So your wife is pregnant.
Sweet! You did it! And by it, I mean "the sex." Or maybe, the "IVF" which involves less nudity but still totally works. Either way, you two are expecting a baby.
She's probably already planned the nursery, picked out names, and asked you about what baby preparation course to take, while I'm guessing you're still staring at the pregnancy test. ("Are we SURE that's two lines?")
No problem. It takes guys longer to get into the flow of the whole pregnancy thing. We don't have hormones changing our bodies or little feet kicking us. For some guys, it's hard to really feel connected until the baby is born, and then it's like, "Oh yeah, NOW I get it. This baby is my world."
But there's a way to kick start the baby prep process before you feel the baby kick.
Before my son was born two years ago, I took several classes to get ready to be a dad:
- Birth preparation
- CPR/Child safety
- Breastfeeding support
You know why? BECAUSE I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING!
All of a sudden, you feel like you're expected to know all this stuff, and it's overwhelming. I'm going to ultrasound appointments and kind of nodding like I know what goes where, and talking about how I wanted to be there during the delivery like I had any idea what that would be like. Guys don't really talk about this stuff much so it's not like I had years of experience hearing stories from new dads about what it's like.
Do you know what a perenium tear is? Because I sure as hell didn't. Do not Google that at work.
I needed to get some confidence. And these classes, especially the main one, did just that. I learned so much it was ridiculous, from ways to soothe the baby to what to expect at childbirth, including what the baby really will look like – the "newborn baby" you see on TV is likely a 3-month-old because a bluish, sticky baby isn't as cute. The class was a huge confidence booster as a new dad.
Childbirth class is not a big, slapstick group exercise of pushing out the baby like I thought it might be. When you hear "childbirth class," what's in your head is probably some sitcom trope of a flustered dad bobbling a plastic baby and trying to do Lamaze breathing.
Yes, I did see a video of a woman giving birth. No, nobody passed out, and watching the video was kinda comforting, to be honest, to clear that hurdle before it was time for The Main Event. Most of class was having conversation about our worries, learning techniques to help with labor, and getting familiar with the jargon. You'll say the word placenta a lot.
By the time my twin girls were born on our second time around, I felt like a pro. I credit childbirth class for a lot of that.
Childbirth class doesn't need to be scary. It doesn't need to be uncomfortable. It's just new.
And that's totally fine. It's supposed to be new! If you knew what was happening, you wouldn't be going. When you play Call of Duty for the first time, you didn't set it on Veteran mode right away, right? Or maybe you did because you are a killing machine. Still, point taken, right?
The class instructors are trained to make you feel welcome and involved, and your partner is going to be so happy to have you there because you know what? She's scared and nervous about giving birth. Be the rock.
I saw up Close how guys were approaching fatherhood.
Looking around the classes, guys seemed to fall into 1 of 2 tracks:
The Involved Dad: He was asking questions. He was grabbing a pillow for his wife's back. He was not checking his watch or phone every 5 minutes. He lit up when someone asked him about becoming a dad.
The "My Wife Made Me Go" Dad: He looked like learning about this stuff was either useless or stupid or both. When asked about the baby, he'd only reply that he hopes the baby turns out to be good at sports. He is checking ESPN on his phone right this second.
I saw one of those Made Me Go Dads smoking outside the baby class beside his pregnant wife.
If you're smoking beside your pregnant wife while attending CPR/Child safety class, you may want to just call it a day because wow.
It's not enough to just show up. You have to be involved, to show some enthusiasm, to ask questions, to be OK being a little bit vulnerable and confess you're worried or anxious. That's the way to get the most out of it – and if you're going, why not get the most out of it?
I think you already are on the way to be the involved dad type (or that you are hoping your husband will be). Showing that you're interested in finding out about childbirth classes is already a strong step in the right direction. It shows you aren't going to take a backseat through this thing. Nice work. Go enjoy a craft brew to celebrate, or, if you're like me, a nice Mike's Hard Lemonade because they are delicious and you have little shame.
Yeah, but do we really need a childbirth class?
Should you take a childbirth class? It's not required, but it'll make your life so much easier later on. I would highly recommend it unless you have been around babies your whole life, but if that's true, you probably wouldn't be reading this post, would you?
Help your wife figure out where to take a class is a strong move. Honestly, the more you get involved in decision-making like this, the more you'll be excited about the baby and also set yourself up to be part of the decision-making after the baby arrives. And MY GOD you have to make a lot of decisions when the baby arrives.
My wife & I had such a positive childbirth class experience in most part because we found a class that reflected our values: We wanted to learn how to gain more control of childbirth decision-making, how to make sure our birth plan was being considered, and how to enjoy the process as much as possible.
Let's be honest, though. It costs money to go to a childbirth class (you may be able to find a free one provided by a local nonprofit), especially one that fits you perfectly as a couple. I get that. And when you're buying stuff for the nursery or moving from an apartment to a house or whatever else is financially impacting you before the baby arrives, and then you're thinking about paying for a class that in theory could help, it may seem easy to say, "I'm sure we can skip it."
I'm here to say don't skimp on the tires when you're buying a Mercedes.
Don't go into the last trimester assuming you can just read a book or two, talk to your parents, and be ready. There is a baby coming out of your wife's vagina or stomach. This is the exact time to spend a little now to be better prepared later. I bet you if there was a baby coming out of you, you'd be signing up for every class you can imagine.
Side benefit: It's encouraging to go through the class and see all the other couples dealing with the same stuff as you. You'll hear them ask questions you've been wondering, have doubts that sound all too familiar, and after the class you may even have some new friends who, surprise, are dealing with the newborn baby, too! What could be better for you?
OK, I'm In. How do we choose a class?
What kind of baby preparation class should you take all comes down to your needs. A breastfeeding class is a smart choice if she's considering nursing - they will cover suggestions to help you help her, so that's a smart one. And CPR class is really important, because you never know when your child will stop breathing.
But as for a general childbirth class? Lots of things to consider here!
To give you the best advice on this, I got help from someone who works at the place where my wife & I attended childbirth class, Om Baby, which has a holistic approach to childbirth (i.e. giving birth doesn't have to involve stress and screaming). Holly Keich, LSW, opened the center in 2008, where among other things she teaches pre- and postnatal yoga and is straight-up amazing about supporting parents.
Here's Holly's 10 things to look for when selecting a childbirth class:
- Style: There are a myriad of birthing classes and philosophies out there. Consider what kind of birth do you want and choose a class philosophy that matches with your desired birth plan. Andy Tip: Don't worry about what philosophy worked for a couple you're friends with or your cousin's co-worker hair stylist. This is a great time to figure out how you two want to approach this and find a class that reflects that.
- Timing: Everyone's schedule is busy these days, but waiting until your in labor to learn about birth may not be the optimal solution. It's still important to prepare and get any questions answered before the big day. Classes have adapted to fit everyone's schedule, even including online class options. Keep in mind, though, that a shorter class simply cannot cover the information that a longer series provides. Most labor techniques take time and practice; ensuring that you have the time to incorporate the information into your life will be of great help in labor. Longer series allow you the time to process and ask questions that you may not even consider in a weekend boot camp style class.
- Size: Smaller classes allow for you to get the attention you deserve and not get lost in the crowd.
- Content: Some classes include everything from prenatal nutrition to breastfeeding and baby care. Others focus only on birth preparation and you can add on additional classes a la carte. Know what you are paying for and match the class(es) that fits your needs.
- Learning Style: Classes that are going to be the most beneficial utilize visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Check to see if the class offers videos and relaxation practice as well as lectures and group discussions. Classes where you 'experience' learning through art, role playing, and other engaging activities is what's going to help you remember the information when you most need it.
- Homework: What physical tools are provided for your learning and use? Does the class provide a book, CD or DVD that you can reference at home? Are the materials something that will help you in labor?
- Evidence-Based: A childbirth class should be providing you with the most recent and up-to-date information about pregnancy and childbirth so that you can start conversations with your healthcare providers about your options.
- Dads: You'll want to find a class that's engaging for dads too. Some classes such as the Bradley Method, touted as Husband-Coached Childbirth, focus on dad's involvement in the birth. Others may view dad as an accessory, and focus more on the mother's role in the birth. Consider how much you as the dad wants to be involved and determine what class would be the best fit.
- Pain Relief: Classes may view pain in childbirth differently, but nearly all of them will provide information on how to move through the contractions or surges of labor to provide more comfort for the mother. HypnoBirthing and Hypnobabies classes are well known classes that focus on self-hypnosis techniques to minimize or completely alleviate the discomforts of labor. While Birthing From Within classes view women as warriors and provide practice working through pain. Even if you are planning to choose the epidural as soon as you get to the hospital, relaxation and pain relief techniques can be very beneficial for the early stages of labor. Most classes will cover information about the medications used to ease pain during labor, but not all. So if this is the route you are headed, be sure the class you choose is the right fit for you.
- Navigate: All the information of childbirth classes is wonderful, but if you aren't on the same page with your provider, then it may all be for naught. A good childbirth class is going to help you learn how to work with your care provider, practicing discussions you may have or issues that may arise and even role-playing to conversations so that you can successfully navigate the medical system and feel in control of your birth experience.