Why does education and preparation matter in birth?

Would you run a marathon without considering what was involved? Maybe, but not likely. And once you understood what was involved you’d probably do a bit of training to get your body in the best condition possible for the run right? And let’s not forget the mind. Mentally you would have to prepare yourself as you know it’s going to be challenging. So what tools will you use, and how will you develop that inner mettle before the race to get you through. And what about the people that help you realise your goal? Do you tell your partner that you’re going to run a marathon so they can support you to get there? And then comes the day, what do you need then? A coach, a cheer squad, an anchor point, a goal, a reward, or perhaps you want all of that there in case you need it but it turns out you prefer to be left alone to get into the Zone and run that marathon yourself.

Childbirth is no different. Understanding the birth process and what we can do to support the body beforehand gets us in the best shape physically and mentally for labour. When this is combined with a range of evidence-based tools that you and your partner have practiced together and use during labour, you are able to let go and trust in your body’s natural process, trust your team’s ability to support you and surrender to birth being an empowering journey that will challenge you but you are able to navigate.

This is why attending an independent childbirth education class matters. Education opens the possibilities for what birth can be, aligns you and your partner’s expectations and wishes and prepares you to mentally deal with the intense journey of the perinatal period. It provides you with a broad tool kit so you have other options to draw on if labour calls for it and also prepares you to navigate forks in the road. We know change can create feelings of stress if we don’t understand or feel safe with what is happening, or we feel like we don’t have a choice with what is unfolding. Being familiar with your options even if they are not your first preference means that in the moment you and your partner can communicate with your care providers, choose the course of action together and feel resolved and even empowered with the choices you have made.

Antenatal classes are not important to promote and encourage only normal birth but to normalise birth. By the way, the word ‘normal’ is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “typical, usual or ordinary; what you would expect” but when it comes to birth whose expectations are being met? The birthing woman? The caregiver? What happens if the caregiver usually works with complicated and medicalised birth? Is that the ‘normal’ they expect to see? What if the mother expects birth to be natural without intervention? Or what if it was the other way around? How are these two expectations realised in the birth room? That is why clear communication with your caregiver during pregnancy is so important, so how do we communicate what our wishes are when we are not sure ourselves? Often, we don’t know what kind of birth is possible or what we want, and we have never seen labour or birth outside of sex education in school so how can we ask those questions to our care provider, which bring us back again to the importance of birth education.

Pre-natal classes explore the diversity of birth and support the birthing couple’s wishes and expectations. A study of 14,630 deliveries published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2016 found that women who took a childbirth education class were 25% more likely to have a vaginal delivery than those who didn’t, and those that had a made a birth plan were twice as likely to avoid a C-section and these results were not only for first time mums. Even if you know what to expect and have given birth before every birth is different, like every baby is different, so the journey first time might be very different second, or third or fourth time around. Birth classes provide you and your partner time to connect to each other and to tune into your new baby and their birth.

One of the most humbling experiences I have had was attending pre-natal classes and mothers’ group 10 years ago when I was training as a doula. A doula is a person who supports a birthing person and their partner during labour and birth. This continuous one-on-one care includes information, physical and emotional support and is given to the mother no matter how she chooses to birth.

At the time of my training I had no children of my own and I had little experience of pregnancy and babies so sitting with women was an invaluable learning. I heard the women speak about the plans for their birth including where they were having their baby, the caregivers they had chosen and why they had chosen them, what tools they had practiced and were planning to use to manage the intensity of labour and the hopes and dreams they had for themselves during this journey. The beauty of this mother’s group was that women would often attend when they went on maternity leave so would be with the group for 4-6 weeks and then they would not attend for a few weeks and then come back with a baby in their arms. Once back in the group they would share their birth story and I was always amazed at how unique each birth was and how the tools that the women used to work with their labour were sometimes not what they expected. When I birthed my own children, I thanked my year of training and this unique educational experience of normalising birth, building trust in my body’s ability to birth and providing me with the ability to be empowered when navigating crossroads in my labours.

While it probably won’t be feasible for you to prepare for your perinatal journey by spending a year attending births, listening to birth stories and exploring every aspect of birth you can attend a comprehensive childbirth education course that is realistic without overmedicalizing or romanticising birth. In 2016 the British Medical Journal published results of a research study comparing outcomes for mothers and babies after completing the standard hospital birth preparation course or completing She Births®, an antenatal education program that incorporates evidence based complimentary medicine modalities. The couples in the She Births® study group had a 65% reduction in epidural use, a 44% reduction in C-section and a 53% reduction in resuscitation. This indicates that education and evidence-based skills when used in pregnancy and labour improve outcomes not only for mothers but for babies as well.

My journey with those women years ago continues to inspire me to support couples as a doula and empower couples in Newcastle by sharing the knowledge of the only scientifically verified childbirth education course She Births®.