By Ali Weatherford

Prenatal education usually means that you learn about birth, recovery, and baby care while you’re pregnant. There are so many different ways to do this. We are lucky to live in a time where information is at our fingertips. However you learn best, you can find a way to get the information.

Why is prenatal education important?

There has been a lot of research investigating this question. Does it actually help people to take classes while they’re pregnant? And how?

It seems pretty clear that it does help. The research evidence does vary on how and how much though. Some research shows that perinatal education can lower risks for pregnancy and birth complications, improve birth outcomes, lower cesarean rates, improve the way people feel about their birth experiences, and increase breastfeeding rates. Successful outcomes depend on a lot of factors, but you should feel confident that you are doing a good thing by getting this kind of education.

The type of class matters too! Some classes provide you with more or better information than others. It’s important to explore your goals before choosing a class. If you want to have an unmedicated birth, you should take a class that focuses on that. If you know you will be having a C-section, there are classes to help you prepare for that. If you know you want to breastfeed your baby, you should definitely get prepared by taking a class so it can be an easier transition for you. If you know you have to go back to work very soon after having your baby, you might want to take a class to learn about pumping your breast milk.

There are so many topics and options out there, it can be hard to decide. I think the best thing to do is decide what your overall vision is for your childbearing year, and then find the classes that can help you achieve it. Then find the kind of class that you think will be the most fun and convenient for you so that you can learn best and enjoy it.

How to Get your Prenatal Education

There are definitely benefits and drawbacks to all of the different ways of learning and methods for education. There are so many types of classes out there!

  • Private classes.
  • Public classes offered by varying health authorities or non-profit organizations such as WIC.
  • Hospital based classes taught by nurses or educators.
  • Education offered in OB, midwifery, or doula practices for their clients as part of their prenatal care.
  • There are also some hybrid offerings out there. Breastfeeding Success is a great example of this. We are a private company, but we also partner with some local hospitals to provide services to their clients. Because we are an in-network care provider, we can also help people get their perinatal education covered by insurance and we can offer financial assistance although we are not a non-profit.

There are also different levels of expertise when you’re considering which teacher to choose. There are…

  • Certified instructors. For example, for childbirth education, there are many different paths to certification, but their training is specifically geared toward providing childbirth education. These instructors can choose who to train with for their certification depending on their own interests and who and where they plan to teach.
  • Professional instructors. These are not necessarily trained educators, but people in different professions like nurses, doctors, midwives, doulas, or lactation consultants who offer classes in an area that they specialize in. For example, a labor and delivery nurse might offer childbirth education classes at their hospital, or a lactation consultant might offer breastfeeding or pumping classes.

It’s also a great idea to consider the particular “method” an instructor might be offering. At Breastfeeding Success we take a very universal and evidence-based approach to education and try to include a little of everything in our offerings. Our instructors work to stay up-to-date and relevant, so that you can have the best information possible.

Some people like to choose a very specialized approach to their education. Childbirth classes are a great example of this. Some people want to have an unmedicated birth, so they would choose from methods that can help support that goal. You might choose a Lamaze class for a more general “natural” approach, or Hypnobirthing if you are a person who values meditation and deep focus. Or you may choose Bradley Method classes if you have a very involved partner and like the idea of a coach-focused method. Those are just a few of the MANY methods for learning about childbirth!

How to Receiving Training

And then you need to consider how you’ll show up for class.

Live virtual classes are taught by a live instructor just like an in person class, but it’s all done online. They meet using Google Meet or Zoom or another similar platform. You can see the instructor and possibly some of the other students. You can interact with the instructor and the other students by using a chat box or by using your microphone to speak. The instructor is most always on camera and you can see and hear everything.

Sometimes instructors will use physical teaching tools to illustrate concepts and support your learning. For example, I have a model of a pelvis and a baby doll that I use to show how birth works. I hold it up to the camera so everyone can see. A lot of instructors might also use digital teaching tools like a slide presentation, videos, or digital whiteboards to help with the teaching.

  • Benefits:
    • This is a very convenient way to learn because you don’t have to travel or do much to prepare. You just turn on your computer or even just your smartphone, and you’re in class. You can take a class from anywhere in the world using this technology.
    • You might be better able to focus on the class content in this kind of class. Some people find it hard to focus in a room full of other people.
    • You can get very comfortable in your own bed if you want to! You can move around, have your own snacks, keep the temperature just the way you like it.
    • If there is a pandemic, you can’t get sick by taking a virtual class!
    • If you have children, you might not have to worry about getting childcare if you’re taking a virtual class at home.
    • These are sometimes less expensive than in person classes.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Some people already spend too much time in front of a screen and do not want to take a class that involves more time at a screen.
    • Some people have trouble focusing unless they are physically in the same room with the teacher and students.
    • Especially if you are an extrovert, it also just might not be as fun when you can’t interact with other people. It’s often true that students don’t turn on their cameras for class, and it can be hard to connect with the people in the class or even feel like there are other people there.

In person classes are taught in an actual physical classroom. There is a teacher and there are other students in the same room with you. This is how most of us experienced school, until recently! Depending on the teacher, there might be a lot of props and visuals to illustrate concepts and help you learn. Like the virtual classes, there may also be a slide presentation to go along with the lesson and even videos and whiteboards.

  • Benefits:
    • You get to meet other people who are pregnant, and it’s likely they live nearby. People can much more easily develop friendships and community by going to in person classes and groups.
    • Some people learn better this way. If you have trouble focusing on a screen for too long, this might be the way to go.
    • If the class is at your hospital, birth center, pediatrician’s office, or a place that it can help to get familiar with, you can benefit from knowing the location better.
    • You might feel like it’s easier to ask questions and get the information you need in this format.
    • Taking a class with a partner can be a great way to have a night out doing something new and different from the usual date night. It can be a great way to connect.
    • If you have children, it can be a good excuse to take a little break and get some self-care in.
  • Drawbacks:
    • You have to travel to the class. That might mean fighting traffic, burning a lot of gas, dealing with frustrating parking situations, etc.
    • It means more time away because of the travel, so if you have a very tight schedule, it might be more difficult to fit it in.
    • If you have children, you will likely have to find childcare. That can be too expensive or too complicated for some people.
    • The classroom setting might not be comfortable for you. Sometimes it means hard and uncomfortable chairs, or the room is too hot or too cold, or you have to sit next to someone who can’t stop coughing!

Online classes are ones that you can purchase and complete on your own time. These can usually be purchased online, and then you receive access to the course via a link. It might be a multimedia class experience that includes handouts, videos, assignments and activities along with recorded instruction or without. It might also be a recording of an instructor going through the entire course with you. These might include a lot of information and be very long, or they might be very simple and short. There are a lot of options out there for these types of classes and they range greatly in quality and cost.

  • Benefits:
    • You get the information on your own time. If you are getting REALLY close to your due date and can’t find a class to fit in before your deadline, this might be the best way to go. If you have a very complicated schedule, this might also be a good option for you since you can complete it whenever you have time. You can also take as many breaks as you need and you don’t have to worry about interruptions.
    • These are often offered at a lower cost than live taught classes, although some of them can still be quite expensive.
    • There are a lot of options for online classes!
  • Drawbacks:
    • Most people don’t finish them. It can be hard to stay motivated when you’re not accountable to anyone for your attendance.
    • It might be less entertaining. Without the live interaction, many people find they get bored with this kind of learning.
    • You don’t get to ask questions, so you might be left needing to know more.

Hybrid classes use a combination of methods for providing the information. You might meet in person for one or more of your class sessions, and virtually for the rest. The class might also be completely online. In this case, you might have one or some live virtual meetings and then do the rest of the class on your own time by watching videos or completing assignments.

What is Prenatal Education Exactly?

What do you want or need to learn about? Prenatal education might include some or all of the following topics:

  • Childbirth
  • Breastfeeding
  • Newborn care
  • Healthy pregnancy or prenatal care
  • Child or infant development
  • Infant sleep
  • Postpartum recovery
  • Self-care/mental health
  • And there are other topics related to health and parenting to learn about too!

If I could give everyone COMPREHENSIVE and complete prenatal education, I would. Of course, as a parent, childbirth educator, and the manager of a Parent Education Program, I would say that! There is so much to know when you are expecting a baby for the first time.

You want to consume as much information as you can. You might feel like this will help guard against problems. Or you might just want to go with the flow and just see what happens.

I think a healthy approach is to do as much as you need to lower your stress levels and feel confident. This might mean doing nothing, or this might mean doing EVERYTHING. For most people, it’s somewhere in the middle. Getting some information does make most people feel more prepared and confident. You also don’t want to go overboard though! Knowledge can’t guarantee a perfect outcome. Try to avoid too many Google searches, and if reading every book on the shelf is just making you feel like you need to read more, you’ve probably done too much. That’s what prenatal education is great for. If you can take a few good classes and leave it at that, you’ll probably feel better, be prepared, and even increase the probability that everything will turn out great.

Below is a recorded interview with Omaira Hanif, RN, IBCLC. Omaira works mostly with people immediately following birth. She works in the hospital setting as a lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is highly trained in the clinical management of lactation and helps people get a good start. Omaira is also a nurse who visits new families in their homes. Her job is to check on the babies, new moms, and the family, but also to educate. She spends a lot of time explaining what is normal and when they might need extra help.

Omaira is also a teacher! She teaches a breastfeeding and newborn care class. She feels very strongly that all families would benefit from prenatal education. She has noticed that when families have received some education about breastfeeding and newborn care, they don’t need her help quite as much after the baby arrives! Although she loves to be needed, she most of all wants parents to succeed while feeling confident about their own abilities.

Citations showing benefits of prenatal education:

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

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