The Power of Group Discussions in Childbirth Classes: Mastering Facilitation

When you consider all the important information you want to impart during a childbirth education class, it may be tempting to plan on spending most of the time lecturing. After all, you’re the instructor and there is a lot of information to cover. The problem is, research has found that students don’t really retain a great deal of information from lectures. According to The National Training Laboratory's (NTL) Learning Pyramid, students retain about 5% of what they learn from lectures. On the other hand, they retain about 50% of what they learn from discussions.

Additionally, a study from 2014 found that students in classes where lecturing was the dominant way of learning were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes where more active learning methods dominated.

Lecturing can certainly be one component of your classes, but ideally, you will want to teach using a variety of approaches to maximize learning and attention. As such, it’s usually a good idea to combine lecturing with group discussions—either large group discussions or smaller break-out group discussions.

Here, we’ll take a look at the ins and outs of group discussions in childbirth education classes, and how to make these discussions work best.

The Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Learning

Incorporating group discussions as part of your classes has numerous benefits for parents and can ensure that your classes remain dynamic and lively.

The benefits of peer-to-peer learning include:

  • Increased opportunities for social interaction between parents, which can form bonds and relationships that last even after class has ended.
  • Opportunities for parents to teach peers what they are learning, which reinforces your own knowledge base as you also learn from them.
  • The ability to gain new perspectives from peers.
  • Enhanced comfort levels in class for some, along with encouraging more introverted class participants to open up.
  • Breaks up the monotony of lectures and other activities, which can energize parents and increase their attention and retention.

How to Manage Group Discussion

While group discussions can be very beneficial, they aren’t without challenges, such as:

  • Discussions can quickly veer off topic.
  • One or two students may dominate the discussions.
  • Disagreements (sometimes strong) may occur.
  • Group discussions may not be the best way to engage introverted students.

So, how exactly can you manage these issues that may come up? Consider these tips.

Set Ground Rules

Define some ground rules at the beginning of class to help shape your class discussions. Rules may include:

  • Treat one another with respect.
  • No name calling or interrupting.
  • Try to stay on topic.
  • Listen attentively, even to those who disagree with you.

Create a Positive Mood

The way that people interact with each other is dependent, at least in part, on the mood that you set and what you model as the instructor/facilitator. As such, modeling healthy communication with your students, such as active listening, and responding kindly and calmly to questions, will go a long way in setting up a positive “vibe” in your classroom. Similarly, doing some ice breakers before group discussions can be helpful, as the more parents get to know one another and feel comfortable with each other, the more likely they are to engage in respectful dialogue.

Keep Conversation on Point and Civil

Probably the most difficult aspect of facilitating group discussions is the fact that they can easily meander; likewise, they can get heated at times. Here are some points to manage moments like these:

  • Restate what participants have said for clarity.
  • Find ways to tie back what was said back to the topic at hand.
  • Ask follow-up questions that help bring the discussion back on topic.
  • If discussions get “testy,” make sure to validate each person’s feelings; often, people are feeling criticized, confused, or misunderstood when discussions go awry.
  • Practice active listening so that each person feels heard.
  • Don’t be afraid of disagreement—find ways to spin it in a positive light, emphasizing that we can learn from different perspectives and that many different ideas can have validity.
  • If discussions are difficult, this may mean that everyone needs a short break to recalibrate, so take those as needed.

Pros and Cons of Group Discussion

Just because peer-to-peer discussion is recommended, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its flaws. When it comes to group conversation, be aware of the pros and cons:


  • Higher engagement, creativity and critical thinking.
  • Breaks up the monotony of class.
  • Parents are more likely to absorb information than from lectures.


  • Less control of information.
  • You may not be able to get as much information out as the same amount of time you would spend lecturing.
  • You may need to help manage different personality types and discussions that go off course.

Managing Different Group Sizes

Childbirth class size varies. Most childbirth classes include 5–15 couples. Larger groups can be great, because you can have lively, enthusiastic discussions, but these discussions can be harder to control or monitor. When you have smaller groups of mostly introverts, group discussions can be challenging if no one feels comfortable speaking up. 

If you have a larger group, breaking the group into smaller groups for discussion can be helpful. Smaller breakout groups tend to be less formal and people may be more comfortable sharing in these groups. One challenge to this approach is that some people may be shy and others may dominate the discussion. Another problem is you can’t oversee all the groups at once.

You can manage some of these problems by giving these small groups specific topics to cover and/or assigning roles to different group members (recorder/secretary, information gatherer, person who will share with larger group).

Bottom Line

Lecturing and small group discussions aren’t the only approaches to include in your classes. In fact, utilizing various types of methods for sharing information and learning is the way to go when it comes to keeping students engaged and meeting the needs of students with different learning styles.

Research has found that adult attention spans only last 15-20 minutes, so it’s best to change learning activities at about this rate.

An effective, well-rounded childbirth education class will cater to different types of learning and learning styles. Try to include some or all of the following in your classes:

  • Visuals.
  • Videos.
  • Hands-on learning.
  • Reflective writing.
  • Brainstorming sessions.
  • Guests who can share their stories of childbirth.
  • Interactive games.
  • Teach-back sessions, where parents become the teachers.

The good news is that you don't need to come up with ideas and activities on your own. Plumtree Baby's Childbirth Curriculum includes ready-to-go interactive and informative teaching strategies. It also includes many teaching tips and ways to help evaluate your instruction.

Wendy Wisner, Freelance Writer and Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)


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Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, et al. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(23):8410-8415. doi:10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Stigmar, M. (2016). Peer-to-peer Teaching in Higher Education: A Critical Literature Review. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 24(2), 124–136.

Tullis, J.G., Goldstone, R.L. Why does peer instruction benefit student learning?. Cogn. Research 5, 15 (2020).

University of Arkansas, Fort Smith. The Learning Pyramid.

University of Kansas. Techniques for Leading Group Discussions.

Disclaimer: All content provided is for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and no alterations in exercise should be taken solely on the contents of this website. Consult your physician on any topics regarding your health and fitness. Plumtree Baby, LLC does not assume any liability for the information contained herein, be it direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.

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