I'm an enthusiastic supporter of prepared childbirth and I believe that everyone can benefit from going to childbirth classes. These classes are tremendously enjoyable. You'll make friends and you can swap stories and experiences, so you don't feel alone and isolated. It's a great help to be able to share what you're going through, and it helps to relieve tension and anxiety.
These are designed to give you information that will make you both feel more confident and are particularly useful for first-time parents. They cover three main areas.
First, the classes go through the processes of pregnancy and birth and the changes that are happening to you and the baby throughout your pregnancy. This will help you have a clearer understanding of what's involved and why things are happening. The teachers will also talk to you about the sort of medical procedures that you can expect, and why these will be done. You'll be given plenty of opportunities to ask questions.
Second, you'll be taught relaxation, breathing, and exercise techniques. These will help you to control your own labour, reduce pain, and give you the confidence that only comes with being familiar with what's happening. It's bodies, not brains, that give birth, so try to be open to anything that helps you tune into your body. Your partner will probably be taught how to give you a massage to help relieve your pain.
Third, the teachers will talk you through the stages of labour and birth, and give tips on starting to breastfeed. They'll also give you practical advice on how to bathe and dress a baby and change nappies, which will help you feel more confident about caring for your newborn baby.
Strengthening the muscles used in childbirth can often mean you have an easier and more comfortable delivery. With this in mind, many hospitals hold antenatal classes that include some exercise and relaxation. There are also independent organizations that provide exercise classes for pregnant women - some are even for specific types of birth. Many midwives recommend swimming, as the water supports your weight while you get a gentle work-out. You can attend special aqua-natal classes that offer exercise in water for pregnant women.
Practising yoga is an excellent way to prepare for childbirth as it emphasizes muscular control of the body, breathing, relaxation, and peace of mind. But yoga isn't something you can do casually - to be of any benefit, it must be done regularly, preferably starting long before you conceive. There are some special exercises for pregnancy, but it's best to have the guidance of a qualified teacher - particularly if you're pregnant.
Techniques of childbirth classes
Many studies have shown that women who take childbirth classes have shorter labours. In one study, the average length of labour for a group of women who'd been to classes was 13.56 hours, compared with an average 18.33 hours in a group of women who'd had no training. This is probably because knowing how to deal with pain means you have a more relaxed labour. Strategies for dealing with pain taught by childbirth classes include:
You disassociate your mind from the pain by visualizing a pleasant scenario. For example, you'll feel happier about contractions if, every time you have a pain, you imagine your baby moving further down the birth canal, closer to being born. Distracting yourself can also help, although this works best in the early stages. Counting to 20, going through a list of possible names for your new baby, or concentrating on a beautiful picture or piece of music helps you to take your mind off the pain, and keeps it from completely filling your consciousness and overwhelming you. Another way of taking your mind off the pain is to focus your attention on your breathing techniques and think about each breath.
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