About three months ago, I held my twin daughters for the first time. The delivery nurses handed them to me with a smile and wished us luck as we made our way to the recovery room. Another nurse checked us in and briefly explained what our lives would look like over the next 48 hours: Someone would come in every 15 minutes to massage my uterus and check my vitals, and other specialists would filter through to run standard newborn tests on the girls. If I needed help using the bathroom, all I had to do was push the “call” button and someone would be in shortly. She helped me get situated for my first-ever breastfeeding sessions and, then, she just … left.
In three hours, my husband and I went from watching the series finale of The Sopranos to becoming entirely responsible for two brand-new human beings. We were ecstatic, tired, and a bit scared (OK, we were terrified), but we didn’t feel completely helpless. Just six days prior, we had completed a six-week pregnancy and parenting course through our hospital that gave us a rough idea of what to expect during our first few days. We knew the first baby poops would look like tar, that I’d need a full postpartum care regimen, we wouldn’t sleep much, and that no one was going to hold our hands throughout the process. The babies were ours, after all, and it was on us to care for them.
But nothing — not the class or the pregnancy books or the hours we spent watching parenting advice videos on YouTube — could have ever fully prepared me for what was to come. The utter exhaustion. The hormones. The first trips to the bathroom. The sheer joy I felt as I got to know the newest additions to my family. I had to learn all of these things by doing. Still, I felt more confident going into these new experiences knowing I had a foundation, which is ultimately the goal of these courses, says Dr. Tamar Blank, a licensed psychologist who runs a series of parenting classes in New York.
“A great parenting class will offer information and answers to questions, but will also increase your overall sense of self, increase your self-esteem as a parent, and give you the courage to advocate for yourself,” Blank tells SheKnows. “Because there is no class that can answer every question that will come up; therefore, the goal is to empower you to handle those new situations.”
Feeling empowered is vital in the first weeks as you’re getting your footing, and while pregnancy and parenting classes can help, dad Evan Porter says he’d “hardly say they’re a must.”
“There’s really nothing quite like the crash course in diapering, burping, and swaddling you get in the hospital,” Porter, who blogs at Dad Fixes Everything, tells SheKnows. “At least in our experience, the classes sometimes set you up with unrealistic expectations and can lock you into trying to do things a certain way when, in reality, every delivery and baby is going to be wildly different.”
Twin mom Dara Lovitz says that “parenting in general and mothering, in particular, did not come naturally” to her and that while her two multiples-specific pregnancy courses helped to an extent, they didn’t cover nearly enough. “After finishing both classes, we were experts on how to navigate premature labor and NICU visits, and we knew absolutely nothing about how to change diapers or swaddle,” Lovitz tells SheKnows. (There’s a theme here.)
“I wished the parenting classes I took spent at least a little time on how to encourage healthy emotional development rather than just focus on the logistics of childbirth and newborn management,” she adds. (It’s worth noting that Lovitz took matters into her own hands and wrote the book, Twinsight: A Guide to Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins, after her delivery.)
So, are parenting classes worth it or not? Here are some pros and cons for you to consider:
Indeed, parenting classes can’t teach you everything about your kid or magically turn you into the parent of the year. But they can help remove some of the fears surrounding the unknown. “The primary goal is for parents to walk away feeling empowered and trusting their own thoughts and ability to handle new situations,” Blank says.
My birth experience was wild, and unlike anything I expected. I delivered just two hours after my water broke, and I didn’t get the chance to utilize all of the labor information I learned in class. We didn’t count contractions or use the labor ball. I didn’t have time to take a shower or ask for an epidural. Ultimately, though, none of that mattered to me. What was important was that I arrived at the hospital knowing my options and feeling like I had a say in my experience — which, to me, was invaluable.
Meeting other parents
You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, that doesn’t just apply to kids. Parents need support too, and one of the best ways to find it is by befriending other parents who really *get* what you’re going through.
“These classes encourage networking and commiserating and support among the students,” Lovitz says. Some of these friendships can last for years, which is excellent for future playdates, she adds.
Familiarizing yourself with your hospital or birthing center
Your class might not be through your hospital — and you might not choose a hospital birth at all. For me, though, taking a course through my hospital was a massive help. My instructor, a delivery nurse, explained the hospital’s general protocols and taught us how to advocate for ourselves if we wanted to do things differently.
It was also nice to have a resource available if needed. I felt feverish about two weeks before I went into labor and called the labor and delivery hotline to talk through my symptoms. My instructor answered, listened to what I had to say, and suggested I come in that night. It’s a good thing I did because I had an infection that needed immediate treatment. She probably would have suggested the same for anyone, but I do think that her knowing me and having a general idea of my health and routine gave her a clearer picture of what was wrong.
Expanding your skill set
You’d be hard-pressed to find a course that’s only directed toward your individual needs, but that doesn’t mean learning about a wide variety of topics isn’t worth it. What’s most important is that you learn “to trust yourself and to digest information that you’ve been given,” Blank says.
For instance, Blank’s parenting series features lectures from pediatricians, lactation specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, a teacher who works with younger children, and psychology (taught by herself). Your child doesn’t have to see a physical therapist for you to learn from one, she explains.
To make the most out of classes, Blank suggests asking a lot of questions and thinking about how the answers apply to your family. Does one approach make more sense than another?
“Never feel that your thoughts are too small,” she adds. Because, like most anything, even in medicine, there are multiple approaches to most situations. Find an answer that sits well with you and makes sense for your child. Every child is different. Have confidence that the professional is the expert in their field, and that you are the expert in who your child is.”
Deepening your relationship with your child
Parenting classes aren’t just for your benefit. Blank says they can help you foster your child’s individuality too.
“Ideally, a parenting class, or an opportunity to learn with professionals before you have a child, will help an adult to value the child for being an individual with unique thoughts and temperament,” Blank says. “From the moment that a child is born, parents can show their child that they accept them, and see them for who they are.”
There is no standard cost for parenting classes, and the prices can vary quite drastically. The class I took, for example, cost me $150 for six weeks. Other courses cost nearly that much per session. It all depends on the service and instructors. In some instances, financial support may be available.
Most of these classes aren’t very flexible, and you’ll have to make sure you can find something in a time-frame that works for your schedule. While most of the pregnancy courses are held in the evenings or on the weekends, the support groups — breastfeeding, baby and me, postpartum wellness, etc. — are typically held during the day, which can be frustrating for anyone going back to work or without access to childcare.
Too broad or too focused
Parenting classes aren’t one-size-fits-all. Some classes may not cover everything you want, and others may cover way too much. This can be a pain if you’re on a tight schedule and don’t want to waste time learning things that don’t apply to you.
Sometimes an instructor can seem great on paper but be awful in practice. If you’re concerned about the teacher’s values, you can always call ahead of time. Some instructors may be willing to answer some questions and give you a general idea of who they are and what they bring to the table.
If you’re still wondering if a class is right for you, ask yourself what you hope to gain. Are you pregnant and want to learn something specific, like how to handle pain during labor or how to breastfeed? Or, do you want an all-inclusive class that covers pregnancy diet, labor positions, hospital procedures, pain medication, and general postpartum care? If you’re already a parent, are you hoping to learn about parenting techniques more broadly, or do you have specific concerns, such as physical and cognitive development?
From there, you can research the options in your area and determine if they’re worth the time and money.
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