What’s in the Future for Childbirth Education?

by Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN

About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to work more closely with families in my home town of Lexington, Kentucky. So I developed a curriculum, and then scheduled independent childbirth classes in my hometown. I reached out to all the providers and doulas that I knew. I mailed flyers, posted flyers, and used social media to try and advertise my class. Even with my name recognition (Rebecca Dekker of Evidence Based Birth®), nobody signed up to take my 5-week childbirth class series. Which seemed odd to me. What was going on? Was it the fact that local hospitals offered free classes? Or was something else going on?

In 2013, the Listening to Mothers III survey found that only 1 in 3 mothers giving birth in U.S. hospitals that year had taken a childbirth class. And yet, these people are walking into a flawed health care system, where non-evidence based care is routine. They could use all the education and help they can get! Why aren’t they getting educated by a certified childbirth educator?

A few years ago, one of my mentors gave me advice when I was struggling with an issue in terms of how I could best serve my audience. She said, “Stop trying to guess what people are thinking. Ask them!” “Ah. You’re right!” I answered! “Why didn’t I think of that before?” Ever since that time, my policy is to ASK people what they want at Evidence Based Birth®, before I create anything!

So, I decided to hold a couple of online focus groups to find out what was happening. I sent out an invitation, specifically looking for people in their twenties, who were either pregnant, recently had a baby, or were planning on having a baby in the next five years. We had a great group of about 18 people in their twenties who video-chatted with me and told me their thoughts about childbirth. Another 34 people, who couldn’t make it, let me know their thoughts by email.

I’m not going to reveal all of their answers—I’m saving the bulk of what I found for the ICEA conference—but here 3 of the 9 themes that I found:

  • I can learn everything I need to know from the internet or from watching YouTube videos
  • I plan on just showing up and having the doctor and nurses tell me what to do
  • I’m too busy—I don’t have the time or money, and I don’t want to leave my home

Basically, what they told me, is that today’s young people would much, much rather stay at home in their fuzzy slippers than attend a live, in-person class. I totally understand—I’m exhausted at the end of the day, too! I can also see why casual online learning is so much more appealing young people. And yet… most online courses have DISMAL completion rates. Planning to offer a completely online childbirth class? Chances are only 5% of people who sign up will actually watch every video and complete the entire class.

So, what’s the solution? How do we reach today’s generation of birthing people? How do we entice them to leave their homes? Should we be making changes to how we teach? If so, what kind of changes should we be making?

And even if we do somehow figure out a way to get people to our classes, how do we handle the dilemma that nearly every childbirth educator I meet struggles with? That dilemma is, how do you help them get evidence based care, when evidence based care is extremely difficult to get in your community? For example, what if you teach childbirth classes at a hospital, and you encourage your clients to move around as much as possible during labor? But in the back of your mind, you know that once they arrive, they’ll most likely be hooked up to a continuous electronic fetal monitor that restricts their movement? What if you are encouraging your students to use a tub during labor, and they’re SO excited about that, but in the back of your mind you know that there’s only one room with a tub, and the nurses aren’t likely to fill it up?

Basically, I see the future of childbirth education as facing two critical issues:

  1. How do we get millennials into our childbirth classes?
    and
  2. How do we help millennials get evidence based care, when it isn’t the norm?

I’ve spent the past few months brainstorming solutions to the first problem, and the past five years brainstorming solutions to the second problem. After talking with parents and educators from across the country, I’m excited to share some potential solutions with you.

To learn about those potential solutions, make sure you register for the 2018 ICEA Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. When you arrive, make sure you come to my session about “Childbirth Education and Birth Plans” to hear my solutions for the future of childbirth educators. Also, feel free to stop by my booth afterwards for photo ops and to chat some more!  I can’t wait to meet many of you in person.

See you soon!