How many of us doulas, midwives, and educators have heard this question asked. Sometimes it's not just asked, it's a statement: I'm getting an epidural, I don't need a childbirth class. Either way, it's not entirely true is it? Allow me to outline some points that may shed light on the subject:
1. You may not get an epidural: Now before you get riled up thinking I'm trying to talk you out of it that's not what I mean. What I mean is that labor can be very unpredictable. You may have a fast labor or what we sometimes call a precipitous labor, in which there is actually no time to get the epidural placed before the baby is born. Another scenario is that you may be surprised by how manageable your labor is, opting to labor at home until the you feel the need to go to the hospital. And then your labor may pick up quickly, leaving you no time to get your epidural placed. In both instances, having knowledge of what's going on, how to deal with it, and tools to manage your stages of labor can be taught in a good, independent childbirth class.
2. The anesthesiologist may be unavailable: Many women request an epidural early in their labor and others wait until they feel they are in active labor or when the pain of labor becomes unmanageable. In any scenario, the anesthesiologist on-call may have other patients he or she is tending. The Doctor may even be out of the hospital altogether (depending on where you birth), and you may need to wait a length of time before you can be seen. This can be especially troubling to women who do not have other pain management tools to fall back on. Or women who didn't realize waiting was something that could happen. Again you can be taught valuable information about labor coping techniques in a quality class.
3. Your hospital may require you to be in active labor before being admitted: There are variations of labor in which you feel strong contractions long before active labor. They may not last long, but they vary in pain and manageability. Often this is when a woman has a baby in a malposition, or feels back labor. In this instance, you may not be admitted early in labor, but rather when your labor reaches a more predictable pattern or when you reach a certain dilation. You can be checked for dilation and sent home to manage your labor for a few hours. In this case a childbirth class (and truth be told a doula or very knowledgeable support person) comes in great service. First, you learn that this is a labor variation in the range of normal for birth and second you can learn exercises and position changes to help turn your baby into a better position, relieve pain and pressure and make your labor more efficient.
4. You may want to wait until active labor before going to the hospital: I've had many clients tell me they were either on the fence about getting the epidural or they knew they wanted one, but they were absolutely adamant about declining many other interventions and strongly desired a vaginal birth. In those cases, taking classes (or having a doula) is very valuable. You may be feeling some strong contractions and sensations long before you decide to make the trip to the hospital and in that case you will need the labor coping techniques and a good understanding of the variations of normal as in labor.
5. Childbirth classes help you learn options, give you an understanding of the process, eliminate fear, and educate you so you can make an informed decision: Labor isn't just about coping or not. Pain meds or not. There is a lot in this day and age that goes on in the labor and birth room, and a lot has been lost over the years in terms of allowing a woman to birth intuitively. In a good childbirth class preparation series, you can learn about the birthing process from an emotional standpoint, physiological standpoint and a procedural standpoint. You can learn to weigh your options, get a better understanding of the risks and benefits of different interventions and evidence-based practices, and make better informed decisions. This includes not only the decision on whether or not to use an epidural, but when to use one if you decide you want one. Lastly, a childbirth class can help you ask and answer questions within yourself. It's not enough to make a decision based on fear. Fear of pain, fear of hospitals, fear of bad outcomes. You can explore within yourself why you have chosen an epidural and make sure that you've eliminated fear as a motivator (if it was one) and made a better informed decision for you and your baby. Whatever that may be.