School Yourself on Parenthood with These Prep Classes

| Pregnancy & Parenting

Like in any movie with an expecting couple, you see them walk into a lamaze class with wide eyes. Somehow everyone else in the class is 10 steps ahead and unusually knowledgeable about the mother's needs, swaddling, burping and baby gear specs. In reality, pretty much everyone will walk into one of these classes on the same level. From labor and delivery, to baby care, to breastfeeding, to specialty lamaze instruction, there are so many classes available for expecting couples. Below is a lineup of classes as well as at-home guidance to help you make sense of the madness.

childbirth class

CHILDBIRTH CLASSES

Basic Childbirth Overview: These classes will usually have a generic name like "Childbirth 101." Using infographics, videos, stats and worksheets, you'll gain the knowledge about what to expect when labor begins. These classes will cue you on timing contractions, what a real contraction might feel like, certain positions you can try to be more comfortable, what the cervix does, how the baby travels through the birth canal, what interventions may occur, your options for pain relief and more. These classes can be completed intensively in a few hours, or stretched over a couple of weeks. Look for some at nearby hospitals and clinics, WMCAs and more.

Lamaze Classes: Very close to what a childbirth overview class would offer. Lamaze, however, focuses more on tapping into the mother's confidence. It covers all of the physical and practical education while including tips and tricks on trusting your body. Usually, you'll tense up when you feel pain, but Lamaze will show you how to embrace it to encourage labor and a smoother delivery. It also covers those first few moments with your new baby and an introduction to breastfeeding. To find a class near you, check out the Lamaze International site.

ICEA: It stands for International Childbirth Education Association. It doesn't focus on anything in particular, so if there is something you really want to learn about, you'll need to ask the instructor. These classes are more suited for people who want to become certified instructors, including doulas. Instead of actually going to a class, click here to download some PDFs you can skim through on your own time.

The Bradley Method: For mothers interested in preparing themselves for an unmedicated or drug-free birth, this approach to labor will teach them calming techniques. If you plan to have your partner help you during labor, he or she will need to attend these classes with you. The mother will learn more about how her breathing controls the pain, what positions will be most helpful and how to prepare the body during pregnancy for the big day. Your partner will learn comforting techniques like how to pack a rice sock (and why) and what to say or do. This way, your partner will be an active participant during the birth. These classes are designed to run for 12 weeks, so you'll want to begin them no later than the first week of your third trimester. (via The Bradley Method)

pregnant woman with partner

HypnoBirthing: This is also known as the Mongan Method. It teaches the mother how to use meditative practices during her labor. By focusing on breathing, relaxing and visualizing your baby being born, the mother can push past the pain. There are usually five classes, each lasting two to three hours. You'll also receive a textbook, relaxation CD (a guided meditation) and tons of information, like the handbook (click here to see the contents).

>> Read more: HypnoBirthing: A Natural, More Comfortable Childbirth

The Alexander Technique: Not necessarily developed for labor, the Alexander Technique helps anyone learn how to feel more comfortable in their own body. For folks with stiffness, arthritis, carpal tunnel or back injuries, this method will show them how to drop bad habits and posture and adopt a new flexibility. The instructor will observe you for posture and strain and use her hands to manipulate the body just enough to understand how it's used to moving. There is "table work," where the student lies on what looks like a massage table to teach you how to connect with your body. If you're interested in it, but don't want to attend a class just yet, try one of these resources.

Birthing From Within: Growing in popularity, this method for labor preparation is based in spiritual guidance. People who practice or teach this method view birth as a rite of passage instead of a "medical event." It focuses on the mother being present and aware during the birth, doing whatever it is she wants or feels like to help deliver the baby. The classes cover unexpected turns and outcomes and how you can cope with them on the spot. The classes are very much tailored to your needs whether in a group setting or getting one-on-one attention from professionals. Click here to find a class or sign up for a Skype session!

>> Read more: Do You Need a Doula?

BirthWorks: This educational program was developed to remind women that labor and delivery is totally natural and the body doesn't need coaching. What does need coaching, though, is the mind. Like most of the other approaches, BirthWorks is designed so mothers can learn to trust their bodies during a vulnerable time. It doesn't focus on giving birth any which way, but on pulling the mind and body together in a spiritual place where the mother can give into her body's cues. It's designed to include the partner as well, showing them how to be a co-pilot. To understand more on the BirthWorks philosophy, click here.

BABY CARE AND BREASTFEEDING

Breastfeeding Classes — These are usually (and should be) led by a licensed lactation consultant. For something that seems so natural, this seems like a good one to skip over; however, there are obstacles the new mother may encounter during the first few months postpartum. Breastfeeding classes go over positioning of the baby for both comfort and efficiency, latching tips and tricks, nipple protection and care, breast health, including an overview of symptoms for thrush and mastitis. Breastfeeding is a co-operative thing, so taking these classes will help you and your baby grow into a solid breastfeeding team. These classes are widely available — just ask your OB-GYN or midwife for recommendations.

>> Get a head start: Breastfeeding 101: The New Mother's Guide

newborn care

Baby Care: From how to hold a baby to calming them down in the middle of the night, these classes are packed full of good information. They're also fun to take with your partner so you both can practice diapering, swaddling, burping and more. This way, you won't hear the "I don't know how to change a diaper" excuse after a blowout. It covers feeding, like how to properly warm a bottle and when to introduce supplements or cereal. Some will show you how to properly buckle the baby into the car seat. These are all really basic things you'll be doing every day, so taking a class will give you confidence and the skills to do it right. Most hospitals and clinics will offer these at a low cost.

Cloth Diapering: Curious about the cloth? Take a quick class on the ins and outs of this trending practice. There are so, so many different styles of cloth diapers today. Word of mouth is usually a great place to start when choosing a brand or style. You have inserts, liners, special cleaning instructions, snaps, Velcro, adjustables and so much more. It can be overwhelming. You'll also need to stockpile them, so try to go during your second trimester if it's something you're really curious about, then add some to your registry or buy a couple each month. These classes are scheduled in stores and shops that sell cloth diapers. There are also plenty of YouTube videos to make your head spin.

Newborn Massage: Make sure you're taking one of these classes from a licensed massage therapist or chiropractor who has completed the Certified Educator of Infant Massage program. Many parents look to massage therapy to help stimulate blood flow for development, digestion, relaxation, elimination, better sleep and bonding. These classes are usually taken AFTER the baby is born so you can bring your babe with you. Click here to find a class near you.

>> Read more: 23 Things No One Tells a First-Time Mom