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Choosing the childbirth education course that’s right for you and your family

Pregnancy Nadine Richardson.  Director of the Birthing Institute Pty Ltd.  Creator of the She Births® course.
How to choose a childbirth education course to suit your family: The essential questions that will save you time, money and help you have the birth experience you deserve.

Over the last 10 years there has been a huge increase in the amount of choice we as couples have for birth preparation.  But how do you choose the antenatal course that is right for you?  Will your partner enjoy going along to the course?  Will it actually make a real difference to your birth experience to learn hypnosis or active birthing?  Courses vary greatly in price, content and philosophy.  The bottom-line, i.e. the actual effectiveness, is not clear until B-day so how does one choose appropriately?

There is no standardising body in Australia or internationally for antenatal education.  Although some organisations have tried to take that role on, none have yet been effective in creating a standardised curriculum or guidelines that educators must follow.

As with choosing the right caregiver the onus is on you as an individual to be informed and decide consciously, with as much information as possible.  Drudgery I know… another thing to research along with the cot, stroller and baby carrier.  However, this is probably the most influential decision you will make on how your birth will ACTUALLY unfold and how your baby will enter into the world.

Within the independent arena there are numerous courses to choose from.  Currently about a dozen types of hypnobirthing options are available and even more variations on active birthing type classes.  And these are the two main polarities in the birthing arena.  There are however, more to choose from in recent years; yoga based preparation courses, calm-birthing both the Australian or the American way, acupressure birth courses and even orgasmic birth classes are taught online.  Even art therapy proposes to give couples all the right tools and principles for birth and beyond.  In my mind all of theses courses lack balance – both in their approach to medicine and also in their approach to the pain relief tool kit needed for birth.

It’s overwhelming right? And no wonder so many women just throw their hands up in despair and do the cheapest, quickest and most convenient option at the local hospital.  However, I would not recommend that if you truly want to have a more natural birth experience.  Because, not all birth courses are created equal and generally our independent courses have a much greater content and tool base you and your partner can learn from.

It might interest you to know that a male obstetrician facilitated some of the very first antenatal education courses within hospitals; considered the ‘grandfather of normal birth, Dr. Grantly Dick-Read.  Dick-Read was a world-renowned obstetrician in London and wrote the book Childbirth Without Fear.  His methods were incredibly simple and ground breaking.  He learnt the art of relaxation from a fellow Indian soldier while serving in WWI in Africa, in the middle of a bomb raid.  And so, the eastern practice of yoga nidra or guided relaxation became then the foundation of antenatal classes for his obstetric clients.

Dick-Read is one of my personal hero’s and his book is a fascinating and empowering read for any pregnant mum.  His 100-year-old philosophy is actually the basis of four major courses in the marketplace today across America, Europe and Australia: Lamaze, Hypnobirth®, Calmbirth® and She Births®.

Active Birthing is the other great contributor to independent birth education models and arose as a movement in the late 1970’s, again from London England by yoga teacher, Janet Balaskas.  Balaskas has written and contributed to many books and her biggest seller (New) Active Birth is still in publication today. Her Active Birthing centre is also still in operation in the UK and holds numerous courses and trainings. Her work takes a different approach to birth and is more about being upright and mobile for birth. Preparing for the physical marathon of birth and understanding how you can work with your body and your baby to have the best outcome.  Active birth is still the basis of many courses in the marketplace too, generally the courses run by independent midwives as it follows their own training and approach, the National Childbirth Trust courses that are taught all over the UK, the Bradley method in America and also the She Births® course.

My first tip that will improve your birth experience greatly and save you both time and money is start by asking your potential educator one very simple question:  Do you include the hypno/calming tools AND the active birthing tools in your course?  Both philosophies and both tool kits make such a huge difference to birth outcomes, but only when they are combined!

As a trained birth attendant over the last 10 years I have sat at the bedside of far too many women who have learnt one approach and be at a complete loss without the other.  If we are too active in our labour then we become completely exhausted calling out for the epidural at 2 centimeters, or, if we have only learnt the calming and relaxation skills then we become totally overwhelmed when baby is posterior or active pushing is required.

Neither sets of skills can be taught in the midst of labour, even by a very experienced Doula.  Because mum’s frontal lobe is so flooded with beta-endorphins this makes it hard for her to cognize or think clearly.  So a change in the game plan, unless you are prepared for it, generally ends up being mum overwhelmed and dad in shock.

But, if that box is ticked and both philosophies are covered in your course then you have saved yourself 2 days and half the money.  Generally, you would have to do an active style course, and another hypno/calm course to receive a comprehensive education and balanced approach to birth.

The other critical questions to ask your potential course provider would be:  Do you give us access to a community of like-minded mums and dads?  Prenatal education is a great time to meet fellow mums and dads and start building support networks.  As you are not going to be at work, those early days can be long and lonely without fellow mums to share it with.  And getting to know a few now makes it so much easier after birth.  Also, being with an educator that creates postnatal mothers groups is a great idea.

Thirdly, I would ask:  Is the course holistic?  As birth is a radical life changing and transformative event I would recommend going to along to a course that not only gives you mental and physical knowledge, but also facilitates the emotional insight and preparation for your relationship changes and touches on some of the sacred significance that birth truly deserves.  Ideally, you would need a course that shows actual videos of different birth experiences, gives you nutritional and exercise suggestions as well as facilitates conversations between you and your partner.  This means that together you can talk about the birth and parenting journey you would like to have and not be fed another persons’ view.  The course should have group question times along with lots of practice of the techniques so Dad feels involved and confident giving support.

That brings us to the last question:  How will you include my partner?  So many dads want to help out at birth but simply don’t know how.  They also mostly, God love them, have to be dragged along to birth classes kicking and screaming.  So it’s best if you find out first what you are going to be taught over the duration.  As well as facilitate conversations between you and him – will the course cover birth plans and hospital protocols?  This will allow Dad to act as your advocate in the hospital system and you to stay focused on breathing and birthing.  Ask what practical tools Dad is taught too.  Is there massage and acupressure, rebozo techniques for malposition?  Will you see photo guides of how a birthing room is set up?  Men need something to DO so if these are not covered then you are in for a very long weekend and a very grumpy husband at the end.

As a mum, prenatal yoga specialist and creator of the She Births® course you could say that I am a little bit biased… but also deeply passionate about making a difference too.  I know that choosing the right birth course sometimes creates the great disparity between having a loving and fond memory of birth or one having one that is fraught with confusion and trauma.  The key to choosing the course that is right for you is the same key you need for your actual birthing day itself.  The key is…be involved in decision-making.

If you can make an informed decision now and choose a highly comprehensive, holistic and partner inclusive course then you are well on your way to being able to make the right decisions in the midst of labour.

A positive birth outcome and higher degrees of maternal satisfaction are both linked to your involvement in all the decisions you make from now on.  Finding the right birth course for your family will take you anywhere between 5 minutes on the phone or half an hour google. Try to spend your money in one place – choose a course that offers both active tools and relaxation skills so you don’t have to double up on weekends and costs.  Make sure that Dad will be happy and skilled up too and that you will meet some lovely people along the way.

Congratulations!  You are on your way to attending an enjoyable and empowering birth preparation course and most importantly one step closer to creating a more gentle, natural and beautiful birth experience together.


Alana would like to thank Nadine for her contribution to our blog.  For more information about Nadine or She Births® please visit http://shebirths.com/.