Choosing the right childbirth class for you and your partner can be difficult; fortunately, Portland has a variety of class types to fit your needs. There are different aspects to consider from the location and type of birth you hope to have, to particular birthing methods you might like to use, to the cost, timing, and location of the class. In general, most childbirth education series will teach you about the birth process, how to identify labor, pros and cons of medications and interventions available, as well as positions and comfort techniques that might aid you during the labor process. Group classes are a great opportunity to meet with other couples and can occasionally be the source of newborn playgroups and lifelong friendships for you and your child.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a class:

When to take your course

The general recommendation is to take your class in the second half of your pregnancy and to complete your course no later than 36 weeks of pregnancy. This timing accomplishes two goals, 1) to have completed your course in plenty of time for baby’s arrival (most important!) and 2) to educate you sufficiently close to the birth that you and your partner still remember and feel comfortable with what you’ve learned. However, it is not always ideal timing to take a course that fits these specifications. Perhaps you’d feel more comfortable taking a class earlier in your pregnancy or maybe you have a doula and will be meeting with her in the month or two prior to delivery. It comes down to your comfort level and availability.

 Classes taught by Independent Instructors

Independent birth classes are offered in various locations outside the hospital setting. They may be in a birth or family center, a yoga studio, or perhaps in the teacher’s home. Compared to a hospital class, these classes are often much smaller (4-6 couples) and more intimate, allowing couples greater opportunity to ask questions and get to know one another. Most classes fall in the range of 4 to 8 weeks, but some are as lengthy as 12 weeks. Cost also varies significantly from about $150 to over $300 for a couple to attend a full length series. Independent classes are more likely to include breastfeeding and newborn topics within the childbirth education series so that you don’t need to register and pay for two separate classes. These classes tend to draw couples seeking more than the standard fare offered in a hospital course. Many couples are seeking low intervention births and would like to know more about coping techniques and alternatives to hospital interventions. Independent classes might also focus on a particular childbirth method such as Lamaze, Birthing from WithingHypnobirthing, or the Bradley Method for Natural Childbirth. If you do not require a class that teaches a specialized method, be sure to choose a class that is supportive and open to all birthing types, or one that provides education and support for the type of birth you hope to achieve. Some out of hospital courses are designed specifically for women planning to birth in hospital while others are designed for women choosing a home or birth center birth.

Special Topics Birth Seminars

These classes can range from a several hour seminar to a weekend intensive course and typically focus on a special topic such as yoga positions for birth, breathing during birth, partner support, vaginal birth after cesarean, etc. While they are not designed as stand alone courses, these types of seminars can be a great add on class to a hospital childbirth education class.

Hospital Childbirth Education Courses

Most local hospitals offer childbirth education courses. The links will provide more information about upcoming offerings for each hospital group. 

These classes can provide a nice opportunity for you to learn more about your hospital’s rules and what types of birth props are available in their birthing suites. While you are sometimes offered the opportunity to tour your hospital, more and more often you need to arrange a tour separately or are only offered online tours. Most hospitals offer a 4-5 week class for birth preparation and offer add-on classes for breastfeeding, parenting, and infant CPR.   These classes are often fairly economical, ranging in price from about $130 for the 4-5 class series and $35-$40 for each add-on class.  If your hospital offers water birth and you would like the option to birth in the water, you may be required to take a a special water birth class at extra expense and time (about 2 hours).

I’ve heard some great feedback about doula taught hospital childbirth courses devoting time to discovering coping methods that work for each individual. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in a large, time-limited class.  Find out who is teaching your class and what the content of the class will be! Check out this About.com article, which provides questions to ask to find the best hospital childbirth education class.  In general, hospital based courses tend to be larger and less tailored to the needs and interests of the attendees.  In some cases, hospitals have strict oversight on the content of their childbirth education courses and are restricted by time (especially in 1 or 2 days classes) and may therefore have less time to focus on natural birthing techniques than a class taught by an independent educator. Some couples who choose to take hospital courses also like to add on a shorter special topics birth seminar to learn more about specific comfort measures, breathing techniques, partner support, or yoga positioning. Another option is to choose a doula who can help educate you about birth techniques that might not be taught in your standard hospital childbirth education course. 

Online Classes

Some hospitals and other venues offer do-it-yourself online courses. While these lack the human element of a knowledgeable teacher and other expecting couples, you may find that your schedule or estimated due date doesn’t accommodate any of the other options. If you are dedicated and learn well at your own pace, online classes could be a good option for you.

Please check back on our site for upcoming classes taught by our doulas as well as other locally taught classes. If you are a local childbirth educator and would like to have your upcoming class listed, please send an e-mail to Martha at mvonreis@gmail.com.

Best of luck finding a class that suits your needs!