Why Are Independent Birth Classes Important?: Questions and Answers

How are independent birth educators different than ones provided by a hospital?

Generally, a nurse is assigned to teach classes in the hospital, and they are 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.” Knowing hospital policy is important, but if you’re hoping for a natural birth, the hospital tour really only covers what you need to know about the environment there, while 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, lead you through multiple relaxation practices, and give you a multitude of different tools that will get you through the transition of birth. Independent instructors work hard to empower students as consumers and emphasize that parents have choices in their births, are entitled to informed consent, and have the power to exercise their rights in the hospital.

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

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

Independent classes include more educational hours; 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, and not just in hospital settings. Independent classes open up parents’ eyes to the possibilities of birthing in a variety of positions, from birthing chairs to squatting, from using a birth tub to kneeling. In addition, independent classes offer much more time practicing assistive techniques and relaxation. 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 one-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 foster 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, such as breastfeeding support, support groups in the community, and more. Hospitals typically are only able to offer hospital resources and information that rarely goes beyond the time immediately postpartum.

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

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.

Some partners aren’t that enthusiastic 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?

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, we build what I like to call a “relaxation tool bag” that the partner can draw up in order to provide intuitive emotional, mental, and physical support during pregnancy and early parenthood, but especially during labor. 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 teaches partners what will be expected of them and helps them understand that they also need support through this life-changing event. Pregnant mothers and their partners are invited to 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.

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

I’d say the depth and quality of content in the independent class and the fact that the classes focus on you and your needs make it the optimum choice. 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 birth class,” that 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. My students have told me that they also 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 generally have no one to speak to afterward. Finally, because independent classes tend to be extended (in my case, six weeks), my students have formed strong friendships and bonds with one another. Some classes have even held birth class reunions! So often these relationships made in pregnancy create communities that carry through into parenting and foster long-term friendships among my students and their children.

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