Are Birthing Classes Necessary? Thoughts from an L&D Nurse

Last Updated: February 13, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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Are birthing classes necessary? This is a question I hear often as a labor and delivery nurse. And a question that I feel passionate about answering with a resounding yes!

During pregnancy, every woman has their baby’s birth waiting at the end of their 9-month journey. And for many, this thought can be a real source of anxiety.

Whether it’s your first birth, or any number of subsequent births, MOST women report at least some sense of worry or anxiety surrounding labor and delivery.

And as an L&D Nurse, it’s become clear to me that these feelings are almost 100% rooted in the unknown.

Luckily, there’s a really effective tool that can erase this sense of unknown (and potentially improve your birth outcomes!). And that is comprehensive childbirth education.

So today, we’re going to take a deep dive into exactly why I think birthing classes are worth it for every mama.

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What are childbirth classes?

Childbirth classes (aka birthing classes and sometimes even prenatal classes) teach you what to expect during labor and birth!

But to leave it at that would do a serious disservice to just how much a comprehensive childbirth class will really teach you.

Here’s an overview of what you can expect to learn from a high-quality class:

  • How to choose a provider/place for birth, and important questions to ask about their standard practice and policies
  • What’s important to include and consider in your birth plan
  • Education about how labor begins, spontaneous labor vs. induction, the progression of labor, and different types of contractions
  • In-depth understanding of procedures and monitoring that will happen in the hospital
  • Non-medical ways to cope with labor pain and breathing techniques for labor (even if you decide to get an epidural, there will be some pain to manage before your epidural is placed!)
  • A complete overview of various medical pain management options, including information about epidurals
  • Understanding and what to expect in the event of birth interventions, including C-sections
  • How you will progress through the different stages of labor
  • What pushing will be like, tips to push more effectively, and an overview of tearing during birth
  • Specifics for partners and support people and their role in the process
  • Some information related to postpartum care and recovery after birth, too!

Are birthing classes necessary?

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Whew. As you can see, there is A LOT that goes into the birth process. And knowing what to expect, and maybe more importantly, how to cope and advocate for yourself (before you’re in it) is the single most powerful tool you can give yourself!

So to answer the essential question of this article, are birthing classes necessary? In my professional opinion, yes!

Can you show up to give birth without taking one? Of course you can, and according to the Childbirth Connection, more than 2/3 of women do just that. But there is so much to gain from taking a birthing class!

In the labor and delivery unit, I always ask my patients if they’ve taken any kind of childbirth education class when I meet them. I don’t do this to judge them or make them feel lesser, but it’s helpful for me to know what kind of base knowledge a mother has going into her birth.

Anecdotally, I see a greater sense of confidence and calm in the mothers (and their partners) when they’ve taken a class. It’s also usually a more positive birth experience and outcome! And you know what, there are some emerging research studies that back this up.

A 2016 study published in Birth Issues in Perinatal Care looked at over 14,000 deliveries and found an association between attending a childbirth education class (and/or having a birth plan) with lower rates of C-sections and some other interventions (such as use of forceps). They go on to suggest that childbirth education is a powerful quality improvement tool to decrease C-section rates and maternal outcomes in the US.

Another smaller study published in early 2020 in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics had similar findings.

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Types of childbirth classes and tailored birth education

So, whenever the conversation of birth comes up, and mamas start asking if birth classes are necessary, I always like to talk about the benefits and roles of different types of birth classes.

You see, I often hear from mamas in the MLN community, and in my professional practice, the myth that birth classes are meant to push an “agenda” so to speak, or might even be priming mothers to accept a more medicalized childbirth experience.

But I’m here to say that simply doesn’t have to be the case! Do childbirth classes like this exist, sadly yes. However, with the access to information available in today’s day and age, you are no longer limited to the class offered at your local hospital.

You can research all different types of childbirth classes and find one that best aligns with your needs and desires! Ideally, this will be a class specific to your goals or situation, but one that still teaches about other outcomes with an open mind.

Because at the end of the day, the number one goal is that mom and baby are safe.

Natural birthing classes

In the US, around 60% of women get an epidural during birth. And let me just say, there is nothing wrong with epidurals! They are a wonderful option for a lot of mamas.

BUT. A significant portion of those women probably went into birth hoping to avoid an epidural! I hear it in my professional practice and see it in the MLN community. Many women want to go natural (that is, have an unmedicated birth), and then get an epidural because birth just wasn’t what they expected.

If you have any inkling or idea that you want to try to go natural, then a birth class tailored to this desire is a must! However, I challenge you to find a birth class specific to natural birth that still teaches about other outcomes and interventions with an open mind.

The last thing I want is for you to take a natural birth class that leaves you feeling lesser, or guilty if things don’t go as planned!

In Birth It Up: The Natural Series, you’ll find the education and tools you need to go natural, but also get unbiased know-how related to other outcomes (such as the epidural process and even C-sections) in case that’s what ends up being best for you!

Epidural birthing classes

Mama. If there’s one myth that really irks me, it’s that mamas think they don’t need childbirth education if they plan to get an epidural. This is SO untrue!

Every single mom can benefit from taking a childbirth class. And finding one that’s tailored to your specific needs is even better.

In an epidural birth class, like Birth It Up: The Epidural Series, you will learn more specifics about the epidural process, and all of the benefits (and potential side-effects) of an epidural will be covered in greater detail (and from an unbiased perspective).

What’s more, a good epidural birthing class will still teach you pain-coping techniques and strategies. This way you’ll be prepared for contraction pain before your epidural is placed, or in the event that there’s no time for an epidural!

Birthing classes for couples

Alright, another type of childbirth class I want you to have on your radar is a class that includes partners! A prepared partner is such an essential tool on your big day.

I actually always laugh to myself a little, because even as an L&D nurse I totally underestimated the importance of preparing my husband before our first baby was born!

He felt a little helpless when he saw me enduring the pain of my unmedicated birth and overwhelmed by the entire process. For our second birth, I made sure to include him more in the preparation process.

It’s also why when I created both of my Birth It Up birth classes, I incorporated specific sections for partners, and cheat sheets to help partners better support birthing mamas.

But whatever birth class you decide on, I hope you’ll find one that is inclusive (and engaging) to partners! Because preparing as a team is key.

Hospital birth preparation

The vast majority of births here in the US take place in a hospital setting. For that reason, many, many birth classes focus on hospital birth preparation. This means, your class will teach you about standard monitoring procedures and other things to expect at a hospital birth.

If you choose not to take a birth class that’s affiliated with your hospital (because you want something more tailored to your needs!), I do still encourage you to do a hospital tour before birth.

This will help SO much with your hospital birth preparation because you can ask questions about specific policies and standards of care in your place of birth.

Birth education for VBAC mamas

Where are my VBAC mamas at? I am super passionate about helping women realize that just because you’ve had a C-section in the past, doesn’t mean you need to have another one!

So many women are eligible for a VBAC and don’t realize it. If you are hoping for a VBAC, childbirth education is such a great idea! But, not surprisingly, be sure to find a class that includes information specific to this need.

In-person vs. online childbirth classes

So far, I’ve emphasized exactly why I think birth classes are so empowering for mamas and their partners, and I’ve talked about the benefits of finding a childbirth class that suits your needs.

This brings up the point of choosing an online childbirth class vs. an in-person or in-hospital birth class. As you can probably guess, there are pros and cons to both!

In my opinion online birthing classes are usually a better choice. They can provide a more tailored educational experience, and can be revisited again and again.

You can always obtain information specific to your place of birth from your provider or during a hospital/birth center tour as needed!

But, in the spirit of being thorough. Let’s take a look at the benefits of in-person vs. online birthing classes:

Benefits of online childbirth classes

  • Access is typically 100% on-demand, meaning you can watch the lessons when they fit into your schedule
  • Better retention of information! You can revisit specific lessons as needed, as many times as you want
  • There’s usually supplemental material such as note sheets, eBook versions of the class, checklists, and other printable material that accompanies your online class
  • You can find something that best suits YOUR needs and goals for birth
  • Options exist at different price points to fit every budget
  • Many still include a community element in the form of an online group or forum for a place to ask questions and connect with other moms. Look for one that’s moderated by birthing professionals

Benefits of in-person childbirth classes

  • Information is often specific to your place of birth (but they give a broad perspective in terms of birth information)
  • You will meet other expecting parents due around the same time as you
  • You can ask questions in real-time as information is presented

How to choose an online birthing class? 3 Things to look for

It’s no secret that online, on-demand education is all the rage these days! There are a lot of online childbirth education options out there, so how do you pick the right one for you?

1. Who teaches the class?

Always choose a class that is taught by someone with credentials (and experience)! This might mean they’re a certified childbirth educator, they’re a labor and delivery RN, they’re an OB/GYN or midwife, or they’re a certified doula.

Think about how different credentials, certifications, and experience bring different strengths (and weaknesses) to the table!

2. What’s the community like, and what are others saying?

Social media presence, class reviews, and other information and content that the course creator provides can really give you a sense of whether the class will be a good fit!

We all learn better when information is presented in a format that works for us, and when it’s delivered by someone who we can connect with!

So before you choose a birth class, see what other things the creator offers that will give you a sense of who they are.

If you’re interested in learning more about me, the creator of the Birth It Up birth classes, I encourage you to check out my Instagram page @mommy.labornurse, give a listen to the Mommy Labor Nurse Podcast, and read some more articles here on our site.

Everyday on Instagram, I feature tons of mamas that have given birth after taking my course for #birthitupbaby – you don’t want to miss it!

3. Will it support my specific needs?

We’ve already talked about this quite a bit, but I wanted to include it here one more time. As you look around at different online birth class options, be picky! One of the biggest benefits of an online class is choosing something that really addresses your goals.

If you’re not sure what you want, that’s okay! Believe it or not, that in itself is a need that can be addressed.

When to take a birthing class?

Hopefully, by now you’re starting to understand the difference a birth class can make for your experience. But you might be wondering when you should take one?

I recommend taking an online birthing class at the end of your second trimester or beginning of your third trimester.

This will give you plenty of time to get through it and absorb all of the information. Then, you can revisit the class once you’re full-term for a refresher!

There are a lot of opinions out there on this, and a lot of the advice you see from other resources is talking about in-person classes.

You see, traditional in-person classes are often recommended for the final month of pregnancy, and I think that’s because you only get one shot at absorbing all the info. You want it fresh in your mind.

What if I’m already full term? Can I still take a birth class?

Yes, definitely! This is yet another benefit of an online option. While the ideal scenario is taking it earlier and revisiting it, you can totally binge watch a video-based class right before you give birth.

In fact, one mama that took Birth It Up shared that she finished it while she was IN labor and found that it helped her so much! Hah. Now there’s that on-demand benefit being used to its full potential.

Are birthing classes necessary? Final thoughts

Here we talked about exactly why I think birth classes are a great way for every mama to prepare for birth. By taking a birthing class you will feel more confident, empowered, prepared, and may even have a better birth outcome!

Specifically, we talked about the benefits of an online birthing class, like the ones here at Mommy Labor Nurse, because you can find one that addresses your needs and goals. What’s more, you can access it 24/7 and complete it when it works best for you.

Birth Plan
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

Are you ready to have an even better birth?

Everything in your hospital’s childbirth class – plus so. much. more. Get the knowledge and tools necessary for a positive birth experience – no matter how you deliver!

Natural Birth Class

Eliminate the what-ifs and feel strong and ready for your unmedicated birth.

Start here if birthing without an epidural is your goal!

Epidural Birth Class

Let go of fear and feel fully prepared for (and unafraid of!) your epidural birth.

Start here if you know you want that epidural – or you’re not sure what your birth goals are!

C-Section Birth Class

Release anxiety and gain a sense of control for your C-section birth.

Start here if you have a planned C-section on the horizon. You deserve birth education too!