Why Are Independent Birth Classes Important to You?
Interview by Anastasia Poland
Q. Can you talk a little about why independent birth educators are different than ones provided by a hospital?

Jaci: Generally, a nurse is assigned to teach classes in the hospital, and she is given the curriculum to teach based on hospital procedures and policies. Some of the nurses are fantastic teachers, while others are less than enthusiastic about working the extra hours. Hospital teachers do explain different birth options, but do not delve deeply into natural birth possibilities. A hospital class simply prepares students for a hospital experience. You may be thinking, “But I’m having the baby in the hospital,” so it seems to make sense to stick with learning hospital policy. However, if you’re hoping for a natural birth, the hospital tour covers what you need to know about the environment there, and a good, independent class gives you the full scope of understanding of birth and your choices. One of the main differences is in education – hospital educators are typically highly educated and experienced in the medical aspects of birth, while an independent instructor’s in-depth education is focused on the mother, baby and partner, and the details of their transition through pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum.

An independent instructor will teach you what you can expect in a hospital, but goes the extra mile to give you tools, practice and bonding time with your partner and baby that you won’t get in other settings. A good independent teacher will help you ascertain your best coping mechanisms for pain, will lead you through multiple relaxation practices, and hand you a multitude of different tools that will get you through the transition of birth. Independent instructors work hard to empower students as consumers — to emphasize that parents have choices in their births, that they are participants in informed consent, and that they have the power to exercise their rights in the hospital.

I happen to work as a doula in the hospital, so I have an extra advantage at understanding the ins and outs of that environment – and have a good relationship with the doctors, midwives and hospital staff in this area. With any independent instructor, you should find out their experience with, and attitude toward, their local hospitals before choosing their class.

Q. Is the content really that different in an independent class, compared to the content offered in a hospital class?

Jaci: Independent classes include more educational hours – and therefore, so much more material is covered. More DVDs are provided, and the beauty of what you see there are the varied options you can have in a natural birth, not just hospital settings. Independent classes open up parents’ eyes to the possibilities of birthing in a variety of positions, from birthing chairs to squatting, from in a birth tub to kneeling. In addition, independent classes offer MUCH more time practicing assistive techniques and relaxation, so you can get into those positions. You’ll receive more information and help on walking through the stages of labor and how to cope with what each stage brings. The content in independent classes tends to be more empowering, hands-on and less clinical.

Oftentimes, hospitals offer 1-day or weekend-long, crash-course classes, and studies show that very little is retained from these classes. No deep learning happens in a crash course, and you don’t get to “take the test” (i.e. have your birth) at the end of the class, so once you are ready to have your baby, you may feel quite unprepared and suddenly not in charge of what is happening to you.

Independent classes take into account the importance and beauty of connection time with your baby and partner before the baby arrives. These classes fosters a place for deep absorption of the topics at hand, lively discussion, exploration of options, unearthing fears, and answering (what may feel like) “silly” questions. Independent classes tend to be more nurturing and often feel “safer” for students to bring up anything that is on their minds.

An independent class offers many more resources in the community that extend beyond birth and into parenting your newborn – other birth choices, breastfeeding support, support groups in the community etc. Hospitals typically are only able to offer hospital resources, and for a short amount of time.

Q. Isn’t a hospital required to give the same information as an independent instructor gives?

Jaci: In a word, no. A hospital isn’t legally bound to give any information that reaches beyond hospital policy. However, they are limited by policy and liability, so are not able to suggest time-honored practices in birth that are more natural. Of course, hospitals have a medical standpoint, and an independent instructor regards birth more holistically, and is able to offer both hospital and natural perspectives.

Q. Some partners aren’t that enthused about attending classes. Do you cover anything in class that focuses on someone besides the pregnant mom? Do I really need to bring someone else?

Jaci: Absolutely. I like to emphasize how important a partner’s role is in the birth. They are the support! When the woman is in labor, she may not be able to explain what she needs; she is fully in her process. She certainly can’t explain what she learned in class at that point. In class, I teach the partners that they are key in helping to build what I like to call a “relaxation tool bag,” – emotional, mental and physical support where the partner is able to flex back and forth intuiting what the mom needs, based on what they’ve learned in class. Statistically, women do better in birth when they have an attentive birth partner. It’s also important to note that a birth partner can be a friend or family member – anyone who can give the best, loving support possible in birth. The class also helps a partner to realize what’s expected of them, and that they also need support through this life-changing event. The class helps mom and partner make educated decisions together on what tools and resources are necessary in their birth. Classes help get whomever is attending the birth on the same page.

Q. Bottom line, why would someone decide to take an independent class instead of a hospital one?

Jaci: I’d say the depth and quality of the independent classes’ content, and the fact that the classes focus on you and your needs are what sets them apart. If you are hoping for a natural birth, you’ll have more tools and resources at your fingertips. Independent classes teach you to communicate with the hospital staff in a positive way to get your needs met in a medical environment. You learn what questions to ask in a hospital setting and how to advocate for yourself. Informed consent is explained and emphasized. Even if the hospital offers a “natural class,” the class will still be based on hospital policy, emphasizing what the hospital offers that is natural – showers, birthing rooms, labor tubs – but they don’t have the time to give you the details, tools and resources you receive from an independent class. Feedback that I’ve received from my students is that they truly appreciate that they can call at any time with questions that come up. Besides class time, an independent instructor is a resource at any time – whereas once a hospital class is finished, students have no one to speak to afterwards. My students also love having a birth class reunion, and they love the relationships that they’ve built in their community via my classes. So often these relationships made in pregnancy carry through into parenting and foster long-term friendships for my students and their children.

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