It’s the same in every sitcom and romantic comedy depiction of a prenatal class: The mom-to-be is stationed between her partner’s legs, her back against his chest, her hands on her burgeoning belly. The teacher—usually an overplayed caricature of a hippie, sometimes even an A-lister cameo—is instructing the class in breathing techniques, and the woman is panting away while the dad-to-be looks green. So that’s all it’s about, right? A little hee-hee-hee-hoo? Wrong. Prenatal classes offer so much more to expectant parents—everything from labour strategies to baby care after birth.
The options vary, from comprehensive classes that run several weeks, to overviews of the basics that are covered in a few hours. Some courses are for pregnant moms only, while others address the roles and concerns of both parents.
We’ve rounded up a selection of popular class offerings, their philosophies and what to expect, so you can choose the course that’s best for you.
General childbirth and baby care
Most hospitals and midwife clinics offer an overview course, either full days on weekends or on a weekday evening over multiple weeks. You can expect to learn the mechanics of childbirth—what happens to a woman’s body during and after delivery—as well as birth-plan and pain-relief options.
Parents-to-be will also learn about caring for their new addition. “The labour information is great, but I really feel the lessons in baby care are especially important,” says Graeme Smith, the head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Kingston General Hospital and creator of The MotHERS Program, an online health and wellness resource for pregnant women. “Many new parents don’t know how to bathe a newborn, for example. It’s important to give them tools for the early days of their baby being at home.”
Just as it sounds, this course is for parents who have already been through prenatal training in a previous pregnancy.
These programs are especially popular with blended families—where one parent has been through a birth, but the other has not—or in families where the age spread between children is considerable.
In addition to boning up on the fundamentals, parents can also expect to learn about preparing their older kids for the addition of a new sibling.
When Lani Sopman, 32, was pregnant with her daughter, Riley, now 16 months, she knew she wanted a drug-free delivery. “I wanted to learn how to deal with the pain without turning to medication,” she says.
The principle behind hypnobirthing is one of relaxation and trust: It teaches women to give themselves over to their bodies, to welcome the natural rhythm of biology. It is thought that this psychological practice allows women to turn pain into a different, less traumatic sensation.
Though Sopman’s birth ended in an emergency C-section, she still found the technique extremely useful: “The breathing was very helpful. I still use it now when Riley drives me bonkers!”
Many women take prenatal yoga for the sole purpose of staying active during pregnancy, but they may not know their Saturday morning Zen sessions are actually preparing them for delivery day, too.
Prenatal yoga is specifically designed for expectant women, with modifications or omission of certain poses, and promotes gentle stretching, centered thinking and focused breathing—all important elements of childbirth. Some instructors will also ask students to come up with a mantra intended to bring about an inner calm, which can be used during labour as well.
Be sure to speak to your doctor before signing up for a prenatal yoga class to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
Online classes Some public health units and hospitals are beginning to offer online resources for parents-to-be to follow at home. But Graeme Smith says this may not be the best option for first-time parents, who will have questions. However, this can be a fine review for parents who’ve been through it before, he adds.
A version of this article appeared in our March 2015 issue with the headline, "Prenatal prep," p. 63.
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