Categories: Feature Story
      Date: Oct 28, 2007
     Title: Childbirth 101

Expectant parents take classes to get ready for labor, delivery and beyond

By Tammy DiDomenico

Today's expectant parents are undoubtedly the most informed of any generation. Doctors provide packets of facts and figures; books offer details about labor and delivery; magazines for pregnant women abound; baby-themed television shows depict the big event; and now there are numerous online sources for parents-to-be.

Today's expectant parents are undoubtedly the most informed of any generation. Doctors provide packets of facts and figures; books offer details about labor and delivery; magazines for pregnant women abound; baby-themed television shows depict the big event; and now there are numerous online sources for parents-to-be.

And yet a large number of expectant couples still opt to take good, old-fashioned childbirth education classes.

"I would say more than half of the first-time moms who deliver here take childbirth classes," says Christine Vona, a registered nurse and director of childbirth education at St. Joseph Hospital Health Center. "They want to be well prepared."

Doctors encourage their patients to take the classes, usually between the fourth and seventh months of pregnancy, because an informed mom leads to a better childbirth experience for all involved. "Knowledge is power," Vona says. "And to be a health care consumer--that is a very powerful role."

The three birthing hospitals in Central New York--Crouse, Community General and St. Joseph's--all offer basic labor and delivery education. Generally, those wanting to take the childbirth education and newborn-care classes through their hospitals or a doula can expect to pay around $80, but the costs vary for specific classes and other options.

The three hospitals-all in Syracuse--offer scholarships if a couple is unable to afford the cost of the classes. Vona says she and her colleagues at Community and Crouse hospitals agree that cost should never prevent new parents from getting the education they need.

"Sometimes it's the things expectant moms don't always think of that can make a big difference in how comfortable they are during their pregnancy," Vona says. "(Learning about) little things like posture can make a big difference."

Issues covered in the childbirth preparation classes--which are taught by labor and delivery nurses at all three birthing hospitals--include what to expect in each phase of pregnancy, exercise for expectant moms, preterm labor, breathing techniques, the stages of labor and comfort measures, cesarean sections and other procedures common during delivery, pain relief options, labor and birthing positions, post-natal care, feeding options for baby, and a tour of the hospital.

All three birthing hospitals offer patients a choice between five two-hour classes that meet weekly and a one-weekend option. St. Joseph's weekend option--dubbed Luxury Lamaze Weekend-is held off-site at a local hotel. All three hospitals also offer a basic infant care class.

Vona, and Cathy Bradley, a nurse and coordinator of the Expectant Parent program at Community General Hospital, 4900 Broad Road, say the main topics covered in the classes haven't changed much over the years. Yet the demand for more information and more choices has altered how the classes are taught.

"Labor hasn't changed, but the way we prepare moms has changed," Vona says. "There is a clear emphasis on moms preparing as much as they can before they go into labor. If nothing else, we try to get moms to do three things during labor: breathe, move and relax. (Our classes) focus on practical things they can do for themselves."

At St. Joseph's, 301 Prospect Ave., $80 covers the cost of the Fit and Healthy Pregnancy class, formed a few years ago as a result of moms asking for more information on healthy eating and exercise they could use throughout their pregnancy, as well as Newborn Care and Breastfeeding classes. The hospital also offers classes for siblings and a refresher class for those delivering subsequent children.

Crouse Hospital, 736 Irving Ave., offers a five-week childbirth preparation course at the Marley Education Center, 765 Irving Ave., for $75. The hospital also holds $55 classes at two YMCA locations: North Area, 4775 Wetzel Road, Liverpool, and East Area, 200 Towne Drive, Fayetteville. Crouse offers 13 classes in all, including a free Siblings at Birth class and a class for siblings ages 3 to 10 ($18). Kathleen Miller Murphy, nurse and director of First Steps: Pregnancy, Childbirth and Family Education Programs, says the three-hour Pregnancy and Labor Massage class ($45) is very popular, as is the Infant Massage class ($65), offered to new parents once the baby is born.

Doulas, independent childbirth assistants dedicated to nurturing the emotional and physical well-being of birthing mothers, are just as committed to making sure their clients are well informed. "We believe that childbirth education is extremely important for both mom and partner," says Christine Goldman of Doulas of Central New York. "Becoming knowledgeable in your birthing options and choices is key to a successful and satisfying delivery. In addition, partners need to understand the emotional and physical needs of the laboring woman. We strive to work with both during our classes."

Goldman and her partner, Julie Crosby, offer a class on early pregnancy education, group classes on childbirth education, a one-on-one option for childbirth education taught at the expectant family's home, newborn care ($35), and a sibling class for children ages 2 to 6 ($35). The group classes, three two-hour classes for $80, are held at Heritage Landing in East Syracuse.

Coordinators of classes say procrastination is the biggest problem in getting expectant mothers the education they need. Doctors often distribute information on the courses early on in a pregnancy, but pregnant women have to register by calling their hospital directly. "I would say the biggest problem is that people don't call soon enough to get scheduled for the classes," says Jeanne Nolan, who handles registrations for Community General Hospital. "We can ask doctors to make the information available, but they have to call me to register. It they can't fit (the classes) in on our schedule, we will refer them. They can take classes anywhere."

Bradley, mother of two young children, says while Community General's classes are small, they can accommodate everyone. There are no deadlines for enrollment, and a maternity nurse on staff teaches small groups of parents who could not enroll in the scheduled childbirth classes.

"We try to accommodate everybody, regardless," says Murphy, director of Crouse's program. "It's a small community so we all work together." Murphy adds that she refers women to local doulas when scheduled classes don't work for a particular patient.

But even if an expectant mother is unable to take a class, she can be confident in knowing that the labor and delivery nurses and lactation consultants at all three hospitals provide bedside education as needed once the big day arrives--particularly for newborn and postpartum care.

Beyond the Basics
For those looking to go beyond the basics of childbirth education, some specific courses are available. Murphy says Crouse offers a course called Two's, Three's and More (Pregnancy and Parenting with Multiples). The three-hour class features advice from mothers who have been through the rigors of bringing home twins, triplets or more. "Whatever issues new moms of multiples may have, these ladies have been there," Murphy says. The course offers organizational tips, advice on feeding and an overview of the preterm medical issues many multiples face.

Crouse also offers a class for friends, family and caregivers of newborns ($20). The two-hour class focuses on infant safety and includes child CPR and first aid. "The demand for that course is huge," Murphy says. "I have a waiting list for that."

The classes offered through their programs are adjusted in response to feedback from mothers and their partners, Murphy and Vona say. "For example, the childbirth class used to be six weeks, but now it is five," Murphy says. "People are busier these days."

Bradley says the five-week childbirth course offered at Community General has more of a multimedia approach than in years past. "We use PowerPoint to incorporate video footage," she says. "We've moved away from long videos."

Doulas of Central New York incorporates crafts for a Siblings-R-Special class ($35). "We also have postpartum doula services, in which we help the mom out at home after delivery," Goldman says. "This, too, is an educational opportunity for us to guide with newborn care, breastfeeding and overall wellness for mom and her family."

For breastfeeding moms, each hospital offers classes and ongoing assistance from lactation consultants anytime after delivery. St. Joseph's holds a support group for mothers who are breastfeeding and returning to work full time.

St. Joseph's and Crouse hospitals offer refresher courses for parents having a second or third baby. Community General invites veteran parents to attend the first three classes of the regular five-week childbirth course. Sibling classes are also very popular; Crouse's Big Brother/Big Sister class is taught by a local mother of eight.

While partners are encouraged to attend the childbirth classes, Murphy encourages them to take as many of the additional courses as they can. "We have dads come to all the classes--even the breastfeeding course," she says. Prospective parents are typically most concerned about what will happen in the delivery room when labor and delivery begin, says Vona, mother to a grown son and daughter. In her discussions with new moms after their birth experiences, she has learned that many remember more than they think they will when it's time to put their education into practice. And even if they enrolled at the last minute, they are glad they took a class or two.

Rebecca McKillip of Bridgeport delivered her daughter, Sarah, at Crouse Hospital in 2006, just about a year ago. She and her husband Kevin attended the Childbirth Preparation course with a bit of skepticism.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, I'm not going to remember any of this when I am in labor,'" McKillip says. "But I was pretty surprised. I remembered more than I thought I would. The information on things like when the window for getting an epidural was-stuff you maybe wouldn't have thought of--was especially helpful. I'm glad we did it."

For more information on childbirth education in Central New York:

Community General Hospital.
Call Jeanne Nolan at 492-5142 or visit
Crouse Hospital. Call Kathleen Miller Murphy at 470-5727 or visit
Doulas of Central New York. Call 455-6MOM or visit
St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center. Call Chris Vona at 448-5515 or visit