By Ali Weatherford

This week in January is Childbirth Education Awareness Week. I’m so excited that there’s a whole week dedicated to the awareness and celebration of childbirth education because I am a childbirth educator! I have many roles in my work life, but this is my first and favorite job. I have training in more than one method, and I plan to keep learning and teaching for a very long time!

My Childbirth Story

My drive to learn about birth began shortly after my first baby was born. I planned to have a terrible experience. Of course I did! That’s all we ever hear about, right? Childbirth is painful, messy, scary, and awful. So I gave birth for the first time fully expecting the worst.

I didn’t have a terrible experience though. It WAS painful and messy at times, and maybe a little scary here and there, but it was NOT awful. There was so much more to the story, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for my baby and appreciation for my body and the strength I discovered. I loved and appreciated the people who supported me and my decisions throughout the process. I felt like telling everyone I knew about how great it was. It was my new and very exciting adventure story. I imagined it was like fishermen might feel telling their fish tales. They plan and work and wait and struggle to pull that HUGE fish out of the water. Then they get to enjoy telling other fishermen a slightly exaggerated and rose-colored version of the story, and everybody has a good time.

It doesn’t usually go that way with birth stories though. I saw that most people were uncomfortable hearing my story, and I figured out that these were people who didn’t have great experiences. They had different impressions of birth. They may have felt disappointed by a birth that didn’t go according to plan. They may have felt let down by their bodies or their support systems. They may have been afraid for their lives or the lives of their babies. They may have felt disempowered because their choices and preferences were not heard or respected.

When I began to understand that so many people could not hear the birth stories of others or share their own, I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to change that. My positive experience changed my life. I became a more confident person. I had a new awareness of my strength and felt like I could do anything. I had a new purpose in being a parent, but it also gave me the confidence to start a new career, start a business, and do things I had never thought I could do. Having a great birth experience helped me be more successful in all parts of my life. My hope is that more people will experience birth this way and use the experience to propel them into an even more fulfilling life after. My goal in teaching birth classes is to help make this happen. I want people to love their birth stories and be able to tell them. I want them to feel as strong and capable as they are.

Loving Your Birth Story

It might sound funny to say this, but loving your birth story doesn’t have much to do with what happens. It’s much more about your perspective. Neither of my birth experiences was perfect. There were definitely some surprises and difficulties, but I still love my stories, because I felt that I was prepared to handle what came and had the support of my care team to help me manage those things and allow me to make the decisions that felt right for me. Childbirth education definitely helped get me to that point for my own births.

I have a degree in Psychology, and I approach most things from the perspective of mental health. How does that make you FEEL? When we feel good about our birth experience, it can do a lot for us. As I said before, our self-esteem and confidence can improve, our relationships can improve as a result of these changes, and we can feel better prepared for the challenges of parenting. On top of all that good stuff, when people feel they had a good birth experience, it’s shown to lower their chances for postpartum depression and other mood disorders, potentially lower cesarean rates, and improve breastfeeding rates.

“Benefits of prenatal education classes have included increased confidence for labor and birth among women who attended prenatal classes, higher likelihood of breastfeeding, improved communication between childbearing women and their maternity care providers, decreased need for analgesic medication in labor, and increased satisfaction with birth (Chalmers & Kingston, 2009; Enkin et al., 2000).”

The Value of Childbirth Education

Childbirth education can contribute to better birth outcomes, but maybe even more importantly, it is shown to contribute to more positive feelings about birth experiences. We can’t control everything, and birth is very unpredictable. Very often, even when all the best education is had and the best plans are made, things go sideways. The important part is being able to stay mindful and present during those detours so that you can continue to participate in your care, make great decisions, and prepare to meet your baby. Getting prepared with childbirth education can give you the information and the tools to help you feel good about your experience……whatever ends up happening. You’ll know you did your best, and you were prepared for the unexpected.

There is a lot of variety in childbirth education. You can choose a particular “method” of childbirth education based on your birth goals. Some people want to have an unmedicated or “natural” childbirth and will take a class that will give them some tools to help them achieve this goal. Even within that narrower search, there is a lot to choose from.

Maybe you think you’ll want a lot of support from your partner and decide to choose a method that gives a lot of focus to partner support. Maybe you like meditation, and think you’ll prefer to spend a lot of time alone and deeply focused during labor. In that case, you might choose a method that will teach you the best strategies for this kind of experience. You may not know WHAT kind of birth experience you want, so you might choose a class that offers a broader range of information.

Whatever “method” you choose, a good childbirth education class will give you information about your body, the process of normal childbirth, coping strategies, and decision-making. Childbirth education should leave you feeling more informed and confident heading into your birth. Hopefully, you’ll also feel more at peace and able to enjoy the end of your pregnancy looking forward to meeting your baby.

Many people who are deeply affected by their birth experience choose to make a career change because of it! So many birth educators, doulas, birth photographers, midwives, lactation consultants, etc. entered that path because of their own birth experiences like I did.

Childbirth education is a growing field and there are many great training and certification options available which don’t require a huge amount of cost or time. Birth educators can help people have better birth experiences and that can have a lasting impact on people and their families. If you feel moved to start a birth or baby-related career, consider becoming a childbirth educator!

Resources

Hassanzadeh, R., Abbas-Alizadeh, F., Meedya, S. et al. Fear of childbirth, anxiety and depression in three groups of primiparous pregnant women not attending, irregularly attending and regularly attending childbirth preparation classes. BMC Women’s Health 20, 180 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-020-01048-9

A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth (3 edn); Murray Enkin, Marc Keirse, James Neilson, Caroline Crowther, Lelia Duley, Ellen Hodnett, Justus Hofmeyr; Published: June 2000

Hetherington SE. A controlled study of the effect of prepared childbirth classes on obstetric outcomes. Birth. 1990 Jun;17(2):86-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536x.1990.tb00705.x. PMID: 2363771.

Chen I, Opiyo N, Tavender E, Mortazhejri S, Rader T, Petkovic J, Yogasingam S, Taljaard M, Agarwal S, Laopaiboon M, Wasiak J, Khunpradit S, Lumbiganon P, Gruen RL, Betran AP. Non‐clinical interventions for reducing unnecessary caesarean section. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD005528. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005528.pub3. Accessed 23 January 2023.

Çankaya S, Şimşek B. Effects of Antenatal Education on Fear of Birth, Depression, Anxiety, Childbirth Self-Efficacy, and Mode of Delivery in Primiparous Pregnant Women: A Prospective Randomized Controlled Study. Clin Nurs Res. 2021 Jul;30(6):818-829. doi: 10.1177/1054773820916984. Epub 2020 Apr 13. PMID: 32281410.

Hassanzadeh R, Abbas-Alizadeh F, Meedya S, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Mirghafourvand M. Primiparous women’s knowledge and satisfaction based on their attendance at childbirth preparation classes. Nurs Open. 2021 Sep;8(5):2558-2566. doi: 10.1002/nop2.787. Epub 2021 Feb 24. PMID: 33626230; PMCID: PMC8363339.

Gluck O, Pinchas-Cohen T, Hiaev Z, Rubinstein H, Bar J, Kovo M. The impact of childbirth education classes on delivery outcome. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2020 Mar;148(3):300-304. doi: 10.1002/ijgo.13016. Epub 2020 Jan 7. PMID: 31912479.

Afshar Y, Wang ET, Mei J, Esakoff TF, Pisarska MD, Gregory KD. Childbirth Education Class and Birth Plans Are Associated with a Vaginal Delivery. Birth. 2017 Mar;44(1):29-34. doi: 10.1111/birt.12263. Epub 2016 Nov 15. PMID: 27859592.

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.