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The Future of Childbirth Education

Jeanne and I just finished teaching a 3-day childbirth educator training seminar. We had a wonderful group of women – nurses, massage therapists, doulas, an ultrasound technician, a lactation consultant, a health educator, and a retired (to stay home with her children) English professor. Diverse backgrounds, all with a passion for helping women to choose and to achieve safe and healthy births. Our training has changed.  No longer do we recommend that childbirth educators teach a certain number of classes in the last trimester of pregnancy. Instead, we spend time exploring ways to reach pregnant women early in their pregnancy. We brainstorm ideas for developing ongoing relationships with pregnant women throughout the childbearing year. We debate the best times and formats for in-person classes to involve the labor partner and to practice comfort strategies.

In this seminar, we spent time examining the current culture of birth. We discussed whether it is realistic for a woman to plan for an intervention-free birth in a hospital; we debated the safety of home birth. We deliberated about the best way to communicate and to work with obstetricians and anesthesiologists who are not always supportive of what we are teaching. We examined the evidence for the 6 healthy birth practices promoted by Lamaze International (based on guidelines from the World Health Organization) and we explored ways to keep up with current research.

Instead of recommending specific breathing patterns for each phase of labor as in the early days of childbirth education, we practiced a wide variety of comfort measures which included the power of the breath.

Childbirth education is more challenging today without the rigid prescriptions of the past. However, with a cesarean rate approaching a third of all births in the United States, it is more important than ever. Most childbearing women today do not have complete information about routine interventions. They are not aware of their own strength and power to give birth. Although they may think that they don’t have time for childbirth classes, we need to find ways to reach them and get them into activities and classes designed for twenty-first century women and their partners. Challenging, but together with the new crop of childbirth educators who are entering the field, I think we can do it.

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