When Should You Attend Childbirth Classes?

When Should You Attend Childbirth Classes?

Are you pregnant, and wondering when you should attend childbirth classes?

Birth classes are an important part of the pregnancy experience.

Knowing this, many pregnant couples aren’t sure when they should attend childbirth classes.

Birth Education Class – When Should You Attend Childbirth Classes?

There are so many types of birth education classes available, parents-to-be often feel overwhelmed, and leave the choice to the last moment.

In this article we look at when to take childbirth classes for the best results.

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What Are Pregnancy Classes?

Prenatal, pregnancy or birth classes are aimed at helping you learn about your options for giving birth and what to expect during labour.

There are several different ways in which this information is presented. Classes might be independent, hospital based or have a special focus.

There might also be limits on what is available in your area. Some classes are available online, such as BellyBelly’s Immersion Program.

What you actually learn from the birth class will depend on the type you choose and where you’re giving birth.

Hospital based antenatal courses might cover some, or all, of the following:

  • Maternity ward tour
  • Information about hospital policies for labour and birth
  • Breastfeeding
  • Early parenting care.

Unfortunately, there is no requirement for hospitals to provide evidence-based education. The information can be very biased towards the individual hospital’s preferred approach to birth, and tends to accommodate their policies.

Read Hospital Birth Classes Are Sabotaging Women’s Birth Plans, Say Midwives to understand how this can affect your birth. 

Independent classes range in their approach, but they are generally more focused on helping you make informed decisions about your care.

You can read more in 9 Ways Independent Birth Classes Can Help You Get Better Results.

Research shows good quality birth classes can result in better birth outcomes for women and babies.

When Should I Sign Up For Birth Classes?

Ideally, you should first research what is available, and how it fits in with your birth preferences. Then book as soon as possible.

Even if your due date is months away, it is better to have secured a place than to be disappointed later when the class is fully booked.

Over the course of your pregnancy, you are likely to read information that will help you decide on the type of birth you want to have.

This might mean you need to change, or add to, the type of course you’ve already booked into.

As a general rule, make sure you’ve registered for your childbirth class by the time you’re 20-24 weeks pregnant.

When Should You Attend Childbirth Classes?

Ideally, you should start your birthing classes early enough to have 8-10 weeks of pregnancy still to go.

This usually means you will begin when you are about 30-32 weeks pregnant.

It will give you time to practise what you have learned in class, and think through any new information you have been given.

You can research and act on this information as well as talk to your care provider about options.

You can finalise your birth plan and ensure your birth support team is on board.

It also allows you time to consider changes that might be necessary.

For example, you might learn about vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC), and find out your chosen care provider isn’t supportive.

It gives you time to consider changing care providers or negotiating the support you want.

If you take birth classes later, you might miss out on the course you really want to do. You also might be unable to finish them if your baby is born before 38 weeks.

Towards the end of the last trimester, most pregnant women are too tired and uncomfortable to be out in the evenings, or for long periods at the weekends.

Can I Take Birth Classes Earlier?

Some parents-to-be think it might be a better option to take birth classes early – for example in the first or second trimester.

Unless there are circumstances that mean you and your partner can’t attend birth classes together later, it’s probably better to wait until you are further along in your pregnancy.

In the first trimester, you are more focused on your pregnancy and your growing baby.

Learning about your options for birth is important and gives you plenty to think about and to research.

However, taking birth education classes early also means there is a lot more time for you to forget what you have learned when labour begins.

The first trimester isn’t the ideal time to attend a childbirth class for a number of reasons:

  • Early pregnancy symptoms mean you’re less likely to be able to focus on and retain information. Trying to learn about contractions when you’re suffering morning sickness or unable to stay awake is tough.
  • You’re not showing yet. You are much more likely to be interested in the process of labour and birth when your belly is bigger and you’re closer to the reality of birth.
  • The risk of miscarriage drops after 12 weeks, so it makes sense to wait until later.

Childbirth Classes And Breastfeeding

You probably know breastfeeding is the optimal choice for your baby after birth.

Many mothers-to-be, however, have a number of questions and concerns about breastfeeding.

In countries like Australia, the US and the UK, babies are breastfed exclusively for only a short time after birth.

In an effort to raise the level of exclusive breastfeeding rates, breastfeeding education is becoming more accessible to parents-to-be.

Taking a childbirth class at 30-32 weeks means you’re able to focus on breastfeeding information as well as on topics related to birth.

It gives you time to do further research into breastfeeding education and support in your area.

Having breastfeeding education helps you understand it is a skill that can take time to learn.

Most reasons for women giving up breastfeeding relate to poor support in the early weeks, when breastfeeding is a challenge.

First Trimester Birth Education

Although taking birth classes in the first trimester isn’t recommended, this shouldn’t stop you from becoming as informed and prepared as possible.

The earlier you research your birth options, the better able you’ll be to choose the setting, and a care provider who will help you achieve your birth preferences.

This will also help you to decide the best childbirth class for you and your circumstances.

A woman who has a known medical condition and is high risk can plan for a positive birth experience by being informed of risks and benefits in her situation.

Women having healthy, low risk pregnancies can look at all their options for birth.

For example, you might hear about caseload midwifery programs, or even home births, and decide to find out more.

Do I Really Need To Attend Childbirth Classes?

It can be tempting to skip birth classes, especially if this isn’t your first pregnancy.

Every labour and birth is different. Because your sister had an easy, straightforward birth, you might assume you will, too. Or, because your mother had to have a c-section, you will too.

Not true. There are many factors that affect how your birth unfolds. These factors might be present in one birth but not another.

They can include the birth support on offer, your care provider’s attitude, and your birth setting.

Even experienced mothers can benefit from updating their knowledge between births.

Partners also really benefit from childbirth classes. After all, you want their support during labour and birth, so they need to know what to expect.

Just remember, no matter how well prepared and educated you are, birth can be unpredictable.

Childbirth classes can help you roll with whatever happens and make the best choices for you and your baby.

Recommended Reading:

The TRUTH About Natural Birth
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Sam McCulloch Dip CBEd CONTRIBUTOR

Sam McCulloch enjoyed talking so much about birth she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she writes novels. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.


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