To read the whole series, begin with Childbirth Education Myths 1.
MYTH #3: “The hospital class will be good enough.”
One of the best ways to be prepared for birth is to learn about birth. What happens in the normal, physiologic process? How do interventions (medical or non-medical) affect that process? What is the difference between the medical model and the midwifery model? Under what circumstances will each model benefit you? These are topics a hospital class will likely not tackle.
1) Limited information.
Hospitals often teach what is available at their facility. This makes sense, because hospitals are in the business of selling medicine. Their maternity department offers the medical model of care, and hospital childbirth classes reflect that. Their instructors are employed by the hospital, and the hospital has direct control over their curriculum.
The class offered at a hospital is more likely to focus on when to get to the hospital, what to do if your water breaks, protocols for epidural placement, and what to expect in a cesarean. They may cover logistics like where you go to get admitted, what happens there, and where you get moved around to. They will make sure that you are familiar with the routine protocols and procedures, which can be beneficial if you are planning to birth there.
They may or may not offer much information on non-medical pain management, the physiology of birth, doulas, or birth plans, as these are not things normally offered in hospitals.
2) Alternatives to the medical model are not offered.
Generally speaking, hospitals do not employ care providers like chiropractors, naturopaths, independent midwives, or other more holistic-minded care providers. If they do, they may not think to refer you for care from any of these areas, as they are not part of the medical model of care for birth. To learn about non-medical options, a local independent childbirth educator is going to be a wealth of resources and information for you.
3) Informed Choice vs. Informed Consent
Many hospital classes cater to the majority, who are anticipating the status quo American birth: Start labor, get epidural, have baby. While there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing that model, many hospitals operate under the assumption that this is the only model that interests women. Thus, they spend more time preparing moms for what to expect at the hospital than they do preparing them to cope with labor in whatever way seems right to her. If a mother wants something outside that model, a hospital class may not be the best fit for her, and she may feel as though she is sitting in a “How To Be Good Patient Class,” rather than a comprehensive, evidence-based, balanced childbirth class.
4) Availability of Instructor
Independent childbirth educators are often available by phone and email between classes, to help with homework, provide resources and referrals, and to answer questions. Hospital instructors may not have such ready availability. Their class sizes are usually much larger, so their ability to give one-on-one attention or instruction may be severely limited.
Questions to Ask Childbirth Educators:
- What curriculum do you use, and what is it based on?
- How much experience do you personally have in this hospital attending births? Do you have any experience working with the independent midwives in town to offer a balance in models of care?
- Is this class going to teach in-depth about the physiological birth process?
- How much time is devoted to labor coping techniques?
- Are you a certified instructor? With whom?
- Are you available for questions or concerns outside class? Can you refer to outside providers, and if so, whom?
In short, it’s not a bad idea to take the hospital class — just don’t let it be an exclusive source of information. There are a wealth of independent organizations that do an excellent job at preparing you for birth. There are methods like Bradley and Hypnobirthing, as well as comprehensive courses by Lamaze and CAPPA. (We’ll address method classes in this series as well, so stay tuned!)
For more on this topic, we found another excellent perspective here: 5 Reasons Not To Take Hospital Chilbirth Classes
Where did you take your childbirth classes? How did they help or hinder your understanding of birth? Did you have a good experience with the hospital?
Team Preparing For Birth