Updated: Aug 24, 2022
As a doula and childbirth educator I get asked a lot about which is the best childbirth prep course. Personally, I'm not sure there's any such course. The best course is the one you resonate with! Because my own birthing experiences led me to try many different courses and methods I have since created my own course, as well. I'll be sure to tell you all about that one at the end. But let's start off by distinguishing between two main categories of classes. Choosing a childbirth class becomes a lot easier once you understand the difference between a childbirth method and a childbirth philosophy.
By my definition, a birth method is a very specific technique, such as hypnosis or altered breathings states. An example would be HypnoBabies. A birth philosophy is a lens through which to view birth, and typically explores birth culture, belief systems, mindset, and general relaxation. An example would be Birthing From Within.
How do you know if you'd prefer a method or a philosophy style preparation? Are you the type that loves lists, homework, and flowcharts? Do you like checkboxes, assignments, accountability, and repetition? I find that those personalities typically want a method in the birth space. Are you more independent, DIY, intuitive, or rebellious? Do you tend to do things your own way or like to jump into the deep end to find out if you can swim? Your personality type may prefer a philosophy approach.
Some scenarios: Let's say you're very interested in empowerment and mindset, but you're not particularly interested in learning or applying hypnosis per say during labor—HypnoBabies might not be the one I would recommend. Even though they do work with mindset and aim to empower, you're investing quite a lot of time and money into a method that you don't particularly have interest in. Let's say you're wanting specific tools and techniques to practice every day to help you relax and focus—Birthing From Within might not be the course I would recommend. Even though they do teach a general relaxation process, you may feel like it's not cutting it for you, or you want more guided and repetitive practice. Let's say you're somewhere in the middle, or completely unsure. That's possible, too. In reality, most classes are a bit of both method and philosophy intermixed so it can pacify both parts of you so long as you're prepared to "glean". You could also decide to take more than one class to cover all your bases—a great option! But there is usually a significant financial investment for each class and not everyone can afford even one class let alone multiple. Also, recognize that your needs change baby to baby; what worked for your first birth experience may not be what you need or want for this one.
Below is a basic overview of some prominent childbirth classes in my neck of the woods (Utah, USA) that lists each class as either a Method or Philosophy, and also includes the Partner's Role as well as Class Structure + Pricing. There are different classes across the globe that are not mentioned here—such as doula or midwife led classes—so be sure to find out what else is available in your area! Before you proceed, allow me to say:
This overview is my own interpretation and I do not represent these classes or approaches in any official capacity.
Each of these classes and approaches are making a positive difference in the birth community regardless of which one you may end up preferring. Having so many different options of childbirth education is a sign of a healthier birth culture—different strokes for different folks.
Allow me to share in greater detail what I love most about each of these approaches and what I'd urge you to consider more fully.
LOVE: This course focuses on connection and intimacy between birther and partner with a clear focus on relaxation on diaphragmatic breath. It is comprehensive. Because it is a 12-week course, you have time to fully integrate the relaxation techniques and will more likely turn to them during labor because of muscle memory and familiarity.
CONSIDER: This course hugely emphasizes birthers being “coached” by their partners. Does this reinforce the idea of dependence on someone else's authority and intuition? I'm a believer that the ones giving birth are the best qualified to coach their partners on what they need and want and not the other way around. What role do you want your partner playing in your birth—a coach, or a compassionate support person? Also, many of the books were written in the 90s and some of the information is outdated, such as prescribing Kegals across the board (yikes!) or recommending stopping the flow of urine to determine the strength of your PC muscle (double yikes!). Live instructors are most likely providing more up-to-speed information, so don't rely on the books alone.
LOVE: This approach teaches deep relaxation, mind over body, and improves birth outcomes—invaluable tools for childbirth. Birthers deserve to cope. No one should suffer giving birth.
CONSIDER: It is a specific method, so ask yourself if this fits your personality or desires for this birth. Aside from that, its most basic premise is: birth is painful, and hypnosis can help you cope with that pain. Is the basic premise is flawed? I'm of the opinion that birth, for many, is experienced on the spectrum of pain, bigger for some and lesser for others. I also believe that those who make a discipline of it, they can learn to transmute pain into sensation. (Enter HypnoBabies.)
LOVE: This approach teaches deep relaxation, mind over body, improves birth outcomes, and actively reframes negative thinking. Its most basic premise is: pain is the result of fear and tension in the body, so if we can change our thoughts we can eliminate fear and ultimately transmute pain into sensation.
CONSIDER: It is a specific method, so ask yourself if this fits your personality or your desires for this birth. Some clients have expressed feeling that though hypnosis was successful in helping them cope, they felt checked out, too passive, or unaware of what was happening. Aside form that, there is another basic premise upon which hypnosis is predicated: we are controlled by our thoughts. Check out my separate blog post on that topic to learn about an entirely different premise that's worth considering.
Birthing From Within
LOVE: This birth philosophy acknowledges that the journey matters as much as the destination. It's not just about how you give birth (be it unmedicated, with an epidural, or by c-section) but how it rebirths you in the process. Pam England pioneered modern-day holistic birth preparation—looking at the emotional and psychological aspects of birth along with the physical. She weaves mythology and art therapy into her approach and teaches the value of self-awareness, mindset, and relaxation for better birth outcomes.
CONSIDER: There are many ways to process emotions and explore the deep psychological underpinnings of birth. Art is one of them and not necessarily for everyone. What are other ways you would personally benefit from as you prepare emotionally and spiritually for birth?
LOVE: This approach helps birthers cope with pain by exploring laboring positions, movement, massage, and utilizing their breath in specific ways. I appreciate that it doesn't overly fixate on "unmedicated" birth outcomes but is inclusive to the use of medication or medically indicated interventions. More than anything it focuses on building confidence in the birth space.
CONSIDER: Just as I mentioned earlier, because you're learning a specific method, ask yourself if it fits your personality or your desires for this birth. The Lamaze breathing techniques are quite specific and require practice and focus. That hits the spot for some. For others, it takes them out of alignment and keeps them too in their head: Am I doing this right? It can become a measuring rod of success or failure, which is not helpful in the birth space.
Birth Boot Camp
LOVE: A comprehensive curriculum that covers everything from anatomy, relaxation, birth planning, and self-advocacy. It is less "method" and more general education.
CONSIDER: The branding. That may not seem like a significant critique, but a company's name embodies its mission. Do we want to prepare for birth militantly, preparing for war, as if a solider? No doubt, individual instructors determine just how much the branding bleeds into the content. But it's something.
LOVE: These classes help you know what to expect regarding your birth space and hospital protocols. Some hospitals provide classes around birth education, early parenting, breastfeeding, and postpartum—and at very affordable rates. This is a huge benefit to the birth community.
CONSIDER: These classes are not educating birthers on all of their options and are rather prepping them for compliance to a system rather than personal empowerment. You are not learning self-advocacy, informed decision-making, or how to stand up to authority.
As you navigate the lush terrain of childbirth education, always remember that you don't have to agree with every aspect of every method or philosophy. My own birthing experiences led me on a beautiful path of discovery. Each birth invited new books, mentors, and classes that were exactly what I needed in the moment. Consider yourself a gleaner, or a gatherer of birth wisdom. No one course needs to be your end all and be all. What feels good for now? What can this course teach me for this baby? What will be my life-changing takeaway from this approach? With an attitude like that, you are setting yourself up for success and becoming a true student of life.
Regardless of which class you end up taking, look for inclusive instructors who embrace the full spectrum of birth outcomes. This means they are preparing their class attendees for empowerment across the board. Some classes lead out quite strong with a clear goal of "unmedicated" or "all natural" birth. Check out my separate blog post on that topic to see why that can be problematic. The best instructors will help you prepare for multiple outcomes and to set yourself up for emotional as well as physical success.
From my own birthing and professional experiences with childbirth education, I now offer my own course that fills a unique place in the birth community. I invite you to learn more about Bhava Birth. We look at birth through the lens of yoga philosophy, and yet the meditation and breathing techniques we explore can be utilized very "methodically" for those that prefer to do so. We focus on mindset, mindfulness, movement, and breath awareness. It is based on the foundation of meditation, which operates under a different premise than hypnosis—we are not our thoughts, but rather the consciousness that is aware of our thoughts. It is about creating a non-attached mindset that allows you to be fully present and actively involved in your labor while also allowing you to cope with the intense sensations of birth. We delve into the psychology of fear and pain. We prepare for the journey as much as we do the destination and celebrate the transformative nature of birth no matter what the ultimate birth outcomes may be. You can't fail at birth.
I wish you well as you navigate the many wonderful childbirth classes available today! May you find your way to the one you need right now, for this baby, for this unique birth.
- - -
Have you experienced a traumatic birth or dashed expectations and wish you could go back and change everything? This post is for you: