For many years the desire to have an epidural meant that you wouldn't need a childbirth class. Or if you did choose to take one, you'd take the quickie version offered at your hospital that basically gave you hospital policy and how to request anesthesia, with not much else offered. However, the thinking is changing about the use of the epidural and the need for childbirth classes.
Childbirth classes offer so much information about various ways to cope with pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum and other relevant issues. It is simply not about who wants drugs and who doesn't. The information taught in most childbirth classes is relevant to everyone, no matter what their desires for the use of medication in labor.
Studies have shown that taking childbirth classes can reduce the amount of stress in labor, which is the goal of all childbirth classes and the use of medication. By using other techniques to help you through labor you can have a more relaxing experience until the point at which you decide medication is the right option for you. Or you can simply choose to not use medications, as some women find labor to be much easier than they had anticipated.
One mother explained that her childbirth classes were helpful in learning about how the epidural was administered, "I though it was a quick shot in the back. Then you could move around and do whatever you wanted, without feeling the contractions. My instructor told us a lot of great information that prevented me from thinking something was wrong when the anesthesiologist came in to do the epidural.”
A local anesthesiologist who performs labor epidurals, says that women who have had childbirth classes are often easier to administer the epidural to because they are calmer than their non-class counterparts.
Another reason learning alternatives to medications is a benefit for laboring women, is the fact that there are many reasons why you may not be able to get an epidural. It may be timing, you might move too quickly or the anesthesiologist moves to slowly. Perhaps your epidural is not 100% effective and you still need something to help you deal with the unexpected sensations. There are also medical reasons that might crop up, like platelets that are too low, that would mean an epidural wouldn't be an option for you in labor. No matter what, it is always good to have a back up plan.
Amanda, mother of four says, "I didn't want to take an epidural early in labor. I felt like delaying it as long as possible decreased many of the risks I was worried about like a long, slow labor, or a cesarean. So I used my relaxation and breathing to get me through. I had hoped to go to 5 centimeters. I was pleasantly surprised that I made it to 8 centimeters before even considering the epidural!"
In choosing a childbirth class, find one that really teaches viable alternatives to the epidural, not one that merely gives lip service to relaxation. Ensure that the instructor covers medications in labor, there are also other choices besides the epidural. Talk to the instructor and ask her about the outcomes in her classes, ideally you'll find a good mix of unmedicated and medicated births. If her outcomes go drastically in one way or the other, it might indicate she doesn't offer as much of one in the class. If you're concerned ask her. Tell her what you're looking for. You can even ask to speak to other people who've had her class. Check her affiliations. Is she a member of an organization that promotes freedom of choice in birth practices? Basically do your homework and make sure she is not affiliated with anyone who would influence her instruction. (This can include some hospital classes.)
By gaining realistic information you will have the ability to make a choice that best suits you and your labor, and allowing yourself more options, should you need them.
Kadibug was nice enough to send in her birth story. It illustrates the points here quite vividly.