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Childbirth Classes—Are They Worth It?

Categories: pregnancy


My mom asked last night if we had signed up for our childbirth classes yet. “We don’t need that crap,” I said, “and especially not for two hundred dollars.” “Two hundred dollars?!” she said. “Why, in my day…” and thus began another walk down memory lane that ended with my being born, my mom saying, “Look! It’s a real baby!” and my dad saying, “Huh? Uh-huh. Lots of hair.” I don’t remember what I said but I imagine there were histrionics.

Truth be told, whether or not I would take a childbirth class was never about the money. (Although don’t you find it’s getting increasingly easy to fall back on the “it’s too expensive” excuse for anything and everything in this age of crashing markets and an economy receding faster than Michael Bolton’s hairline? Simply substitute “I don’t want to” with “I can’t afford it” and voila, you are excused!) What it really comes down to, though, is that I think childbirth classes would be, for us, a waste of time.

That photo of books up there? That’s mine, taken many months ago, when the stack of pregnancy and parenting literature was still rather modest and not teetering like a three-foot-tall Seussian skyscraper constructed on my nightstand. I have books that cover conception, gestation, prenatal exercise, labor, birth, recovery, breastfeeding, mothering theory, fetal development, infant development, and the development of thick skin as an armor against all the scary things you discover once you start reading all of the above. Add to that the magazines and pamphlets and handbooks that come in the mail, from the doctor’s office, and stapled to receipts for maternity clothes (I just wanted to buy some courduroys; not register to bank my baby’s cord blood!); plus all the websites and pregnancy calendars and message boards and blogs in my bookmarks folder, all the friends’ email addresses in my cache, all the commenters on my personal website, all the members of Work It, Mom!, all those hundreds (and hundreds) of episodes of A Baby Story (I find it makes good breakfast entertainment), and even a DVD about interpreting an infant’s cries (a fitting primer for our cats, at least), and I guess you could say, in short, I know What to Expect.

The way I imagine them, childbirth classes are for people who (a) don’t have a clue or (b) can’t read (and maybe (a) because of (b)?). Realistically, I know this isn’t true because I am myself acquainted with several very nice, intelligent people who have been reading since kindergarten and yet still decided to take childbirth classes, but I nevertheless have my doubts. How useful is a four-hour course on Where Babies Come From when I already know the mechanics, already have a competent doctor, already have a supportive and understanding partner, already have a community I can turn to with questions, and even already know that no amount of preparation can stand in for the experience of each baby’s unique birth? What, exactly, am I going to learn that I haven’t already gotten (or can get) from another source?

So, I’m curious: Did you take childbirth classes? Was it worth what you paid, if anything? Did you find that you gained more in the way of practical information or ya-ya sisterhood community bonding? And whether or not you took classes, were there any other specific sources you relied on during your pregnancy, be they friends and family, books, the internet, or *gulp* reality television? 

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25 comments so far...

  • We took a 5 class series that started with the actual child birth prep, through breastfeeding, baby care and couples care for $245. The child birth and baby care were duplicative of everything you have read in the books. But it reassured me that we had done our homework. I loved the breastfeeding class- our teacher was fantastic. The couples class really engaged us in good conversations about what to do after the baby arrives. It was more a way to help start future conversations which is never bad. We also took a pain management class (free) at the hospital. That was a great educational experience to understand all the options available during labor, regardless of your birth plan. You just never know how labor is going to go down. At least that’s what I keep telling myself - we are due Oct. 9th…

    Meredith  |  October 1st, 2008 at 8:32 am

  • yes, i took a childbirth class, but it was specific to the style of birth experience that i idealized for myself and my baby… which was natural childbirth. i took a hypnobirthing class local to me, at a cost of $275 for 5 sessions. was it worth the amount paid? eh, no. would i take the class again, knowing what i know now? absolutely.

    the cost, i agree, is outlandish -and i certainly don’t have a lot of money- but there are some things in my life that i simply can’t rationalize skimping on, and childbirth is certainly one of them. the class prepared me mentally and emotionally for what was about to happen and it helped me to get through the experience, naturally, as we’d wanted. of course, having natural childbirth is not always an option or even a preference for most people. this is just specific to my experience.

    the class also provided an appropriate setting where my husband felt that he was part of the experience too. the birthing partner is very important and having a set class to attend together provided the means for us to bond beyond what we thought we could do on our own.

    i suppose you can look to your friends and family for advice, stories or support; however, for me, going to this childbirth class prepared me on a more internal level. i started to really dive into myself, my relationship with my husband, and my relationship with my growing baby through these classes. the classes became my first experiences with childbirth, which is not something that i could have done had i tried to experience birth vicariously through other means.

    classes are not for everyone, and they’re certainly not helpful for those resistant, but if you find one that’s particular to your needs or desires, then i strongly support the decision!

    erina  |  October 1st, 2008 at 9:26 am

  • Erina, you bring up a really good point: classes are a great way to ensure you have a set time to be with your partner to not only bond but also talk specifically about the baby and your birth plans.

    And Meredith–I’m definitely looking into some of the other, post-baby classes our hospital offers. The breastfeeding one, for instance, sounds particularly helpful, as I’ve heard so many stories about how hard nursing can be. That’s one area where I definitely think some hands-on training (with a real baby!) will help.

    workingonmotherhood  |  October 1st, 2008 at 9:53 am

  • We went to a class before having Graham. I found the breathing techniques useful, and they took us on a hospital tour which was nice as well.

    We skipped the classes for my next two pregnancies.

    Angella  |  October 1st, 2008 at 12:45 pm

  • I went to the classes but got absolutely nothing out of them. Like you, I had read quite a bit while I was pregnant and didn’t learn anything that I hadn’t already read about in my pregnancy books.

    However, if you have the opportunity to take a class on new baby care, RUN, DON’T WALK. That was a godsend. They teach you things like how to give a baby a bath and how to swaddle. Everything was very practical and helpful.

    Rebecca (Bearca)  |  October 1st, 2008 at 1:00 pm

  • I think it depends on the type of childbirth class. With my first, I took one the hospital offered. It was… kind of a boring waste. I mean, I’d been in nursing school, I was familiar with the process. But perhaps if someone really had no idea about a lot of those things, it would have been useful.

    With my second, I took Hypnobirthing classes, and those were amazing. AMAZING. I learned things I didn’t learn in nursing school and I credit the Hypnobirthing process with finally allowing me to have a peaceful, painless, drugfree birth like I wanted all along. Ha, I sound like an advertisement!

    Jessica  |  October 1st, 2008 at 1:01 pm

  • Although this didn’t happen to me, I know many people who made life-long friends through their childbirth classes. I suppose it’s a nice way to meet other local folks who will always be going through similar parenthood experiences.

    Me, I mostly remember the point when the teacher pointed out that our paper nametag circles were the exact size of a fully dilated cervix.


    milkandcookies  |  October 1st, 2008 at 1:05 pm

  • I think we took the class just to know we did everything we could to prepare ourselves for something you can never really be prepared for.

    And, what is often helpful is that the class will actually tour the hospital and the rooms, which is nice to familiarize yourself with (this goes for the birthcenter ones, not the specific technique ones like Bradley).

    In the end, our experience was quite funny because due to a mixup, they had to cancel the 2 session Saturday class we had signed up for and put us in to the every Monday evening for 6 weeks course - IN THE SECOND WEEK. So we missed all the intros and the teacher was not expecting us. Then, we missed the third class (where they cover pain relief options and c-sections), because I had spent the night before in preterm labor.

    We did not do a class for baby number 2, although, since it was in a different hospital, we did do a tour.

    BethanyWD  |  October 1st, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  • I only took two classes: one on delivery and newborn childcare and another one on breastfeeding. But I didn’t remember ANYTHING during the delivery. The nurses and doctors were more than helpful to answer my questions when I couldn’t recall any of my copious notes. And while I was in the hospital, the nurses were there again to help me with my breastfeeding techniques.

    kirida  |  October 1st, 2008 at 1:41 pm

  • Three reasons to take the class:

    1. Although I read every word ever written about childbirth, my husband had not, and so by showing up, he at least got to hear all the stuff I already knew, and then we were more on the same page. (But my Husband is not so much of a reader).

    2. All the hospital apparatus and beds and equipment was a lot less scary when you actually saw it before it was used on you - and let me tell ya - if they make it, it was used on me. (And, me and baby boy are GREAT, by the way!) :)

    3. Although theoretically, we could have done it at any time, it was the only 15 minutes every week where we sat in a dark room listening to peaceful music and nature sounds and breathed deeply.

    But, if you are a maternity nurse and already familiar with all that stuff, and if your husband has his very own copy of What to Expect, and you meditate anyway, or these things are not a bid deal to you, then by all means, skip it! :)

    BUT- take all the real live breastfeeding help you can get. SO SO worth it!!!

    Mom at Work  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 7:08 am

  • I took a class on childbirth - just 2 nights and one on breastfeeding - 1 night - and all I have to say is that during my natural childbirth (with both kids) the last thing I was thinking about was that class. But at least I went into it feeling like I had done everything I could to prepare. I still am mad at that nurse who asked my husband (as I was screaming from dialating from 3 to 10cm in 1.5 hours) “didn’t she take a class?”

    Andrea  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 7:24 am

  • Although I had read extensively prior to my daughter’s birth, my husband had not. The class that we took at our hospital was more for him than for me. I seriously don’t think he had much of a clue about what would actually be happening. I’m pretty certain we didn’t pay more than $50 for our class 6 years ago, and I feel it was definitely worth it.

    Jeanne  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 8:03 am

  • It is worth it if you are determined to have a drug-free natural childbirth. There are some valuable techniques you can learn. Of course, you can learn them from reading books as well. You might be better off spending the money on a doula.

    Robyn  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 8:30 am

  • My husband and I took a set of childbirth classes from our local hospital that were worth every penny - I think it was $120.00 for 7 weeks. I had every book in the world and didn’t want to read them - my husband kept reading more than he should. The classes broke down everything from birthing plans (natural, pain managment and scheduled C sections), the enexpected emergency of pre term labor, emergency c sections, the hospital rules and security(actually very comforting - before finding out that I was having a c section - my sister in law kept telling me that she was attending the delivery - being able to put her on a no list was comforting), the type of equipment that could potentially be used, hospital procedures if there is an issue during delivery for the baby (world class NICU across the hall) Our sessions also included information on baby care, immunizations, breastfeeding and the type of help available. We actually found our peds doctor during the classes.

    It depends on the classes the ones offered by our hospital were great and a wide variety. I would see what your local hospital has to offer maybe instead of whole session you could take some a la carte. Our hospital also offered a grandparent class free of charge that included a tour.

    Heather  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 12:29 pm

  • I agree with the person who said you would be better off spending money on a doula. However, I think the most important thing to consider is what kind of learner you are. If you can get the information you want from books then that is the best - and cheapest if you use a library - route. If you are more of an auditory or visual learner then a class can be very beneficial.

    My husband and I had a rather funny prenatal class experience. I wanted to take one of the “natural childbirth” ones offered by the local midwives but they all cost hundreds of dollars (one was $500). During my pregnancy we were both unemployed (no stress there!) and so I signed us up for one hosted by the local health region - they even waived the fee because we were so low-income. The only reason I wanted us to take a class was so we could meet other couples who were having children since none of our friends were. (Just to give a little background - I’m 32 and my husband is 31, we were unemployed by bad luck, his PhD funding ran out and the company I worked for ran out of money. So, while we are low-income, we aren’t low-education.) We get to the first class and it is full of teenagers. There were 4 18-year olds, 2 19-year olds a girl who was 22, another woman who probably older than I am but didn’t speak English and myself. One of the fathers was 17. And the instructor didn’t speak much English and called contractions “constructions” (which is oddly appropriate and which we used for the rest of my pregnancy).and kept telling us that most women have a “virginal” birth (instead of vaginal). Anyway - while the teenage girls were all very nice, we didn’t really see us bonding with anyone and didn’t go back after the second class since they weren’t teaching anything I hadn’t already read.

    melanie  |  October 3rd, 2008 at 9:18 am

  • I’m planning to go Childbirth classes. This is my first baby and while I’ve read things, I don’t really feel prepared at all for what is coming in January.

    However, the class I’ll be in is only $60 at the hospital I’ll be going to for the actual birth. That’s for 5 sessions and then my OB has an additional class at her office that talks more about natural pain relief techniques so I’ll go to that as well.

    Jenni  |  October 3rd, 2008 at 10:08 am

  • We took a one-day class, snuck out after the tour and still managed to have a healthy baby boy. The stuff we missed by not sticking around in a crowded room for another 2 hours was about all the “sh** that might go wrong” to which both my husband and I said that (a) we won’t suddenly remember what we learned in class if something goes wrong and (b) aren’t we paying doctors to know what to do in those situations? So we went home and bonded over a nap that rainy afternoon, if I recall.

    We also took a “Baby Basics” class which was HEEElarious for anyone who has spent more than 7 minutes with a real baby. However, my hubby really didn’t have any baby face time under his belt, so it was good for him.

    Brenda  |  October 3rd, 2008 at 10:57 am

  • Our plan at this point is looking like we’ll skip the childbirth/labor class but definitely do a hospital tour (free!), an infant CPR course (free!), and a babycare/breastfeeding class ($90), which will be perfect because those are two things that I think would benefit from hands-on learning.

    Leah K  |  October 3rd, 2008 at 12:45 pm

  • I did not take any classes. I just used various pregnancy resources to research things I was feeling and things my body was doing. I did just fine. I don’t think anyone needs classes to have a baby. I mean, we all know how it happens anyways.

    Marcia  |  October 4th, 2008 at 12:55 pm

  • I’m not planning on taking a childbirth class. The way I see it, childbirth is something my body knows how to do (and HAS to do), and I’ll be assisted by professionals I trust. I’ve garnered plenty of information from my midwife and the books & websites I’ve read. Also, I have no desire to watch the obligatory childbirth video. Believe me, I still remember every vivid detail from when we had to watch it in 8th grade. Yikes.

    Breastfeeding and childcare classes? Sign me up. I wasn’t born knowing the proper way to burp a baby. This is the stuff I need to learn.

    jive turkey  |  October 9th, 2008 at 11:28 am

  • I am an RN but never saw a vaginal birth during school. I took the classes with my husband and found them to be pretty helpful. I am the type that if I know what to expect I can usually get through it. I really don’t think that women “naturally” know what to do. Back in the “old days” girls got to see childbirth as they were growing up or, at the very least, saw animals birthing. I think that women are kidding themselves to think that they will instinctively know what to do or that they can get all of the info from books.

    My advice is to find a few week class on childbirth, a few week class on breastfeeding and another on infant care. I have had women in my family fail easily at breastfeeding because they did not prepare ahead of time. I think knowledge is power; the more we know the better we are. So even as an experienced RN I still learned important info from the classes I took.

    boisern  |  October 16th, 2008 at 3:14 pm

  • It all depends on the individual, I know I had two kids without child-birth classes. Nothing can really prepare you for child-birth because I believe that each individual experience is different.

    zjojor  |  November 5th, 2008 at 10:18 am

  • I agree with Jessica: It depends on the type of class. Some are simply instructions in hospital policy. Meh. Some, however, are hugely informative.

    I took them with my first, and they were very helpful.(Not with the next two: I remembered all I needed to know.) The practical information I received (and all the practicing I did) made the difference between me being terrified throughout labour and being (mostly!) calm and focussed. Hard to pay too much for that.

    It also depends on what your attitude to childbirth is. If you know you want to be knocked out at the third contraction, natural childbirth classes are not the best choice. You want a good fit between your attitude and the instructor’s.

    MaryP  |  December 16th, 2008 at 12:31 pm

  • Yep, I took one from my healthcare provider. cheap, $40something for one night a week for 4 weeks.

    loved it!

    didnt do any bonding, everyone else in there was either very young. ie with their parents, or clueless, or uneducated, or scared. one woman nearly passed out during one of those delivery videos, she was shaking, in histerics saying she didnt want to do this anymore. the next video, my hubby and I almost got kicked out becuase we were laughing so hard at what looked like a 1980’s version of “Pat” giving birth, not sure if it was guy or girl.

    loved the teacher she was a lactation consultant as well, learned the basics of breathing technics but it was true what she said that we would have to practice them on our own and we did, a lot. learned relaxation methods, learned what can go bad, what not to say to a nurse, learned things change in an instant and you need to flow and be ok with it.

    Babs  |  September 11th, 2009 at 2:09 pm

  • We took Bradley and it was around $200 back in 1999. It was worth it because I learned everything to expect before, during, and after. I labored for 3 days without doctors and nurses hovering and inserting monitors etc.

    I walked into the hospital 8 cm dilated and nurses were freaking out as if they had never seen such a thing.

    When my son just refused to come out I was the only one not freaking out and trying to talk to the doc about my options while the ex-husband, my mom, and nurses were in a panic.

    I remember looking around and thinking what is wrong with these people? They’ve all had babies or seen births before. I wish THEY had taken the class and that ex-husband had bothered actually learning something!

    A good class will prepare you for anything, teach you how not to panic, even in an emergency.

    mneave  |  May 23rd, 2011 at 9:18 am