Evidence-based benefits of childbirth education
January 25-31 is International Childbirth Education Week. As a proud certified childbirth educator with Lamaze, there are many reasons why childbirth education matters to me, why it should matter to you, and why I absolutely believe in what I do and teach. This week is meant to highlight the importance of the profession and what evidence-based childbirth education can accomplish—at both the grassroots and grand-scale levels for maternity health outcomes and advocacy. While the topic of the benefits of childbirth education has not been studied extensively, there have been some promising insights from studies. Evidence-Based Birth has an article that outlines the variety of possible positive takeaways from childbirth education in the prenatal period.
Here are 7 of those benefits: 1. Childbirth education results in a higher chance of unassisted vaginal delivery.
“[…] nulliparous women who attended professional childbirth classes during pregnancy had increased odds for successful spontaneous vaginal delivery and lower rate of instrumental delivery. […] adequate preparation for labor and delivery and prenatal knowledge contribute to maternal cooperation with the instructions from midwives and obstetricians, leading to lower necessity for interventions.” (Gluck et al.) Hard to argue with that one! If your goal is to have a vaginal delivery with as few interventions as possible, taking professional childbirth education classes is a simple way to make that more likely. As a bonus, you are also more likely to have a better relationship with your care team when you are educated. (Sidenote: having a birth doula enhances these statistics even more!) 2. Childbirth education classes create opportunities for social support.
“Another common goal of childbirth education is to help you form a social support network and to meet other parents in your community who are going through the same thing.“ (Dekker, R.) There are plenty of childbirth education options out there, from self-study, reading books, solo online courses, to one-day workshops and hospital sessions. They all have their own benefits, but they are often missing one key piece: social support. Childbirth education is as much about knowledge growth as it is about social growth. One of the most beneficial takeaways from a comprehensive group series is that you are learning, sharing, and growing alongside the same people each week. You are building those connections a little more each time you meet. Even if your journeys are very different, you are all in that pregnancy boat together headed to the same destination. Not only that, but you’ll already have a little group to rely on postpartum that you have an established connection with. Hands down, this is one of my favourite parts of being a childbirth educator. 3. Childbirth education teaches you to be a critical consumer of maternity care, so you can make informed choices.
“Research shows that [independently run childbirth] classes tend to teach people to be critical consumers of their healthcare […]." (Dekker, R.). To clarify, 'critical' does not mean ‘difficult’ or combative. Critical means aware, informed, empowered, and able to self-advocate: · So you can work with your healthcare team and make the best, most informed decisions for you and your baby—together as a team.
· So you are not the passenger, but the driver. Your team is beside you, only taking the wheel when you ask, or when truly necessary. 4. Childbirth education often means parents have greater trust in their hospitals and caregivers, and less fear of medical interventions.
“[…] researchers found that after a typical childbirth class, many parents had more trust in hospitals and less fear of medical interventions. They also had a greater trust in their caregivers.” (Dekker, R.)
Because childbirth education can greatly reduce our fear surrounding the “unknowns” of birth, when we do prepare to give birth—and eventually give birth—we tend to have more trust in not only ourselves, but those who care for us. We may not be able to prevent all interventions, but when we better understand possible outcomes, we fear them less. If we are informed along the way, we have greater trust that our medical professionals are using them appropriately. If we are uncomfortable, childbirth education provides self-advocacy skills so you feel comfortable expressing your concerns.
5. Childbirth education can change how you view and even how acutely you experience labour pain.
“The theory is that childbirth education acts on your central nervous system to relieve pain. We call this the Central Nervous System Control method of pain management, and basically what this means is that acquiring knowledge and skills before you give birth may activate thoughts and mental processes in your brain so that you perceive less pain or your pain feels less unpleasant during labor.“ (Dekker, R.)
This is a big one in prenatal education classes. Fear (including fear of pain) can absolutely sidle you if carry the weight of that fear into your birth. Demystifying pain theories, normalizing and understanding how labour pain differs from injury pain is so helpful and empowering. Does birth still hurt? It sure can, but you can better cope with that pain (and even perceive it less) when you are educated. When you have the right tools, you can prevent it from increasing your stress response… thereby potentially decreasing your pain experience. So much of our culture focusses on how “painful“ birth is instead of how to work with and listen to that pain to help ease baby's journey into the world for you both.
6. Childbirth education helps you prepare to have as normal a birth as possible.
“Research shows that [independently run childbirth] classes […] tend to focus on a normal birth philosophy—helping you prepare to have as normal a birth as possible.” (Dekker, R.). Our first focus in classes is on what the physiological birth process looks like. We want to appreciate how birth and our bodies have evolved to work. We then learn how you can cope with the help of that foundation (if that’s your choice), and fill your toolbox to make that possible. Then, we make sure you are fully aware of all your other options and potential interventions so you can make the choices that fit for your family from a place of understanding. First we focus on birth through a clear lens before we blur with filters. 7. Childbirth education focussed on comfort measures can result in fewer interventions and better newborn outcomes.
“[...] this study shows that childbirth education that focuses on non-drug comfort measures – complementary and alternative therapies – such as acupressure, visualization, breathing, yoga, and massage results in less need for medical intervention during birth and better outcomes for newborns.” (Dekker, R.)
Knowledge is an essential part of the equation, but it is not the only factor. The best childbirth education teaches you skills and gives you tools along with that understanding. We really learn to drive not from reading a manual, but getting behind the wheel ourselves. Childbirth education classes that focus less on the accumulation of information (the why), and shift to the practical application (the how) of that information have the best benefits. You are much more likely to test drive those practiced techniques in your actual birth if you've done more than read about them. Learn about the positions, but also do them. Learn about breathing techniques, but also do them. Learn, and do. Using what you've learned/practiced and seeing the benefits can lead to less desire (and possibly less need) for medical interventions that may affect both your birth experience and your baby's health.
Do it for one, or do it for them all—there is nothing to lose, and so much to gain from childbirth education.
References: Dekker, R. Childbirth Education for Pain Relief during Labor. Gluck, O., Pinchas-Cohen, T., Hiaev, Z., Rubinstein, H., Bar, J., and Kovo, M. (2020), The impact of childbirth education classes on delivery outcome. Int J. Gynecol Obstet. doi:10.1002/ijgo.13016