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Getting the Most Out of Your Childbirth Class

Starting Out

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I remember all too well the sixth session of my first childbirth class. My wife and I had been trying to “get pregnant” for almost three years and we were finally in the second trimester of a successful pregnancy. We had been through the Lamaze classes and learned about exercising techniques, kegels, breathing strategies and found new uses for tennis balls in an old sock. Now was the time for the infamous childbirth film. For a man who can’t stand the sight of blood, it was time to get out for a breath of fresh air, much the embarrassment of my partner. But eventually, most of the other dads joined me outside the door of the training room, none of us quite ready for one the neatest experiences of our lives.

The intensity of the film and my nausea notwithstanding, I was ready for the birthing experience, thanks to an excellent series of childbirth classes. It has been 21 years since that experience of being in the delivery room with my wife, and it is still an experience that I will never forget. And I never became queasy or sick to my stomach when the real thing transpired. There was instead a feeling of awe and reverence. But I think that opportunity came because I was prepared.

So, new first time dad, the time has come to register for your childbirth classes. Often, these classes are offered through the hospital where Junior will be born. Or you may want to select a program through another source. But get signed up and get ready for a major life experience.

Different Kinds of Classes

A British doctor named Grantly Dick-Read, the author of landmark book Childbirth without Fear, is the source of most of the information in today’s childbirth classes. Dr. Dick-Read recommended the need for education and his teaching method included lectures, exercise, and a focus on breathing and relaxation techniques. Though all birthing classes provide the same basic types of information, each method offers a different philosophy about pregnancy and birth. The two most common methods in the United States are the Lamaze technique and the Bradley method.

Lamaze. The Lamaze technique is the most popular method in the United States. The Lamaze philosophy suggests that birth is a normal, healthy process. The goal of Lamaze is to explore all the ways women can find strength and comfort during labor and birth. Classes focus on relaxation techniques, but they also encourage the mother to condition her body's response to pain through training and practice (this is called psychoprophylaxis). This conditioning is meant to teach expectant mothers constructive responses to the pain and stress of labor (for example, controlled breathing patterns) as opposed to counterproductive responses (such as holding the breath or tensing up). Other techniques, such as distraction (a woman might be encouraged to focus on a special object from home or a photo, for example) or massage by a supportive coach, are also used to decrease a woman's perception of pain.

Bradley. The Bradley method (also called "Husband-Coached Birth") believes in a natural approach to childbirth and in the involvement of the baby's father as the birth coach. A major focus of the Bradley philosophy is the avoidance of medications whenever possible. Other strategies involved in the Bradley method include the importance of nutrition and exercise during pregnancy, relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing and concentration on body signals) as a method of coping with labor, and the encouraging birth parents to become active, informed participants in the birth process.

Other Methods. There are several other types of birthing classes available. Some include information from the two previously mentioned techniques, and some are offshoots that explore one particular area. Two options that might be available in your area are active birth classes that teach yoga techniques to prepare for labor and "hypnobirthing" courses, which use hypnosis as a relaxation technique.

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