Childbirth classes can give you confidence as you head for labor and delivery — whether you're a first-time mom or a delivery room veteran. By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've probably read about childbirth and heard countless labor stories from friends and loved ones. Do you really know what to expect during labor and delivery, though? Childbirth classes can demystify the process.

Whether you're delivering your first child or fifth, childbirth classes can help you prepare to meet the challenges of labor and delivery. Consider the opportunities:

  • Learn things you never knew about labor, delivery and postpartum care. You'll find out how to identify the signs of labor and what happens to your body as your baby makes his or her way into the world.
  • Address your fears. During childbirth classes, you'll have the chance to talk about your fears with other women who probably share the same concerns. The instructor can dispel myths and help put your mind at ease.
  • Connect with your partner or labor coach. Childbirth classes offer your partner or labor coach the chance to understand childbirth, too — as well as how to support you during labor.
  • Discuss options for handling pain. You'll practice various methods for coping with contractions, such as breathing techniques, relaxation and visualization. Most classes also cover the pros and cons of common medications, such as narcotic analgesics and epidural blocks.
  • Get the basics on medical interventions and possible complications. Find out how routine interventions can influence the course of labor.
  • Check out the facility. You might tour the facility where you'll give birth and find out about its policies and resources.
  • Brush up on newborn care. In addition to labor and delivery, you'll likely get a primer on newborns. Common topics include choosing a pediatrician, breast-feeding, diapering and bathing.
  • Create a social network. Meet other pregnant women and listen to their experiences.

Some childbirth classes cover specific types of births, such as C-section, vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) and multiple births. Refresher courses are available for parents who simply want to review the basics. Other classes focus on specific methods of childbirth. For example:

  • Lamaze. The goal of Lamaze is to increase confidence in your ability to give birth. Lamaze classes help you understand how to cope with pain in ways that both facilitate labor and promote comfort — including focused breathing, movement and massage.
  • Bradley. The Bradley Method emphasizes birth as a natural process. You're taught to manage labor through deep breathing and the support of your partner or labor coach.

Many other classes borrow elements from these popular methods. In addition, you might find classes on other approaches to childbirth, such as hypnobirthing.

Childbirth classes are offered at most hospitals and birthing centers. Some classes are available online or in video format. Ask your health care provider about available classes. A representative from your medical insurance plan might offer suggestions. You might also check with parents who've recently had babies.

Look for a class taught by a certified childbirth educator. Childbirth classes should be small — with no more than eight to 10 couples — to facilitate discussion and allow personalized instruction. Be sure to ask about the cost, location and schedule as well.

Childbirth classes are often recommended near the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy — but anytime before you go into labor would be helpful. Often a series of classes is offered over a period of weeks during the last trimester. The earlier you register, the more options and flexibility you'll have regarding class dates and times.

Your health care provider is there to help ensure your health and your baby's health during pregnancy and delivery. With his or her input, use what you learn in your childbirth classes to create a birth plan. No one can predict how labor and delivery will unfold, but together you can design a birth plan that meets your expectations for labor, delivery and postpartum care — and that promotes the best care for you and your baby.

Jul. 23, 2011