then have the anesthesiologist called (which can take 30-60 minutes or more depending on the time of day and how busy the labor and delivery ward is). She may also be advised to wait to get an epidural until her labor has progressed further. A mother (and her support partner) who has no idea of what is occurring in her body or how to cope with and mentally process her sensations is likely to experience a heightened sense of fear, tension and pain. This is something that is rarely discussed during the course of prenatal visits with care providers and can often come as a shock to mothers when labor begins and they find themselves without resources or coping techniques.

3. Lack of pain and satisfaction with the experience do not always correlate.

Pain levels have little to do with a woman’s satisfaction with her birth! As stated in this article, “Remember that labor pain is more than a physiological process; coping with labor pain is emotional and complex and results in feelings of fulfillment and achievement for women. Therefore, satisfaction with labor is not necessarily related to the efficacy of pain relief.” A woman is more likely to feel satisfied with her labor if she is supported, feels “in control,” respected and cared for, regardless of the pain she may experience during the process.

4. To make the best choices for yourself and your baby.

To understand what interventions may be suggested or administered and to become aware of the benefits and drawbacks of each one. Even if a woman fully intends to have an epidural, it (as with all other interventions) does not happen in a bubble. There are IV’s to be administered, continuous fetal monitoring for the remainder of labor, the loss of mobility, an injection into the spine to be considered, and several side effects that could, and commonly do, occur. It is not simply the skilled anesthesiologist that will breeze into the room to rescue a woman from her discomfort, or the possibility of experiencing it.

    We don’t expect that all women who take a childbirth course and learn about their options will choose to have an unmedicated, natural birth, but we do believe that helping them become aware and informed, will help them feel powerful and more satisfied with their birth experience regardless of their choice of pain management. And we know that this information, and so much more, can be conveyed and discussed during thoughtful, evidence-based childbirth education classes.

    Now it’s your turn...

    Should expectant women and their partners take a childbirth preparation course? If no, why not? What are the benefits of a childbirth class? Share your comments below.


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    • Sarah

      Absolutely expectant parents should take some sort of birth education! Knowledge is power, the more informed you are the more you are capable of making decisions in your own birth journey. I’m a doula and strongly encourage my clients to take a birth ed class, or at least attend free information nights/read books/watch a few videos. Also, hire a doula! I said this before I was one. They are monumental to having a birth that you feel respected in and proud of!

    • Susan

      Great article. Thank you! I’m teaching my first (for pay) class in my home right now, using your materials of course. I have 2 couples: 1 wants an epidural and 1 wants to avoid using pain medications. I love the contrast in orientation so far and what questions each couple brings up. I agree with all of the points you made. I am trying to re-think everything I know about birth and emphasize what these couples really need to know. It’s really stimulating so far. One of my deep held beliefs is that it’s a little risky to trust too much in the epidural because sometimes it doesn’t work well or is delayed. Better have multiple strategies. Thanks again for the article.

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