There can be no doubt that attendance is down at childbirth classes across the country. Prospective parents are relying on the Internet for information about pregnancy and birth and many feel that attending an in-person class will not be worth their time and money. I don’t believe that the Web and online learning can replace the magic that often occurs in high-quality childbirth classes. I am especially concerned about fathers – the likelihood that a pregnant woman and her partner will sit down in front of a computer at the same time so that they can process and discuss what they are learning is not high. Also, human nature is such that we seek out websites that confirm what we are already thinking. A woman who has been convinced by well-meaning friends that the best way to have a baby is by planning an induction and early epidural is not likely to spend a lot of time on a website or in an online class that touts the benefits of natural childbirth. However, in a good childbirth class with plenty of time for thoughtful discussions, this same woman may learn enough from both the instructor and the other parents in the class to open her eyes to all the options available to her. So how can we get her into class?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Hit the pavement – with food.
Jeanne and I used to run a community-based childbirth education program. Once a year, we’d visit each physician practice in our area at lunchtime. We’d bring lunch to the practices who referred the most women to us. Lunch was for the support staff as well as the physician. The in-person visit gave us the opportunity to discuss any problems or miscommunications as well as to inform the office about new classes we were offering. If the office nurse enthusiastically recommends your classes to all the pregnant women she sees, attendance at your classes will pick up. (We brought cookies to the other offices.)
2. Consider offering yoga, movement, and/or exercise classes.
Women are into fitness these days. If you schedule classes at times that fit into their busy schedules AND market your classes to health care providers, you will get women into class. We’ve heard about one childbirth educator who offers a “movement” class – a combination of yoga, belly dancing, and prenatal exercise. It sounds like fun. Once you have them in one class, you can often sell them on other classes.
3. Offer a wide variety of classes throughout pregnancy.
Rethink offering only a series of classes during the third trimester. Offer pre-conception classes and early pregnancy classes. Offer single classes on topics such as nutrition, what you need to buy for the baby, prenatal testing, baby-wearing. The possibilities are endless. Signing up for just one class isn’t as intimidating as committing to a series of classes. If the students find one class worthwhile, they may sign up for other classes. Weave information about safe and healthy birth into every class. If you have enough students, try to group students into classes by due dates so that they see familiar faces in their classes. In order to promote safe and healthy birth, you really want to get them into a class or classes that will help them plan for the birth practices that best promote safe and healthy birth. Attending a class like this will lead to a class on comfort measures. Get the point?
4. Supplement your classes with today’s technology.
Have a website with supplementary materials and links to reputable and trustworthy websites. (The Family Way ‘Web-It” feature on our website does this.) Text your students between classes in a series with teasers or questions to think about before the next class.
5. Work hard to make your classes the best they can be.
Don’t get lazy and keep doing the same things. If your classes are fun AND help women and their partners to have safe and healthy births, word will spread!
If you have found strategies that have helped to increase attendance at your classes , or if you have not experienced a drop-off in attendance, please share what you have done. I hope to hear from a lot of you.