Understanding Why Childbirth Classes Can Be Stressful

Birthways Chicago

Registering and then attending your first childbirth preparation class is often a significant, “this is really happening” moment. You’re reminded that the fetus that is kicking you and pushing against your ribs and bladder will actually want to come out of your body and that this will require a bit of coordinated effort. Partners are aware that they play some role in this process but aren’t exactly sure what it will be, and they often worry about how they’ll be up to the task. Your mind is swimming with the newness and uncertainty…and the instructor starts “Lesson 1”.  We would love it if everyone left the jitters behind after that first class, but we know it’s just not possible.

Traveling into new places

Having a baby, giving birth, even changing a diaper—these may all be ‘firsts’. There is a huge amount of new information that you will be taking in over the childbearing year, even if you already have some experience and knowledge of babies. There is a great deal to navigate during pregnancy and birth including:

  • Transformations taking place in your body
  • Changes in relationships and identity
  • Encountering health care systems—often for the first time
  • Making decisions about baby gear
  • Finding a doula
  • Signing up for childbirth classes

And so much more!

This uncharted territory can feel overwhelming. A widely-used model for understanding how we learn and develop new skills is the Conscious Competence framework. It takes into account that there is stress involved with learning—we are stretching our minds and imagination to take in new information. According to the model, it takes 4 steps to arrive to a place of ‘competence’. In the childbearing year, this process happens over and over again as you move through pregnancy, birth and parenting. And it’s not always comfortable.

So much is changing

Learning and competence in the childbearing year is even more personal and more life-changing than, say, taking on a new job.

One of the conversations I frequently have with women and expectant parents is how their beliefs and attitudes shift over the course of pregnancy. These shifts are often significant, ‘aha’ moments. They include:

  • Gaining insight into their own personality or needs
  • Understanding new ways to trust themselves
  • Moving toward or away from family or cultural traditions
  • Examining habits of being
  • Finding a deeper authenticity

This means we may feel we don’t know the answers, don’t know what we believe and don’t know what choices we should make. It can be very unsettling. One of the attitudes of mindfulness training that I believe can be of benefit during this time is working with “Beginner’s mind”, accepting and welcoming a sense of “not knowing”.

The end result? With awareness we end up with more freedom and choice. But in the midst of everything, it may feel unsettling.

Living with uncertainty

Maybe you feel like you can live with this not knowing for a bit but also feel the tug to get things figured out, to make a plan, to be prepared, to be ‘on top of it’. Because each childbirth class or segment builds upon itself, you might not immediately feel that some of your biggest questions or issues are addressed right away.

I believe it’s possible to sink into the unknowns more easily when we know what our safety net is and we build trust in it. Through labor there are many ways to create safety and to have ways to make informed decisions in an empowered way, even if we don’t know what might come up during our own birthing day.

Talking to your childbirth educator or meeting with your doula can be an opportunity to get the reassurance you need if something you’ve learned has activated a fear or worry. They can guide you in creating your village of support.

As you consider classes, you may want to look into taking a Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Class. Through an experiential approach to this time of learning, you’ll broaden your ability to navigate whatever lies ahead and you’ll gain skills to:

  • Help you manage stress
  • Work with discomfort, pain, and fear
  • Open up clearer lines of communication

MBCP also builds confidence in inner resources, shifts perceptions, and increases relaxation and calm. All of these benefits carry you through the birth experience and into parenting, and life in general.

Image-making, birth planning and confidence

We know from experience that some of our childbirth education participants recognize that they have some fears around birth while others may not have thought a lot about it. Please be sure to talk with us about where you are now and we can help you find the class that will best suit your needs.

A good childbirth class prepares you for the adventure of birth and helps you start to acclimate to possible experiences. If something comes up that is unexpectedly intense, always feel free to take time out to care for yourself but, as I mentioned, also let your instructor know what you experienced. They can provide reassurance, encouragement or clarification.


Remember that it’s normal for many emotions to arise during your childbirth education class, and to imagine the way your own lives will be forever changed as you become parents. Finding a class that will work for you is part of this journey. Taking one step at a time, with awareness confidence and trust.

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