Distance learning and online courses.

Another question I see a lot is regarding taking online or distance courses for natural childbirth.  First let me be clear, there is no such thing as an online Bradley Method class.  Bradley Method teachers are not allowed to teach distance learning classes, just like we aren’t allowed to teach sessions less than the 12 weeks in length or with more than 8 couples at a time.  I’ll explain why the 12 weeks and small class sizes are necessary in a later post, but lets get back to the subject at hand- online and distance courses for Natural Childbirth.

What makes a good natural childbirth course?

When looking at a self-study course there are a few things you might want to consider.  First, for any childbirth class you should be asking does it follow the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) document, “Are your birth classes Mother-Friendly?”  Classes should meet every bullet, regardless of if they are in person, over the web, or self study.

A short list of things a good natural childbirth course should cover are relaxation, the labor and birth process, exercise, informed consent, nutrition, coaching, birth plans, labor support techniques, massage, visualizations, breastfeeding, and the postpartum period. If the course doesn’t cover all that and more you might be cheating yourself out of valuable information.  Think about what tools you are getting with the course.  If the course offers a very limited amount of tools for labor it might pose a problem.  For example, hypnosis during birth can be a wonderful, powerful experience, but it is not for everyone.  If you paid $150 for a self-study course in hypnosis, and then you get to the birth and realize you actually don’t like hypnosis at that moment you have nothing else to fall back on.

The Pros:

The good things about distance courses are that they are self paced and they come at a much cheaper monetary cost than traditional natural childbirth classes.  You don’t have the awkwardness of meeting a bunch of pregnant women and their coaches.  You can do them any time from the privacy of your own house. We all know babies are expensive, and they only get more expensive as they grow.

The Cons:

There are a number of drawbacks to foregoing the live classes that you should be aware of.  First, independent birth educators work for their clients, tailoring the classes to meet their individual needs.  Online/distance courses, if they are recorded, pdf or self-study are for lack of a better phrase “one size fits all.” They won’t be changed if your situation changes and there is no professional to ask questions to who gets to know you and your specific circumstance over a number of weeks. I’ll go into that more in the next paragraph.

Second, any caring childbirth educator is open to answering questions from students even when class isn’t in session.  This is actually true of a good teacher of any subject.  Case in point- my students have access to me at any time.  If they’re having questions or doubts that can’t or shouldn’t wait until next class they are welcome to call or email.  This is helpful when a doctor orders a test or mom and partner read something they are questioning. They are welcome to call me and I’ll look up the information on it and give it to them so they can then have the facts to make the best decision for their family.  I’m even happy to take calls while mom is in labor, or be there physically if I’m available and they want me to be. (I plan to become a birth doula when I have more reliable childcare worked out.)

I am not a medical professional and do not give medical advice, but having someone willing to give you information so you can choose your own path is really helpful.  A distance course doesn’t offer this support, and even if it says you can speak to a birth professional, that person doesn’t know your history or have a personal relationship with you like a live childbirth educator.

Third, online or distance classes often leave out the importance of a well-trained, informed birth partner or Doula.  The Bradley Method teaches not only mom but the partner/coach in EVERY class because they are an integral part of the process.  The right technique from the coach at the right time can be crucial in changing the direction of labor.  Hiring a professional Doula is a really valid and great idea.  Even so, if you have a partner/husband who will be in the room during your labor it is still important that they have good training.

Fourth, since we know that the coach/doula is an important part of a good birth, in order for a self-study natural childbirth class to be effective both you and your partner have to work it together diligently.  Like anything else in life, you will get from it what you put into it.  You need to be disciplined enough that you will take the time out each week and go through the study modules, watch the videos, etc, all without a teacher to gently nudge you.

Last, there are some things that are just not possible with an online course.  When you are coming to in-person classes you learn from both the teachers and the students.  Everyone brings their own unique perspective, and other students may ask questions you didn’t even think of but are relevant to you as well.  Plus you get to form relationships with the other parents that can last to after the birth.  Having the support of like-minded moms in your area is so important.

Independent childbirth educators like myself use many different tools to help you learn. I use the student workbook, flip charts, pelvic, fetal, and amniotic models and videos to appeal to all types of learners, and we do labor rehearsals in many classes so that you and your coach have a variety of tools to choose from and will feel confident in using them.

What about the second (or third, or fourth…) time around?

Well that really depends on you.  I’ll be talking about Bradley refresher courses in a separate post, but if you’ve already had a successful natural birth after taking a full series of childbirth courses before and you’re just looking to supplement your knowledge for the newest arrival you can choose a live refresher or a distance course and they will probably both help information wise.  I personally wish I had taken a refresher between my second and third births, just because it had been 4 years between taking the course and birthing my third child.  Plus it would have been nice to meet other natural childbirth moms in the area, which is part of the reason I’m starting a chapter of BirthNetwork now!

The take-away

The decision you make in a childbirth class directly impacts your birth experience. I’m not writing this post in hopes that nobody will ever take an online or distance class, but I do personally feel it is really important to take a live class from a good natural childbirth teacher for at least your first birth, or subsequent births if you don’t feel your previous births went the way you’d wanted.
As I’ve heard many times at LLL meetings: Take what works for you and leave the rest of the information behind.

I hope this post helps you make the decision you feel is best for your unique family situation.