Virtual vs In-Person Childbirth Classes
When the world shut down due to the pandemic, childbirth educators had to quickly shift from teaching in-person to teaching online. Virtual teaching tools (as well as the technology skills of the educator) were available, but limited.
The biggest challenge however, was believing that virtual childbirth classes would be effective, since all we have ever known was an in-person group setting with lots of interaction and hands-on practice. How could a virtual childbirth class possibly recreate that environment, that experience?
But childbirth education is critical for pregnant people and their babies. So, like it or not, virtual classes needed to happen. Many educators and pregnant people reluctantly agreed to give virtual classes a try.
Something wonderful happened.
Some of the barriers that kept people from attending childbirth classes were removed allowing more people the opportunity to attend a class. Participants could attend from anywhere, so it was easier on schedules. No travel was involved. Sometimes, no work was missed. People could even enjoy their dinners together while participating in class!
Many programs were able to lower their costs, and in some cases, were able to offer free classes, making classes more affordable. One hospital in particular quickly moved their classes to a virtual platform and for a limited time, eliminated the fee for the class hoping to make virtual learning more appealing. In a matter of days, more than 1,000 pregnant people had signed up for virtual childbirth classes. A program that was struggling to get 10 people into a classroom was now overwhelmed with registrations. Almost three years later, the fees are back, but those classes continue to overflow with students.
But, one of the most unexpected bonuses of a virtual childbirth class is being able to learn how to manage early labor where most early labor occurs - your own home. Instead of learning comfort measures and labor positions in an unfamiliar classroom where students do not own any of the equipment they are utilizing, pregnant people and support people now learn these skills in their own, familiar, comfortable environment - right where they will be using them. Your own space to move. Your own furniture to lean on. Your own bathroom to shower or sit on the magical dilation station (toilet). Your own bed to rest on. Your own neighborhood to talk walks through. Your own kitchen to prepare some postpartum meals. Your own living room to set up a nursing station. Your own dining room table where you can work on a labor project. All of the things you will use during early labor.
Class participants also connect in a new, but deeper way. Often times, extended family members join into the virtual class, something that could not happen in in-person classes. While there's a little vulnerability to invite people to see the inside of your home through a Zoom meeting, there is also a welcoming of new friends and neighbors to your home - the creation of a virtual village of people who are in the same season of life as you. Many times it is discovered, these new friends actually live close by and now, through virtual classes, connections and support have been created in a space no one ever expected.
Childbirth education has become even more valuable though virtual classes. What was initially seen as a negative actually is a very big positive. Virtual classes have brought more people together in an unexpected, surprising way. The thing we worried most about, is actually one of the biggest bonuses!
This isn't to say that in-person classes have gone away, or that some people still prefer the face-to-face opportunity. Classes can and should be available in a variety of formats to meet the needs of all families.
But, childbirth education is one of our most valuable tools to significantly improve the health outcomes for pregnant adults and babies. It is too valuable to ignore simply because it is not in the format we would prefer. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out you receive way more than expected.
Lancaster Lamaze classes build a childbirth community - both virtually and in-person. Join us in 2023 for our next Lamaze series.
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Wendy is an internationally recognized childbirth educator and advocate for better maternal health.