If you haven’t yet taken a childbirth education class, you have a lot to look forward to: You’ll learn what to expect in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum and you’ll learn strategies for dealing with pain or discomfort during labor. You’ll learn tools to help you make decisions while you’re in labor and you’ll develop confidence in your ability to give birth. If you’re able to take a class in-person or through a live, remote platform, you’ll also meet other people in your same stage of pregnancy and this can lay an important foundation for your “village” when you’re on the other side of giving birth. And finally, you’ll also have an opportunity to identify and address your fears surrounding giving birth and becoming a parent. This is key.
One of the top pieces of advice I give people who are interested in a “pelvic-floor friendly” birth, is to learn to relax and release the pelvic floor during pregnancy. The pelvic floor is a collection of muscles and fascia sit inside your pelvis. During pregnancy, these muscles work hard to, among other things, support the pelvic organs and growing weight of the uterus. During childbirth, they must have the ability to relax and yield to let baby exit the body. If those muscles are tense and tight they will provide resistance to the baby’s passage, potentially making labor longer, increasing the odds of perineal tears or risking damage to the deeper layers of the pelvic floor. If these muscles are relaxed and pliable, vaginal childbirth may proceed with more ease and less strain to the pelvic floor and its support structures.
When preparing for childbirth, I encourage people to learn breathing-based strategies aimed at relaxing and releasing these muscles. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Success in relaxing the pelvic floor muscles may be hampered by tension generated by fear. Breathing strategies to relax the pelvic floor will be more effective if we address the source of tension from multiple perspectives. General childbirth education is key to a multi-pronged approach to reducing fear and tension and relaxing the pelvic floor.
In the early 1900’s, an obstetrician named Dick Grantly Read observed that fear significantly complicated childbirth. He noticed that if people were taught what to expect and were supported by caring people, pain was minimized. He developed the idea of the “Fear-Tension-Pain” cycle. In a nutshell, fear drives tension, tension enhances pain, and pain leads to more fear. And on.
Here’s something we know about pain: the perception of pain is enhanced by fear and anxiety. If you believe that birth is dangerous or painful, your body is going to respond by tensing muscles throughout your body, everywhere from your shoulders and your jaw to your uterus and your pelvic floor. This tension will likely slow labor and increase the pain of contractions because if you are pushing a baby against a clenched pelvic floor, you are working against your body. Imagine trying to squeeze toothpaste out of a container with the cap screwed on tight.
One of the most important things we can do to reduce fear and anxiety during childbirth is to learn as much as we can about the childbirth process during pregnancy. Address fears as early as possible. Learn techniques to relax and release tension. Develop a framework to calmly ask questions and deal with unexpected turn of events. Basic childbirth education is essential to changing negative thoughts and perceptions surrounding childbirth and reducing associated fear and tension.
Childbirth Education Options and Types of Birthing Classes
Childbirth education is available in many formats. You can take comprehensive childbirth education that covers the range of childbirth variations from physiologic childbirth (e.g. low-intervention or “natural” childbirth) to higher-intervention childbirth (instrument assisted or cesarean childbirth). I recommend taking a course that covers the span of childbirth outcomes because birth is unpredictable. You can certainly plan for the birth you most desire, but I encourage you to become educated in the alternate outcomes in case you find yourself in a situation you didn’t expect.
If you want to dive deeper into specific childbirth tools or strategies, there are many types of birthing classes available to you. You can seek out specialty courses that focus on relaxation-based birthing methods, birth breathing or optimal fetal positioning and body balancing (see my specific recommendations below). These additional courses are wonderful because they teach skills that empower the birthing person to feel more in control of their bodies during an event in which they are largely relinquishing control to their body’s intrinsic programming. However, I encourage people to using these courses as a supplement to their childbirth education, not the main pillar. I strongly believe that all birthing people should be equipped for all possible outcomes on their birthing day, no matter how thoroughly they stack the deck in favor of their preferred outcome.
Childbirth education classes are available as group courses or 1 on 1 with an instructor. During the current COVID-19 outbreak, both options are available through virtual platforms and offer many of the same benefits as in-person experiences. While most childbirth education courses are offered in a “live” format, some courses are pre-recorded option and might be preferable for cost or convenience.
Finally, if you’re wondering when to take childbirth classes: I recommend enrolling in a course that will meet by months 6 or 7 of your pregnancy. But if you’re already beyond that stage, you can still take a class. It’s never too late.
Below I am linking to some wonderful educational options in a few different categories. Most of the individual educators are located in the Greater Seattle-Metropolitan area, but a few are located beyond. If you have a recommendation (or request) for something I haven’t included, please get in touch with me through my contact page.
Comprehensive Childbirth Education Classes and Childbirth Educators in the Seattle area and beyond:
Sharon Muza (Seattle, WA): Sharon offers a variety of childbirth education courses ranging from a comprehensive “Lamaze Birth & Baby YOUR Way” series, to courses focused on early pregnancy, vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) and planned Cesarean births along with a popular four hour “Labor YOUR Way” class. Private options are available. She emphasizes evidenced-based information, active learning and a respectful and inclusive class environment.
Erika Davis at Whole Body Pregnancy (Tacoma, WA): Erika teaches a bespoke comprehensive childbirth education curriculum that centers the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC people and people living in larger bodies. She created her Whole Body Pregnancy Childbirth and Parenthood Preparation so that all families would feel represented in the “visuals, language and spirit” of the material. She offers individual sessions that cater specifically to LGBTQ+ or BIPOC families, respectively.
Maia Midwifery (Seattle, WA): Maia midwifery offers midwife-led, gender inclusive, LGBTQ+ centered complete childbirth preparation courses (covers birthing in hospital, birth center or home). They also offer conception courses and pregnancy and conception centering groups for queer and trans people.
Wendy Dean at Birth Zone (Woodinville, WA): Wendy’s childbirth education series focuses on low-intervention births in hospital, birth center or home although the course does touch on medical interventions.
Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins (Always Online): The Beautiful Birth Prep Process is a pre-recorded, OB/GYN led, comprehensive, evidence-based childbirth education course. The course comes with access to a Facebook community moderated by an experienced doula. Since the course is pre-recorded, it can be completed at your own pace and once the course is purchased, it can be used for future births. She also offers a free Birth Plan writing course.
Great Starts/Parent Trust (Puget Sound Region): Great Starts offers comprehensive childbirth education classes that are appropriate for parents planning hospital, birth center or home births. Classes are offered in a variety of formats, from numerous instructors and based out of a number of locations in the Puget Sound region.
Relaxation-based Childbirth Methods
Vanessa Bussell (Tacoma, WA): Mongan Method Hypnobirthing instruction in a 1 on 1 format.
Judi McGee (Seattle, WA): Mongan Method Hypnobirthing instruction in a group format.
Lauren Pineda (Seattle, WA): Bradley Method instruction in a 1 on 1 format.
1:1 Childbirth Education:
Kat Williams at Pronatal Support
Katie Domingue at HelloBabySeattle
Free Childbirth Education Classes Online:
Birthing in the Time of Covid-19 by Evidence Based Birth
Additional Birthing Classes:
Spinning Babies Parent Class: Optimal fetal positioning, comfort measures and body balancing techniques)
Pushing Power by Chantal Traub: Learn about the 2nd stage of labor, ways to efficiently breath for labor and tips to avoid perineal tearing
Learn how to dial in your breathing strategy to harness control of your pelvic floor and feel stronger in your workouts. Download a copy of The No B.S. Guide to Breathing for a STRONG Pregnancy and Postpartum.
My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.
Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I work with people locally (Seattle’s Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and online to develop personalized pregnancy and postpartum personal training plans. I also offer labor support (doula services) within the greater Seattle-Metro Area.