From my first interactions with expectant families, I recommend an independent, out-of-hospital, complete childbirth education class taught by a qualified childbirth educator. In my experience as both a pregnant person and a birth doula, I think the investment in quality childbirth education is worth both the time and money for many reasons.
A good childbirth class will teach you how birth works. Understanding what your body is going to do helps to reduce fear, increase trust, and helps you understand how the various interventions can impact the physiological process of childbirth.
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A complete class will cover everything from pregnancy tips, birth basics, interventions, comfort measures, postpartum, and newborn care. Even if you have a good understanding of all these topics, repetition and exposure to the information via different modalities (hearing, reading, visually, role play, etc) is known to increase retention of information and promote further understanding. This is not information that should be crammed, particularly if you want to prepare for a low-intervention birth.
This vast amount of information takes time to learn, and the time spent in class also allows you to form a relationship with your childbirth educator. When you have a relationship with your instructor, it is much easier to ask those burning questions you may be too embarrassed to ask your doctor or midwife. Your childbirth educator is also likely to be extremely familiar with the range of options available in your area and can refer you to community resources. Importantly, if you come to the realization that what you want for your birth care is very different from your provider's usual care, your childbirth educator can provide support and information if you choose to switch providers.
The longer classes, with one session per week for several weeks, also allows you to learn one week, digest the information over time, and come back the next week with any questions. Accelerated classes over one or two long sessions can be exhausting and overwhelming, leading to poor retention of the information. Taking time every week for your class is also a great way to connect with your partner before your family dynamic shifts and grows with your new baby.
The time in class will also allow you to forge relationships with the other expectant families in your class. Modern American culture tends to isolate new parents, and we tend to live long distances from extended families. Your friends may have older children, or may not be starting families at the same time as you. By getting to know others expecting babies around the same time as you will help you to form your support "village" and help you cope with the lifestyle shift that parenthood brings. Knowing that your baby isn't the only one fussing all evening helps tremendously with coping with normal infant behavior, and baby playdates are just the cutest!
Taking a complete class will also necessitate enrolling early enough in your pregnancy that you expect to finish the course before giving birth. As many complete childbirth classes include information on healthy diets, exercise, and habits, you and your baby may benefit from better health if you incorporate healthy practices earlier in your pregnancy.
You are very likely to experience the unexpected in your birth. Make sure that you take the time to learn about your body and how birth works. Invest in your birth and your baby by learning the basics of childbirth, your options, and connecting with other new families. This knowledge, information, and your new relationships will equip you and your birth partner to navigate the unpredictable in childbirth, and promote good health for you and your growing baby. A quality childbirth education course is well worth your investment of time and money.