Childbirth Class One


Pregnant woman
Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws/Photodisc/Getty Images

I'm Robin Elise Weiss, and I've been teaching childbirth classes since August of 1989. I'm certified with Lamaze International and International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) as a childbirth instructor and as a postpartum educator. I'm also certified with the DONA International as a professional doula and doula trainer. And I hold a certificate as a lactation counselor. I also write books on pregnancy and parenting. More importantly, I have eight beautiful children of my own.

Being a doula, someone who does professional labor support for a living, I'm able to view different types of birth on a regular basis. This allows me to see what really works in the throes of labor and to adjust my classes accordingly. You'll find that I teach a very laid back class, that will give you a lot of different ideas and techniques for getting through labor, birth and postpartum.

Now it's your turn! Seriously, I'd love to know about you. So, if you care to, tell us a bit about you and the class, join the Class One Pinterest Board. There is an Introductions Pin that you can comment on.

Okay, let's discuss why people come to childbirth classes. There is no right answer because everyone comes for a different reason. 

Many people list pain as their number one reason for coming to childbirth class. Fear is often a close second. So I believe in starting out with the heavy material right away and talking about pain first.

Where does pain come from in labor?

Pregnant Woman in Pain
Photo © zonch -

Until recently childbirth classes didn't really talk about pain. They talked about discomfort, pressure, being uncomfortable, but never pain. Trust me, I will call it like it is. If it's pain, I'll say pain, if it's discomfort, that's what I'll say.

Let's look at some of the causes of pain in labor. Think about it a minute and what do you think of when I say, "What causes pain in labor?"

You probably thought of contractions right away. Contractions can cause pain in labor, but let's look at this a bit more in depth. Contractions are caused by the contractions of the uterine muscle. When any muscle is working that hard and potentially that long you are going to have a tired, overworked muscle, the build up of lactic acid can be uncomfortable, as well as the general strain.

Try this!

Take a clothespin and hold it between your thumb and forefinger. Watch a clock and open and close the clothes pin between these two fingers for at least 60 seconds. The first 10 seconds isn't so bad. Then a tightness might start to develop. You might begin to feel a burning sensation by 30 seconds. As forty-five seconds approaches on your clock, you're probably hoping you can really hang in there for the long haul as the pain starts to move up your arm. Ah, at last, the end of the 60 seconds.

While opening and closing the clothes pin is a very simplified version of what a muscle goes through, I'm sure you get the picture of what a working muscle does.

Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle

Fear Tension Pain Cycle
Photo © REW

Where else can pain come from? Pressure? Sure, the baby is moving around and pressing down to help the cervix open.

Your hips spreading and other body parts getting out of the way for the baby. These are all true.

Some procedures may cause you pain or discomfort. For example, having to remain in bed for a vaginal exam or while being monitored, this can increase your pain. We'll talk more later about how to deal with pain.

Don't forget about your mind. Yes, how you think and feel can influence your pain levels in labor. If you are tense or fearful you will create more pain. We see this over and over again in a theory that is called the "Fear-Tension-Pain" cycle.

In the "Fear-Tension-Pain" cycle we see that when you are in pain and fearful you tense because you are fearful, which does increase your pain levels. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy about pain. The more your fear pain, the more pain you are in. So we try to step in and break that cycle any way that we can.

That brings us to a big question. What can we do to break the cycle of fear and pain? Do we have any tools that will effectively deal with the pain?

Dealing with the Pain of Labor

Man Helping Laboring Woman on Ball
Photo © the rock -

Do you realize that you already have a lot of tools that you can use to deal with pain in labor?

Think about it. What do you do when you are in pain or are scared right now?

Things you do when in pain:

  • Cry
  • Want mommy
  • Sleep it off
  • Take a bath
  • Get a massage
  • Take medicine
  • Use pressure (Like biting your thumb for a paper cut.)
  • Deep breathing to calm down
  • Whine
  • Move around/Jump up and down

Can you do these things in labor? You bet you can! Some of these are better than others, and part of it is simply a personal choice. Part of this will depend on what labor nature has given you. However, everyone will have some tools to use for labor.

By the time you're done with class you will know how and when to use these different techniques and others.

Adjusting to Pregnancy

Full Term Pregnant Woman

Now that we've got the basics of pain under our belt, let's shift a bit and talk about pain in pregnancy.

Being pregnant is not the most comfortable condition to be in by any means. You have lots of body changes going on that you have no control over. You've got your stomach shrinking from the increasing size of the uterus. This means that you can't eat much at one sitting and that you are prone to heartburn.

You've got a wonderful growing baby who thinks it's a blast to punch your bladder, which means that you make frequent stops to the bathroom, only to find that it was a mere three drops of urine that sent you racing in that direction.

Your joints and ligaments are being bombarded with all sorts of hormones that will help you when it's time to give birth, but for the moment do nothing but make you waddle and feel like a Barbie® doll that someone has pulled the legs out sideways.

There are many things that you can do to stay comfortable towards the end of your pregnancy. One of the best things is to stay mobile. This can mean a variety of things including regular exercise that you did before pregnancy, a series of special pregnancy exercises, or a combination of both. At the very least try to do some of the following pregnancy exercises every day. They will help to keep you limber and more comfortable.

Photo © iStockPhoto

Exercise in Pregnancy

Pelvic Floor Muscles
Photo © A.D.A.M.

Here is a list of some simple pregnancy exercises that you can to do help ease the aches and pains of pregnancy. Remember that while the majority of pregnant women can do all exercises, it's best to talk to your doctor or midwife before beginning.

  • Kegels: By tightening the muscles that help control the flow of urine you can actually learn how to control the muscle to aid in giving birth. This will not only decrease the need for an episiotomy (surgical incision to enlarge the vagina) but will decrease the rate of tearing and later in life will help prevent uterine prolapse and can actually improve your sex life! Tighten and release this muscle at least 50 times a day.
  • Pelvic Tilts: These can be done in nearly any positions. For beginners, I'd recommend standing, my personal favorite is hands and knees. To get started in a standing position, place a hand on your abdomen and a hand on your lower back. Bend slightly at the knees. Concentrate on moving only your pelvis only. You should not get a lot of body movement from this exercise. It should be done slowly. Do this often through out the day.
  • Squatting: Try this first with a partner or a chair back. Slowly go down into a squat, stopping as low as you can go but before your heels come up off the floor. Practice this several minutes a day.
  • Tailor Sitting: Basically it's sitting with your legs crossed at the ankle and knees out, much like you used to do in kindergarten. It helps stretch your inner thighs.

Nutrition for Pregnancy

Pregnancy Choices
© Joanna Zielinska -

With exercise comes good nutrition. Staying healthy and low risk in pregnancy is the best way to have a healthy birth and postpartum period. By eating well and growing a healthy baby you reduce the risks of several potential problems like:

The old adage of eating for two is not true at all. While you do need to increase your calorie intake by about 300 calories a day, making the most of those calories is very important.

There is a huge difference between adding 300 calories of junk food and 300 calories of protein or in fruits and vegetables. Basically, 300 calories would be a peanut butter sandwich or a candy bar. Obviously one is the better choice.

Realizing that every single cell starts with the building block of protein, it's interesting to note that some studies have found that women who have a protein intake of 75 grams a day or more have even lower risks of some pregnancy complications.

Prenatal vitamins are supplements that many women take, some even prior to pregnancy. These should be viewed as what they are: supplements. Taking them will not reduce your need for a healthy diet. It will merely help balance out some deficiencies.

Relaxation and Abdominal Breathing

Breathing Couple in Labor
Photo © Suprijono Suharjoto -

Abdominal breathing is a very natural form of breathing. The key is to watch your abdomen rise as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Doing so slowly will ensure good oxygenation of your blood and will begin to relax you without much effort at all. This type of breathing is the most important form of breathing for labor and birth.

You can practice this at any point throughout the day. Some women choose to practice with their partners just before bed, learning to add other forms of relaxation with the abdominal breathing. You might also try this at points in your day that you find stressful. Learn to create brief rituals that help you relax. This will serve you well in labor.

More Info
Abdominal Breathing

If you have any questions or comments, don't forget to head over to the forums to discuss it with the others! See you in Class two!

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