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Get ready for labor

  • Use a birth plan to make choices about childbirth.
  • Take a childbirth education class.
  • If you’re healthy, wait for labor to begin on its own.
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Childbirth education classes

Childbirth classes help expectant parents learn about and prepare for labor and birth. There are several kinds to choose from. Two of the most popular are Lamaze and Bradley, named after their developers. Most childbirth education classes use one of these two approaches. Many borrow elements from each.

Both Lamaze and Bradley teach women how to cope with labor pain. Both approaches encourage the woman's partner to participate in the labor and delivery process. Other childbirth education techniques include the Alexander technique, HypnoBirthing, Birthing From Within, and Birthworks. Learn as much as you can about each technique until you find an approach that seems right for you.

The Lamaze method
Lamaze teaches simple coping strategies for labor, including focused breathing, moving and positioning, massage, relaxation techniques, and labor support. Women receive information about medical procedures and pain relief during labor so that they can make informed choices.

The Bradley method
The Bradley method teaches natural childbirth to women with no medical complications. It emphasizes exercise, nutrition and deep breathing.

Creating a birth plan
Some childbirth education classes help women create a birth plan. This is a written document in which you express your preferences about labor and delivery. Topics covered include where you want to deliver, who your support people will be, and the pain medications you want (if any). If you do create a birth plan, be sure to share it with your provider ahead of time. He or she needs to discuss your wishes with you well in advance.

Questions to ask before choosing a class

  • What method of childbirth education is taught?
  • Is the instructor certified?
  • What topics are covered?
  • Are relaxation and breathing techniques taught?
  • What is the instructor's philosophy toward pregnancy and birth?
  • Does the class help participants create their own birth plans?
  • How big is the class? (Smaller classes, with fewer then 10 couples, are ideal.)
  • Will the environment be welcoming and comfortable regardless of whether your childbirth partner is your spouse, partner, relative or friend?
  • What is the class style: lecture or participatory?
  • Are the time, length and location convenient?
  • How much does the class cost?

How to find a childbirth class
Ask your health care provider. Check with your insurance plan, hospital or birthing center. Ask your friends who have recently given birth.

These Web sites can help you find a class near you:

Last reviewed December 2013

Signs of preterm labor

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more often
  • Change in vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Low, dull backache
  • Cramps that feel like your period
  • Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a birth plan?

You don't have to have a birth plan. But having one is a great idea! A birth plan is a set of instructions you make about your baby's birth. It tells your provider how you feel about things like who you want with you during labor, what you want to do during labor, if you want drugs to help with labor pain, and if there are special religious or cultural practices you want to have happen once your baby is born. Fill out a birth plan with your partner. Then share it with your provider and with the nurses at the hospital or birthing center where you plan to have your baby. Share it with your family and other support people, too. It's best for everyone to know ahead of time how you want labor and birth to be.

What are Braxton-Hicks contractions?

You may feel Braxton-Hicks contractions starting early in your third trimester. They're usually painless but can be uncomfortable. They are different from true labor contractions. Braxton-Hicks don't come in a regular pattern, and they don't get closer over time. They may stop when you walk, change positions or rest. They may happen more often in the evening, especially if you're dehydrated. They may be weak and stay that way, or there may be a few strong ones followed by weak ones. You usually feel them in the lower abdomen and groin. True labor contractions come in regular intervals, get closer together and steadily stronger, and last 30 to 90 seconds. They don't go away, no matter what you do. The pain usually starts in the back and wraps around to the front. If you're having any kind of contractions and think you might be in labor, call your provider.

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