We couldn't find a childbirth class we liked so we made up our own

August 30 2013 | Guest post by Becca Spence Dobias
By: amrufmCC BY 2.0
Soon after getting pregnant, I started looking into childbirth classes, and I quickly became convinced that Bradley classes would work best for me and my husband. He's very practical, and everything I read made it seem like Bradley was straightforward, practical learning — this is what you DO to help things go how you want them to. I signed us up and we met after work for our first class.

I knew almost immediately that the class was not what I was expecting it to be. I expected my husband to be a little resistant, but I also expected to feel like I should defend the class. I couldn't. He said he hated how it all felt like a sales pitch for itself, that it tried to tell us, "Yes, you CAN have an unmedicated birth, but only with US!" and I agreed with him. He hated the format of the class, too — the instructor read us questions straight out of the workbook and we wrote down the answers. Not a good learning style for either of us. I don't know how much of this is related to the method, and how much was our particular instructor. I know Bradley classes are great for some people. They just weren't right for us.

We decided we would create our own childbirth preparation plan. I was nervous at first — it felt really risky to drop the well-known method and teach ourselves about something we didn't have experience with. I was worried we wouldn't stick to it without the structure of a class, but we decided, with the support and encouragement of a family friend who used to teach Lamaze, that we would commit.

Group preparation

There was part of me that still wanted to do a class, even though we were creating a custom plan. I wanted to meet other new parents-to-be and to do some reflection in a semi-structured setting. We decided to take a Birthing From Within "intensive" class, which met two Saturdays a month apart for six hours each day. My husband was bit skeptical, but a good sport, and I enjoyed it. This was much more the dynamic I had hoped for at our first class attempt. I got the things I wanted from a group class, it didn't take as much of our time, and we still got to do preparation on our own that was more meaningful and useful for both of us. Pretty ideal.

My preparation

I read three books, and they were all very helpful for me.

Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz helped me prepare emotionally for the rite of passage side of things. It helped me explore my thoughts and feelings about birth and parenthood and work through some fears.

Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke was perfect for emotional preparation for the actual acts of labor, delivery, and parenting. The biggest takeaway for me was that between contractions, your body can actually feel GOOD because of all the endorphins. You just have to be present enough to not spend that time thinking about the pain of the last contraction or fearing the pain of the next one. And for the contractions themselves, be present with the pain. It also had good reminders about being present for, and ok with, however your birth goes.

Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel was great for practical preparation for interactions with my birth team at the hospital. A lot of reading about natural birth had left me prepared for a fight, but this book gave lots of suggestions for how to advocate for what you want without being confrontational. It helped me write a birth plan using positive language and increased my confidence.

I also followed, loosely, some of the practices outlined in Mindful Birthing. I purchased the audio cd and practiced several times with the Body Scan and Yoga tracks. I did physical preparation like kegels and pelvic tilts regularly as well.

Couple preparation

We initially wanted to do preparation as a couple every week, but we ended up skipping some weeks. We created an initial plan with the topics we wanted to cover and ended up adding and changing things as we went along. Here's a rough outline of what we did:

Week 1: Guided audio meditation
Week 2: Create a birth plan
Week 3: Learn about Lamaze principles
Week 4: Practice pain practices from Birthing from Within
Week 5: Guided audio meditation
Week 6: Learn about the stages of labor
Week 7: Practice pain practices from Birthing from Within
Week 8: Learn about C-sections
Week 9: Learn about BRANN (Asking about a suggested intervention's Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives and ask what happens if we do Nothing for Now) and discuss
Week 10: Learn about breastfeeding
Week 11: Learn about cloth diapers and practice with teddy bears

I am currently 35 weeks pregnant and with remaining weeks, we plan to learn more about massage and touch during labor, attend an infant and child CPR class, and do some more meditation.

How to create your own plan

If childbirth preparation doesn't feel like it's working for you either, design your own!

Think about what is important to you to know before giving birth — practically, spiritually, and emotionally. Then find resources that address those topics. Apart from the books I read, we found a lot of helpful videos online. If you aren't sure where to find a particular resource, ask friends and family, or find a like-minded group online.

Consider your learning style. My husband and I both like self-guided and hands-on learning. Just watching a video on cloth diapering wouldn't have been much help, but watching a video and then practicing worked. I also learn by speaking with others, whereas my husband is more introspective. We compromised here by going to the intensive class. I also found support online with other expecting moms.

Consider your existing beliefs and resources. After the Bradley class we attended, I told my husband that I wanted to learn resources for being present with the pain. "Don't we already have a spiritual practice that is exactly about that?" he asked me, referring to our Zen Buddhist practice. This helped guide me toward the Mindful Birthing book and CD. Even if your existing resources for coping with pain or difficulty don't have explicit materials on birth, consider how you might incorporate them!
Be flexible. Our preparation schedule definitely changed over time. We figured out more things we wanted to learn about and decided other things weren't as important. That's one of the great things about creating your own plan — it can change depending on what works!

I can't tell you how well any of our preparation worked yet, but I have a feeling it will do just as well as a more traditional class series. It also felt really great working together to find something that worked for us — that fit with our spirituality and learning styles and didn't feel like an obligation. It made me feel closer to my husband and I think we both got a lot more out of it. Most importantly, I think the act of creating and following through on the plan together itself helped prepare us for the teamwork we'll need for birth and parenting.

  1. I love this! I am a doula and have heard many complaints from clients that birthing classes just weren't for them. Good work! I am definitely going to be sharing this post

  2. I was really surprised by our class. It was two days, six hours each. The first day was about giving birth, and came basically down to: your body knows what to do, you just have to trust that and relax (!) in between contractions. Also, how can your partner support you? There's no recipe that works for everyone, so you think about how you deal with stressful situations in your everyday life and take it from there.
    What I found most helpful, however, was talking about postpartum weeks and life with a baby. It never crossed my mind before because I was so focused on the single event of Giving Birth! So we talked with our partner and in the group about what makes a good parent, how will our relationship change, who will take care of what in daily life, what are our expectations towards each other, what problems might arise, etc. Open communication is so, so important at anytime in a relationship. But having a baby brings so many changes and sleepless nights on top that talking about all this stuff before it happens is really helpful.

    • This! You really need to prep for after the baby comes. Giving birth is the eye of the storm, the really hard stuff comes afterward.

      To the list I would add things like:

      Post par-tum meals- who is in charge of them? How big is the freezer, because you can prep stuff now for after the birth

      Laundry- with cloth diapers there will be lots of laundry. Where is the washer (upstairs, downstairs, same level) and how easy will it be to get to it carrying an infant and a basket of dirty diapers.

      Nursing- does your hospital offer a breastfeeding moms group? what about LLL? Who will you call if nursing isn't going well? How does the chosen pediatrician feel about exclusive breastfeeding (if that is your plan)

      If you don't have a doula for birth, you may still want to look into a post par-tum doula. I didn't have a doula at birth, and don't plan to for the current pregnancy, but I will certainly have a post par-tum doula this time. I need all the help I can get!

        • The two things that were most helpful from the newborn care class I took were soothing techniques (I especially liked Karp's 5 S's, and from what I've heard from other parents not all of them work for all infants, but some combination of them work for quite a lot of infants) and bathing techniques. Bathing a tiny slippery newborn was scary, and while she liked being in the bath it took us several weeks to figure out how to get her dry without her screaming her head off.

      • I didn't find cloth to be that much laundry. I used g-diapers and bought about 3 times as many as they suggest, on ebay. When the muchkin outgrew the tiny and small sizes, they went right back to ebay.

  3. ๐Ÿ™‚ We did something similar–but we were so much less well-organized about it! I have a professional background in healthcare and birth work, and my partner (who has always been a great sport about listening to me talk about placentas) is extremely introverted and has a very independent learning style, so we didn't want to do classes. At 33 weeks I still feel like something is missing (and it's not *just* the fact that my partner hasn't completed any of the books yet!), so I was thrilled to read your post. I've read lots of childbirth books, but I just checked out the e-book of Mindful Birthing from the public library. So far it looks great. You also gave me the important reminder to get my partner to an infant/child CPR class. Thanks!

  4. Just wanted to say that it is totally possible to have an unmedicated birth without taking a class! My husband and I read The Birth Partner and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. I think we preferred the Birth Partner because the other book did seem like it was selling us something, and had a judgmental tone at times. We spent the last trimester reading and preparing, and had a wonderful birth experience. Additionally, I didn't take any breastfeeding classes, but that worked out fine for me as well. I read The Nursing Mother's Companion and the La Leche League book… The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, I think? I also watch tons of latching videos online, but I think I also just got really lucky.

    • See, we have the option to take a 2 hour breastfeeding class from the hospital, and I'm really torn about it. On the one hand, I do want to get as much info as possible – on the other hand, I've read SO MUCH about it at this point! I feel like I know all the surface information, but when the actual time comes, who knows what kind of issues we might face? Regardless of whether I take the class or not, I'll need to see a lactation consultant, and they have those at the hospital – one of my midwives is one as well. I feel like the class isn't going to replace any kind of individualized help that a LC will give.

      You have given me a bit more confidence that I can just educate myself about breastfeeding at home, so I thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. We only had the budget for either the childbirth class or the babycare class and everyone told us that we HAD to do the childbirth class. I really wish I'd done the babycare class instead. By the time we got to the birth class I'd done so much reading and research on my own that I could have taught the class!

  6. YES – this is genius. My husband and I ended up essentially doing this exact thing – we took a birthing class through the hospital I'm delivering at that was offered free through my insurance, and while all of the information about hospital policy, procedure, postpartum things and the tour through labor & delivery was invaluable, the actual birthing technique taught was Lamaze. I personally find Lamaze completely unhelpful for me – I absolutely agree with the breathing through contractions, but the hee-hee-hoo junk frustrates me far more than it helps, we learned.

    So, I'm currently doing essentially the same thing, but with less structure – I've read Mindful Birthing (which I love love, and which gave me the idea that hey, I don't have to necessarily take a class on this – I can just read books and practice at home!), and I'm studying Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, which is CRAMMED full of useful information, particularly about how to find your own style of relaxation and rhythm to help you through childbirth. I'm at 34 weeks now, and my 'homework' with my husband is less structured than the author's, but I feel confident I'll be prepared as I can be when the time comes. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. We could afford either a class or a doula and went with a doula. I never regretted it for a second. She came over 2-3 times to talk with us about what to expect and to gauge how I'd react to childbirth and then was wonderful during labor. Seriously I owe a lot to her. I read Ina May's guide to childbirth and the birth partner and read a lot of birth stories online. The birth partner actually made me kinda anxious because it was like 'now this is the part where she might be getting upset!' so I had to stop reading it.

  8. Congratulations on your up coming baby! My husband and I did take the Bradley classes and I jus wanted to say that it must have been the teacher you had :/ ours didn't make us feel at all like we were being sold anything. But each person will teach/guide differently. I LOVED our classes. I am a huge reader and I still learned a lot in the class. I think if I had to pick the single most important thing I learned was the BRANN. They taught that as well. I think we get far too caught up in what media/drs/nurses etc say and we have forgotten that more often than not we have other options. Granted there are certain circumstances where it's in your best interest to do what they say, and that's fine. But the notion that just bc the dr says they suggest something we must do it is wrong. Unless its a DIRE emergency you have time to ask BRANN. Our instructor pointed out that this is something her and her husband still use.

    I read Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, Natural Hospital Birth, The birth partner, husband coached child birth and a few others. I read a thousand birth stories lol and watched a lot of natural birth videos. That was part of the Bradley class as well, getting rid of the Hollywood version I labor and childbirth and replacing t with reality! SO helpful.

    I wish I had read more about what to do once the baby is here lol.
    Bradley also teaches that human gestation is typically 41.1 weeks long. It's not something he made up but something that he points out. Once I researched that a bit it made me relax more about the "due date".

    You can do it ;). Good luck!! Your self guided training looks really thorough and all that's left is experiencing it ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. My Bradley class was great! Mainly because of the instructor and the other couples in our group though. I am still learning new things from the articles she shares on Facebook. Her posts may be useful to people taking the independent study approach. (:
    https://m.facebook.com/mamabornrva
    Everyone in our group was knowledgeable and well read before the class, yet still learned a lot.
    Have an awesome birth!

  10. We couldn't find a class that worked great for us, either. We read a lot of the books you've listed.

    One thing I did not read or prepare for enough for was postpartum care. I'm five days postpartum, and after a long but totally not complicated homebirth, I was not personally prepared for what I came into. Luckily our midwife was on the ball. If I could pass on any advice to others, it would be to give yourself time to recover, look into suture/perineal/body care suggestions and get things together before the birth. You may not need it, but it's nice to not wake up and realize you have no Motrin (and you really really really want There's a lot of great tools out there that can manage any discomfort you're experiencing, and if your partner or care providers know about your chosen methods they can help you stay on top of your care.

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