Are a first-time parent OR if you've already given birth before and want to approach things differently this time around
Have hired a doula to support you during birth
...we can almost 100% guarantee that your doula wants you to take a childbirth class.
In fact, some doulas feel so strongly about this that they require their clients to take birth classes in order to work together.
This applies whether you're planning to birth in a hospital, at a birth center, or at home. In our community, one of the most prominent midwifery groups requires all their first-time parents to take a full birth class series, whether or not they plan to hire a doula for their birth.
We took an informal poll in our local doula community asking how birth doulas feel about their clients taking a birthing class in addition to hiring a doula. 100% of doulas who responded said they love and encourage it.
So why is it such a big deal? It doesn't make sense to hire a doula AND take a class.
There are 3 main reasons it may not make sense on the surface to hire a doula AND take a class:
Cost. With most doulas costing $800-$1,500 and childbirth class series ranging from $400-$500, many parents have to weigh the options. Sometimes the conclusion is that a doula will be a better investment in the long run. Paying for both a class and a doula up front can be off-putting or just plain out of reach for many families.
Time. Most childbirth class series meet between 4-10 times for 2+ hours each session. That's a looooong commitment for expecting parents to make. Since most working parents don't get time off until very close to baby's expected due date, it can be tough to fit in all of these commitments. And let's not forget all the other time-consuming tasks, appointments, and gatherings that come along with preparing for a baby!
Redundancy. It's easy to feel that a class would give you the same information your doula would, and vice versa... except that a doula will actually be with you in person during birth. When considering taking a class in addition to having a support person present at birth, it seems like it makes more sense to choose one or the other.
What kind of class are we talking about here?
We should be specific when we say "birthing class." What we're talking about isn't the 2-hour session at the hospital that includes a tour of the maternity ward.
We're talking about a series of classes that covers a wide range of topics and options. Sometimes these classes are in the form of a weekly group class that meets for several weeks in a row. Other classes are offered in an "intensive" or "immersion" format where parents attend two day-long sessions instead of several weekly sessions. Some childbirth prep teachers (like ourselves) offer private birth classes in parents' own homes.
Sometimes these series are held at the hospital where you plan to have your baby. Other classes taught by independent childbirth teachers are held outside of the hospital setting in yoga studios, birth centers, or other venues.
It can be hard to understand the differences between a birth class and a doula's role in preparing you for labor. But there is growing consensus in the doula community that a quality childbirth preparation class series can be a perfect complement to doula support.
This isn't to say that doulas don't teach.
Part of a doula's role is to support parents with information when they need it. As doulas, our goal is to help you get the information you need in order to make decisions that are best for you and your family. But we just don't have time in prenatal visits to help parents learn what they need to know in order to make informed choices about everything that might pop up all throughout labor.
If you're wondering about epidural vs. narcotic pain relief, or want to know about routine newborn procedures, or have a question about how you'll know it's time to start pushing, your doula can help.
But doulas just don't have time to give you a full-length course.
Let's not forget practice!
When preparing for birth, one of the biggest things parents are often lacking is an opportunity to learn and practice coping techniques. Labor can be intense for everyone involved - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
When you take a birth preparation class series, you'll have a chance to try some laboring positions and coping tools. And your partner will have a chance to practice supporting you through these processes. (Side note: If you'll have a partner, family member, or friend with you in labor, it's a GREAT idea to bring them along to your birth class for this reason.)
Of course, this is very important for those planning to labor without pain medication. We strongly recommend that all our clients planning an unmedicated or natural birth take a class if they've never had a labor like that before. In fact, we created a birth doula package option that includes a class series for this very reason!
But even if you're of the getting-the-epidural-the-second-labor-starts mindset, the likelihood that will actually happen is quite low. Chances are you'll need to get through at least some contractions mostly on your own. Learning some techniques ahead of time that can help you do that is well worth it.
With that said, here are 6 reasons your doula will be delighted if you take a childbirth class:
Doulas are not childbirth educators (unless they are). Most doulas have learned skills and techniques to support clients in labor and are very good at that side of things. But not all doulas have the background or training as a childbirth educator. There are some who have (we're raising our hands), but we would venture to say that less than 1 in 10 doulas are also trained to help parents prepare for birth by teaching classes.
When parents who have hired a doula expect that person to be their teacher as well, it takes the focus away from the job they actually trained for and love. It muddies the waters and makes it more difficult for the doula to accomplish what they need to during prenatal visits. Take a class on your own and then talk to your doula about lingering questions you have. Delight your doula by letting them be your doula, not your teacher. (Unless they ARE a teacher and you've also hired them for a class!)
Parents who take a birth preparation class series have a much better idea of how their doula can actually help them. Childbirth classes normally cover a breadth of topics related to pregnancy, labor and birth, newborn care, feeding your baby, and tending to yourself after you have your baby. That's a LOT to talk about! There's a reason childbirth classes require so much time. Doulas simply can't communicate all of that information during their work with you, even with the best of intentions. If you've already learned the basics in class, you'll have a much better idea of the ways your doula can support you throughout the process. Doulas LOVE giving resources, referrals, tips and tricks to clients!
Time with your doula before birth is limited. Most doulas offer 1-2 prenatal visits to get to know each other before your birth. These meetings are only an hour or two long and there is a lot of ground to cover. From catching up on how your pregnancy is progressing, to discussing your preferences for labor pain coping and medications, to talking about when to call your doula during labor, those prenatal visits tend to fly by. There isn't much extra time at all, let alone time to cover everything that would be included in a 12+ hour class series.
Prenatal visits with your doula are structured for relationship building rather than learning. Prenatal visits with a doula aren't set up the same way a class is. A doula's primary goal when meeting before labor is to build rapport with their expecting clients. Teaching has a very different set-up because the goal is different. In our classes, we aim to help parents learn, discover, and discuss new things - both about birth and about themselves. This requires a different approach than getting-to-know-you prenatal doula visits.
Preparing ahead of time usually means less teaching during intense moments of labor. If you had to name some scenarios when you're most likely to absorb and remember new information, you probably wouldn't describe a time when you're tired, hungry, exhausted, emotionally taxed, and about to have your life changed forever. And yet, that's often when doulas end up doing a lot of teaching for parents who haven't taken a birthing class before labor.
When you spend time clearing up basic questions, developing an understanding of the labor process, and practicing tools and techniques to help you cope with the intensity of birth beforehand, you've given yourself a great advantage in labor. You'll be able to spend your mental energy where it really needs to be in those intense moments during birth. That makes doulas happy!
Doulas love to see parents working together, spending focused time together preparing themselves for one of life's biggest initiations. When you spend the time and money to take a birthing class, you are investing in yourself, in your baby, and in your relationship with your partner (if you have one). Classes are often structured to help parents learn to work well together during labor. Doulas are all about oxytocin, the hormone of love. So of course it brings a smile to our faces when we hear that our clients are dedicating time together during their pregnancy to prepare for baby by taking a birth class.
As our client Neal said after taking our class, "Being able to participate together helps us to feel like a team, and to know that no one ever has to go through this stuff alone."