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Health & Pregnancy

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Birthing Classes: Which Style Is for You?

How to find a class that matches your personal philosophy of pregnancy and delivery.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Are childbirth classes for everyone? Two Columbia University childbirth experts -- Mary Lake Polan, MD, PhD, MPH, an adjunct professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, and Jeanne M. Coulehan, CNM, MPH, clinical practice manager and midwife in the division of maternal-fetal medicine -- offer a resounding "yes." But the thing to know, they say, is that "one size doesn't fit all." Childbirth classes vary in duration, curriculum, and approach, so do your homework before class begins. Find a class and instructor that match your personal philosophy of pregnancy and delivery, especially when it comes to the use of pain medications or medical intervention.

Polan favors a comprehensive approach, which many classes offer. They cover the gamut, from pregnancy to labor and delivery and beyond. "The more you know about what's going on, the better you're able to not be frightened and to deal with the pain," Polan says. You also need to know about alternatives for pain relief or what happens if a problem suddenly develops during labor. "Everybody should go to a childbirth class, even if you know you're having a cesarean," Coulehan adds. (Yes, there are childbirth classes tailored for this kind of delivery.)

Where should you begin? You can start with your obstetrician, midwife, or hospital for suggestions. Or ask friends and family members or search online for classes in your area.

As you hunt for options, remember this: "The goal is to have a healthy baby, not to have a peak experience," says Polan. Labor and delivery may seem endless when you're in it. But it's really only a day in this lengthy parenting affair.


Lamaze was one of the pioneers in childbirth education. Today, it remains the most widely used approach in the United States.

"With Lamaze, you're taught breathing exercises to help you breathe through the pain and not tense up," Polan says. You also learn other relaxation and distraction techniques, massage and communication skills, and positioning for labor and birth. And your childbirth partner or coach learns ways to support you throughout labor.

Use of medication and medical intervention isn't considered verboten in Lamaze. Instead, you're informed about your range of options. "It's important not to feel that you're a failure if you decide you want pain medicine," says Polan.

In addition to guidance on labor and birth, Lamaze provides information about a healthy lifestyle, early postpartum care, and breastfeeding.

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