Reasons to Seek Alternatives to Hospital Childbirth Classes

Men and pregnant women sitting on floor at a childbirthing class

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Childbirth classes are designed to help educate pregnant people and their families about options for care and techniques to use during labor. These classes usually cover various forms of pain relief, from relaxation and movement to intravenous pain medications and epidurals. It's a lot to take in, but a good teacher will help make everything clear.

Many pregnant people find hospital-based childbirth classes a convenient option to prepare for the birth of their baby. However, it's important to know the limitations of many childbirth classes that are held in hospitals and alternative programs you may find more helpful.

Across the country, as many as 86% of people who take childbirth classes take them at a local hospital.

Drawbacks of Hospital Childbirth Classes

A hospital-based childbirth class might be the first class you learn about, since doctors will often provide patients information about one during the prenatal period. If you take a hospital tour in preparation for childbirth, you may also receive online information or pamphlets about the facility's childbirth classes. But there are several reasons some pregnant people find hospital-based childbirth classes to be less than ideal.

Some Classes Are Short

A typical childbirth class at a hospital might be a single session that's two to four hours long. Sometimes they are slightly longer, but they are usually held over the course of just one or two days. That can mean that some information is skimmed or skipped, leaving gaps in the topics that you need to know about before labor starts. It also can make it trickier to follow up with questions you might have at the end of the day.

In contrast, many childbirth classes outside of hospitals are often styled more like courses. It's not unusual for a childbirth course to meet over four to six weeks. If you want a more comprehensive program, you may want to investigate more extended classes.

Classes Are Often Large

In order to accommodate the large numbers of people who will be giving birth at a hospital, you may see large classes. That usually means less of an opportunity to interject with questions, discuss personal experiences, or get a personalized plan for your labor.

A good class size is five to six couples. This allows for participants to raise questions and share experiences more easily, which can help you feel connected to others in your community—important for new parents.

Information May Be Biased Towards Intervention

People who give birth at a hospital are more likely than those who labor at home or at a birth center to receive medical interventions during childbirth, from electronic fetal monitoring to C-sections. Many of these interventions might be necessary to keep parents and babies safe, but some parents strongly prefer to have as few interventions during birth as possible.

Some childbirth educators express a reluctance to proactively share rates of intervention at the hospital where they are teaching, especially if those rates are high. They might skirt the issue by discussing national intervention rates instead, for instance. Teaching a class outside of a hospital might allow a childbirth educator to speak more freely and candidly about the pros and cons of common medical interventions.

Questions to Ask Before a Hospital Birthing Class

If you are thinking about taking a hospital-based childbirth class, it's helpful to ask a few questions before you sign up.

  • Are your teachers certified childbirth educators? These instructors have had additional training in teaching about various childbirth methods, so it's a good idea to sign up for a class with someone who has received a certification from a group such as the Childbirth and Postpartum Association (CAPPA) or the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA).
  • Which methods do educators teach? Some educators and classes focus on one method, like Lamaze or the Bradley Method, while others give parents an overview about the wider range of methods to choose from.
  • When do you recommend that I take the classes? Some classes are designed to begin late in the third trimester, but you may be interested in receiving education earlier in your pregnancy.
  • What topics are covered in class? This helps you decide if the information given will be in-depth enough to lean on when coping with labor.
  • How many people are in a typical class? For a more personalized experience, try to find classes that are limited to no more than five or six pregnant people and their labor partners.
  • Are partners welcome? You may be interested in classes that encourage partner support and participation.

Finding Non-Hospital Childbirth Classes

After doing your research, you may find that your hospital offers a class with certified educators, extensive material, and the opportunity for conversation and connection. Sign up early, because these classes they often fill very quickly!

But if you find hospital-based childbirth classes lacking, you may want to explore alternatives. Some may be offered online, which can be helpful for busy people.

  • Childbirth method sites: Lamaze, the Bradley Method, and HypnoBirthing all have website tools that allow you to plug in your zip code to find a childbirth educator near you who is certified in that method.
  • Your insurance company: Some insurers cover childbirth classes and offer a network of participating providers to choose from.
  • Your obstetrician, midwife, or doula: You will likely select a provider to help you during labor and delivery before you investigate classes. These specialists should be connected to a wide network of non-hospital-based educators. Some midwives and doulas are certified childcare educators, too, so they can provide educational support leading up to as well as on the big day.
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Article Sources
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  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Birth Settings in America. Published 2020.