The vast majority of pregnant women want the very best birth possible, for both themselves and their baby.
This means that they'll probably want to get their hands on the best evidence-based information there is.
Quality childbirth education is a crucial piece of the birth jigsaw puzzle.
A newly released peer-reviewed study found changes to standard hospital birth classes resulted in a huge reduction in interventions, including a 65% lower epidural rate and a 44% lower c-section rate. Find out more in our article here.
Medical benefits aside, it also connects you with a circle of like-minded people, going through the same stage of life. Attending birth classes can result in close friendships, which may be long term as your children grow up together.
Why Can Independent Birth Classes Result In Better Birth Outcomes?
Here are 9 important reasons why independent/private (non-hospital based) childbirth education can help to give you the best chance possible at the most positive birth experience.
#1: Independent Birth Educators Are Specialists In What They Do
When you choose an independent birth educator, they are trained specifically in birth education. Some are also skilled in other areas, and may also be a midwife, doula, natural therapist or other.
Birth education is usually a major component of a private educator’s work, compared to a hospital which may or may not have specialised educators. Many hospitals rotate midwives and even physiotherapists into the role of running birth education classes.
So you never know who you’ll get, what their philosophies and attitudes towards birth are, and let’s face it, they may not even be passionate about birth education. It may simply be a part of their role they are required to do.
Either way, independent educators are passionate about birth education and they educate because they love what they do – and it shows. Independent birth educators are experienced in ways to encourage both yourself and your partner to feel comfortable and engaged – it's part of their specialised training.
One mother recalls attending hospital-based classes in a major private hospital in Melborune, which began like this:
“You all probably want a natural birth right now, but around 40% of you are going to end up with caesareans.”
Sure it might be true (some hospitals have c-section rates even higher than this) but what do you think that comment and attitude is going to do for the morale of those in the class? Are they going to feel hopeful and empowered, or feel like they should just surrender to whatever happens, since they can't control becoming part of that huge statistic?
After the ‘education' continued to go further downhill, thankfully the couple walked out soon after. They went on to have one-on-one private birth education and loved it.
Even if you’ve had a bad experience before, great birth education is so important, so don’t give up – find something better! There’s so much more you can learn from private/independent education that you’ve not even heard in hospital-based classes.
This was exactly the case for me, after I gave birth to my second child. I felt robbed not being told such important information the first or second time giving birth.
#2: Private Education Is Not Based On Policies, But What’s Best For YOU
Firstly, know that policy is not law, so you are within your legal rights to say no if you don't want something done to you (read an important article about informed consent here).
However, hospitals have varying maternity policies, so whoever makes the decisions can influence what you hear, as well as what you can and can’t do.
Policies are often formed to:
- Legally protect the hospital and remove any risk
- Making sure the birth process is efficient and patients birth and leave hospital quickly
- Making things easier or ‘safe’ for staff – even if it’s not in the mother’s best interest
Yes that sounds strange, but in a leading Melbourne private hospital, I have observed midwives refusing to let women birth on the floor (on a mat/squatting etc) due to “occupational health and safety.”
The midwife also said she didn’t want to stand on her head to ‘deliver’ her baby. She then went on to repeatedly tell the mother to lie on her back and get off her hands and knees to make it easier.
Luckily dad firmly said no, but many fathers don't have the confidence to refuse such requests from healthcare providers during childbirth. This is something good birth education classes do teach couples – highly unlikely this would be part of a hospital-based course.
If you’ve had hospital-based birth education (or believe what you see on television!), you might think that’s just how you’re supposed to do it.
“Ahhhh, I need to get on the bed and lie down!” becomes, “Gees it’s really painful in this position and I don’t know if I can cope anymore.”
I had my first two children (now 12 and 14 years old) in a private hospital, and curiously, I unconsciously gravitated towards the bed when I arrived. I guess it happened because the bed is in the centre of an empty room and I felt clueless and unsure of what to do. I had no tools or decent birth knowledge under my belt.
If you’ve had independent education, you would know that pushing while on your back is not only more painful, but much less effective – in fact it’s THE least productive position to push in. Why?
Because your uterus contracts outwards (or upwards if you’re lying down) from your body. This means it will be working against gravity if you are lying down. Women in labour naturally want to lean forward, so it makes sense to work with it.
Your pelvis is also least open when on your back, whereas squatting gives you up to 30% more pelvic space. That's something else I learnt after I had given birth, and it would have been very helpful. But it's simply not what you tend to hear in hospital classes.
Remember a hospital is a business and has business issues to consider firstly and foremostly. They don’t open with the premise to give women the best experience possible, but to have a functioning maternity unit and a financially successful business. This means serving as many women as quickly and efficiently as they can. Which is a shame for mothers and babies who need time.
#3: You’ll See Birth DVDs Designed To Inspire Not Frighten
Believe it or not, there was (hopefully still isn't!) a birth DVD that’s been in circulation for years in some hospitals, where the labouring woman is yelling, ‘Get me a gun so I can shoot myself.’
This and many other DVDs have result in couples walking out of their classes feeling like they cannot cope with a vaginal birth. All this does is further convince them that they actually do need drugs for the birth – just like all their friends have told them.
There are many factors that result in how a woman copes during labour, and this is a big blow from the start.
The DVD I saw when I was having my first baby was a mother in a hospital bed, screaming in pain. She begged for an epidural and then she was really happy. What sort of message do you think this sends out to a first time, nervous expectant mother and father?
The DVDs some hospitals show are definitely not productive or appropriate, whereas DVDs you see in independent classes are very inspiring, empowering and show you the potential of your own body.
#4: You’ll Learn Many More Tools And Options For Natural Pain Relief
Both yourself and your partner will have more confidence on how to cope with the tougher parts to labour if you are given more options and tools for natural pain relief.
That one thing that ends up being your lifesaver, helping you get through without pain relief, may be so simple.
If you happen to be in a class which skims this part of the education or omits it altogether in preference of pharmaceutical pain relief, then thats the path you are most likely to take. This is because you don’t know any other options and you just cannot think about it and what you want in labour (apart from wanting to get the baby out – NOW!).
You are also being given an important insight into the philosophy of the hospital when they teach pain relief is only available in the form of drugs.
I remember a client telling me that her hospital (a large Melbourne private hospital) had birth classes which was very detailed about pain relief – there was lots of information about epidurals and other drugs. I ended up asking a midwife during her labour why this was so. Her reply?
“Well most women walk in here wanting epidurals, so we just teach them what they want to know about.”
Too bad for the woman that would like to labour without one.
#5: You Will Find Out ALL Your Options For Childbirth
Again, independent birth educators do not operate based on policy, but what is possible for you – what options and rights you have as a labouring couple.
There will be no ‘we do this’ or ‘we do that’ only, ‘you could choose to do this’ or ‘you could choose to do that’ – with the pros and cons both ways.
It is a much more balanced view of what’s possible, with the view that your body is extremely capable – and not just what everyone else is like.
#6: Because You Do Get What You Pay For
Birth educators educate for a living, their livelihood depends on presenting great classes which couples enjoy. Great word of mouth feedback comes from their clients who leave the classes feeling great about birth – informed, empowered and educated.
So it’s in their best interest to make sure the class is worth it to you, since it’s their own business and not someone else’s. Some hospitals offer their classes for free, some don’t – either way your money is best invested in independent education.
I was shocked at how much I wasn’t told in a hospital class, after attending independent classes during my training as a birth attendant. I even felt angry for some time – the care factor is so much more evident during independent classes. The educators genuinely want you to have a great experience and have great philosophies about birth.
#7: You Know Who You Are Getting
Independent birth educators often operate individually or in a small team, so you will know who you are getting.
You will be able to find out what their testimonials and feedback are like before you go, so you know you are getting a great service. They are also happy to take your calls and questions before and after the classes and trying to locate them isn’t as difficult as in a big establishment!
#8: Helps Partners Get More Involved
Because more time is spent on tools you can use, and the classes are more in depth in general, fathers-to-be learn much more and feel more comfortable getting involved – which is good for dads-to-be and good for mum-to-be.
It’s so important that a partner learns and understands what’s going on during labour, as a support person who panics or is unsettled in labour will have the same effect on the mum – she needs someone solid as a rock to get her through.
Pain relief is often used by mothers to help escape that horrible feeling of not being supported, or when she feels frightened or anxious.
If a partner only knows that if there is pain, the only way he can help is to offer pain relief, then thats likely where the birth will go.
Men tend to be ‘fixers’, they like to fix, and there is nothing wrong with that, but this puts them very much outside their comfort zone in birth, where there is nothing he can do to take it all away. Labour is not a time for saving or fixing, but encouraging and reassuring!
#9: It Will Help Better Form Your Birth Preferences (aka Plan)
If you are more aware of your options and choices, then you will be able to have a more in-depth discussion with your partner and your support people about the choices in your birth plan.
You will have more control over what you want, rather than feeling you have to ‘leave it to the experts.’
You don’t need to be an expert to have a great, empowered birth, but you do need to inform yourself and your support people and make choices based on what you have learnt.
And the best, unbiased place to learn about your REAL options and gain more knowledge and tools for your birth is through independent childbirth education.
Where Can I Find An Independent Birth Educator?
If you’re looking for an independent birth educator, take a look at the birth education section of our products and services directory.
Alternately, NACE are the National Association of Childbirth Educators, and can help you locate a member in your area.
For the Men
A great book I recommend to all men is Men At Birth by David Vernon. It’s a great book written by Australian men, for men.
Important to Note
While there are some brilliant birth educators out there, it’s really important that every birthing couple realises that it’s not birth classes alone that will get them across the line.
Yes, they are a great start and will likely have you thinking about lots of things you hadn’t already thought about.
But all your choices as a whole will shape your birth, not just education. The carer you choose, the hospital (or not!) you birth in, your support people and the philosophy of all of those things and the books you read can impact on what sort of birth you end up having.
For example, if you really want a natural birth and have chosen an Obstetrician and private hospital – then you have chosen the statistically worst option for avoiding interventions including pain relief, caesarean sections, assisted delivery – there are plenty of pieces that make up a puzzle.
Check out our article, Natural Birth – Giving Yourself The Best Chance for more information.
© Copyright 2009 by Kelly Winder, All Rights Reserved. Article may not be copied in part or full without written permission.