The Ideal Length for a Childbirth Education Class

As you begin planning your childbirth education classes, you may be wondering how to best structure your class schedule for maximum effectiveness. Should you offer a small number of longer class sessions, or is it best if you break up the curriculum in a series of smaller, more bite-size chunks?

Here, we’ll take a look at what the ideal length of a childbirth education class is, and the factors to consider as you create your class structure.

The Best Length for Your Class

When it comes to selecting the ideal length for a childbirth education class, the answer is: It depends! Every educator will have a unique set of needs and factors to consider. Class length depends on many different aspects, including:

  • How comprehensive your classes will be—some educators just cover pregnancy and childbirth, but others offer additional information on postpartum life, newborns and breastfeeding.
  • What type of childbirth education class you are teaching—if you are teaching as a certified childbirth educator, your training/certifying organization may require a specific length or structure or provide recommended guidelines. You can explore options for training organizations at our blog Getting Started as a Childbirth Educator.
  • Where you will be teaching and how many hours or weeks your teaching space will be available to you—if you are renting a space, there may be limits to how long or how often you can use the space.
  • How many people are in your classes—the larger the group, the more time it can take for group discussions or activities.
  • The expectations and needs of the population you are teaching—busy parents may prefer a limited number of classes, while other may prefer shorter classes spread out over a number of weeks.
  • Whether your class is for first-time parents or is more of a short, refresher course.

What Research Says About Adult Learning

Before you consider whether a longer or shorter childbirth education class is right for you, it can be helpful to understand what research says about adult learning and adult attention span. For instance, some data that may surprise you is that adults can really only pay close attention to a topic for about 15–20 minutes.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your childbirth education classes should be under 20 minutes! But it does mean that you ideally shouldn’t spend much more than 20 minutes talking/explaining a concept, and that you should vary the activities in the class at least every 20 to 30 minutes to keep parents engaged.

According to research from the Alliance of Academic Internal Medicine, when it comes to planning classes for medical students, cognitive psychology reveals that classes with shorter lecture periods are more effective for adult learning. They suggest limiting lecture time to about 15 minutes, then moving to an interactive teaching session. They propose this is a more effective structure for learning than something like an hour of straight lecturing.

While trying to pack your curriculum into just a few longer sessions may make sense in terms of quickly covering a topic, it’s not likely that parents will retain the information as well in this type of format, the Alliance of Academic Internal Medicine argues. While they are referring to medical students in this instance, the concept of breaking lectures into smaller chunks holds true for any type of adult learning situation, including childbirth education.

What Research Says About Childbirth Education Length

There isn’t much research specifically regarding the best length for a childbirth education class, but the research we do have is good news: That is, any amount of childbirth education is helpful, whether short or long.

A 2022 study published in the Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing looked at different childbirth education lengths and durations and their effectiveness on preparing parents for childbirth. The most important point of the study was that expectant parents who attended any amount of childbirth education had overall decreased odds of using pain medication during labor, decreased chances of having a planned c-section, and increased rates of shared-decision making during labor vs. those who had no education.

However, when the researchers looked at class duration and the number of sessions of childbirth education, they found that less isn’t always more, and that when you break longer sessions into several shorter ones, precipitants experience better results. For example, while there were benefits to childbirth education classes that were one or two sessions long (decreased chances of using pain medication, decreased odds of planned C-sections, increased shared decision making), only classes that lasted for three or more sessions lowered the overall rate of C-section births.

The researchers concluded that when a childbirth education class takes place over multiple sessions, you are able to take advantage of “distributive practice,” which is an evidence-based approach that results in improvements in learning as opposed to more concentrated learning. The researchers overall recommend distributive practices for childbirth education.

How to Keep Participants Engaged in Your CBE Class

Above all, what the research tells us about teaching and student attention is that you shouldn’t spend too much time going over data and teaching new material—i.e., lecturing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to schedule many different sessions to cover your material. You should do what makes sense for you, your curriculum, and your class members.

But it does mean that you shouldn’t spend too much class time doing the same sort of activity, particularly lecturing.

Variety is where it’s at. In addition to going over concepts in childbirth, make sure you use these approaches and guidelines in your classes:

  • No more than 15-20 minutes of lecture at a time.
  • Use visuals, such as photos or videos.
  • Encourage and facilitate small group discussion and Q&A sessions.
  • Reinforce information using interactive materials and props.
  • Frequently incorporate movement breaks.

The Bottom Line

The ideal length of a childbirth education class varies. Longer classes with fewer sessions may work best for parents who want to attend just one or two classes and be done. These may be busy parents or second-time parents who just need a refresher. On the other hand, shorter, more frequent classes might work best

Childbirth Curriculum-Instructor Resource-Plumtree Baby

when you have a lot of material to cover and you want to ensure that participants absorb the material more fully. There may be other factors to consider when it comes to determining your ideal class length. Plumtree Baby's Childbirth Curriculum includes flexible, customizable units and lesson plans to make your planning easy, no matter your scheduling needs.

Whatever you choose in terms of length, make sure that you add variety to your classes. Keep in mind, too, that adult attention spans are limited, so it’s best not to cram a ton of material into one class.

Wendy Wisner, Freelance Writer and Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

Sources

Cooper AZ, Richards JB. Lectures for Adult Learners: Breaking Old Habits in Graduate Medical Education. Am J Med. 2017;130(3):376-381. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.11.009

Hotelling BA. Considerations when using videos in lamaze classes. J Perinat Educ. 2012 Summer;21(3):189-92. doi: 10.1891/1058-1243.21.3.189. PMID: 23730131; PMCID: PMC3392602.

Vanderlaan J, Sadler C, Kjerulff K. Association of Delivery Outcomes With the Number of Childbirth Education Sessions. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2021 Jul-Sep 01;35(3):228-236. doi: 10.1097/JPN.0000000000000579. PMID: 34330134; PMCID: PMC8555673.

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