So you're pregnant, want the very best birth for you and your baby and want to get your hands on as much information as possible! Here's 9 great reasons why independent childbirth education is going to help give you the best chance possible at the most positive experience. So, why should you choose independent childbirth education? Because...
1. Independent Educators Are Specialists In What They Do
When you choose an independent educator, they are trained specifically in birth education. Some are also skilled in other areas including midwifery, birth attendants (doulas), natural therapists and more. Birth education is a major component of an independent educator's work, compared to a hospital which may or may not have specialised educators. Many hospitals rotate midwives and/or physiotherapists into the job 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 like presenting birth education. It may be a part of their job they are required to do. Either way, educators as passionate about education.
Independent educators know the right way to encourage both yourself and your partner to feel comfortable and engaged. You don't want a presenter to start a session with something like this (said in a smug fashion), "You all probably want a natural birth right now, but around 40% of you are going to end up with caesareans anyway." This is what one of my clients told me happened in their classes. Nice positive way to start the session! Sure it might be true (some of our hospitals have caesarean rates even higher than this) but negativity is catching and it's all in how you present it. The class apparently went downhill from there so my clients walked out soon after. They went on to have one on one independent 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! Don't settle for maccas when you can have a lamb roast with all the trimmings! There's lots more you can learn from independent education that you've not heard in hospital based classes.
2. Information is Not Hospital Policy Biased
Hospitals all have varying maternity policies (and know that policy is not law, so you don't have to legally do anything they tell you) so whoever makes the decisions can influence what you hear and what you can and can't do.
Policies can be/are based on reducing potential legislation, making birth progress to their own time preferences so there are beds available, 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 seen midwives refuse to let women birth on the floor (on a mat/squatting etc) because of occupational health and safety apparently (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.
If you've had hospital education (or believe what you see on t.v.!), you might think that's just how you're supposed to do it - "Ahhhh, I need to get on the bed and lie down my back!" which in labour becomes, "Gees it's really painful in this position and I don't know if I can cope anymore." I had my two children in a private hospital and thinking about this bed issue later I found it curious that I had 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, with no tools or decent knowledge under my belt. Lucky I know better since my births.
Most hospitals like you to be compliant and on the bed most of the time, when it's the last place you want to be for a good labour. However, 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 which normally contracts away (or upwards if you're lying down) from your body, which means it will be working against gravity if you are lying down. Women in labour naturally want to lean forward - something your pelvis does when it contracts, 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. Thats something pretty neat I learnt after I had given birth - but not what you'll hear in hospital classes. And if you end up in a private hospital like the one I mentioned, you might not even be able to do that, further reason why they do not have their hospital built with the premise of helping you have the best/easiest birth possible.
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 to succeed as a business.
3. You'll See Birth DVDs Designed To Inspire Not Frighten
Believe it or not, there is actually a birth DVD that's been in circulation for years in some hospitals where the labouring woman is yelling something like, '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, serving to 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 in labour and this is a big blow from the start. The DVD I saw when I was having my daughter was a mother in a hospital bed, screaming in pain, who then asked 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 nor appropriate, whereas DVD's you see in independent classes are very inspiring, uplifting and show you the potential of your own body.
4. You'll Gain Many More Tools 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 that's the path you are most likely to take - 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 in the form of drugs. I remember one 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
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. You Do Pay For What You Get
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 that's 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 Educator?
In Australia, NACE are the National Association of Childbirth Educators, and can help you locate a member in your area. Some educators I recommend in Melbourne, Victoria (but are not limited to) include:
* About Birth
* Birthing Wisdom (Rhea Dempsey) workshops
* Birth by Di Diddle
* Wonderful Birth by Lina Clerke
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.