The Benefits of Prenatal and Postnatal Education
Friday, April 15, 2011 - 8:33am
Interview with Sally Elliott, R.N., CCE
Having moved to Regina over 5 years ago, one of the names I kept hearing from other mothers was Sally Elliott when it came to prenatal or postnatal expertise. People spoke of her with affection and respect, and I could easily tell that she was genuinely liked. I found out very quickly that she is also very devoted. She often visits new moms in the hospital after they've given birth, and will offer her home phone number if you need to reach her in an emergency. Therefore, when it came time to think of an "expert" for April's theme of Everything Baby and Toddler, Sally Elliott was number one on our list.
I sat down with Sally one afternoon to find out more about the wonderful woman whom many parents have come to know and trust, and to get her expert advice on the benefits of prenatal and postnatal education.
To give you some background, Sally didn't plan on a career in pre and postnatal education. As a teenager, she was a swimming instructor, and then became a social worker after university. She moved to Montreal after she and her husband had a baby, and got hired as a part-time lifeguard at the local YMCA. After moving to Victoria in 1985, this busy mom of 4 started working with families at the YMCA-YWCA of Greater Victoria. "The Y has sponsored me, fostered me, encouraged me, supported me, and I'm very, very grateful for that," says Sally. That support continued when she and her family moved to Regina, where she currently works at the YMCA Downtown. Since then, she has also become a registered nurse.
What Should Parents Look For When Choosing Prenatal Classes?
There are several things to look for: price, topics covered in the class, and even your own comfort level. Regina Qu'appelle Health Region offers free classes. In Regina, the YMCA offers a discount to members for the prenatal classes. Both the Health Region and YMCA Downtown offer general information on such topics as different relaxation tools, fast and slow labour, medication, etc. But if you want to focus your attention on a specific tool like hypnobirthing , then that's where you should go (e.g. Birth Bliss and Blessed Beginnings). "So, it's where you're at and what you want to do," says Sally. You can take both a general information class and a specific birthing method class or just take one. The choice is yours, and depends on what you want for your baby.
When Should Parents Take Prenatal Classes?
Ideally, the best time to take prenatal classes is during your last trimester--the time when you start to think about the labour.
Why Should Parents Take Prenatal Classes?
From experience, Sally believes there are many benefits of taking prenatal classes. One belief stems from how birth is viewed in our culture versus others. Many cultures see birth as a rite of passage, so "birth is not this foreign thing," says Sally. Whereas, in our culture (for the most part), birth is seen in a negative view thanks to all those labour horror stories passed on from woman to woman and also portrayed by the media.
Sally believes that fear and anxiety is one of the worse tools for coping with labour "because you get yourself so worked up that it's very difficult to trust in your body...to relax...to roll with it...to have the confidence that this is what your body is designed to do because you've had all this stuff thrown at you: how scary this is and how painful it is and how awful it is. And so I think coming to get some education on what does go on in your body when it's straightforward and when it's not straightforward...tools that you can use to help yourself cope with it, and also what goes on in the hospital."
What Can Parents Expect to Learn?
Expectant parents learn about a variety of things in childbirth classes starting with pregnancy issues all the way to post-partum issues. Pregnancy issues (traditionally called early birth classes) discuss nutrition and lifestyle changes, body changes and common complaints, fetal development and more. Next up is labour and everything that happens to a woman's body, including what labour pains feel like, what a mom and her partner can do to make the labour as comfortable as possible, and the different tools that can help ease labour such as breathing and relaxation techniques.
Post-partum (or postnatal) issues are also covered. Topics like breastfeeding, jaundice, circumcision, recovery, and emotional adjustment. But Sally is quick to point out that in her experience, she knows that they don't hear her. "They've got stars in their eyes; it's going to be wonderful. There's just so much emphasis on this birth; [they think] just get me through the labour and the rest will be so easy," she comments.
"I wish I could get across the power and the intensity of contractions. And I wish I could get across how you'll feel afterwards," she adds. "Two conundrums of my career of how to get those across, and I'm finding that I don't think you can. I think you just have to live it."
What are the Benefits of Prenatal Classes for 2nd-time and 3rd-time Parents?
There are many specific reasons why 2nd-time parents might take a prenatal refresher course. Some need a review. Others are looking to find better coping techniques. And there are also those whose first experience resulted in a caesarean section, and want to try a vaginal birth this time around so they're looking for tips on how to help make that happen. Whatever the reason, the biggest benefit of attending a refresher course is to rebuild confidence. According to Sally, "just because it went that way that time doesn't mean it's going to go that way this time; every labour is different."
What Sort of Postnatal Support is Available?
There are numerous post-partum support programs, including support groups, available in Regina. The purpose of these programs is to make the adjustment to parenthood easier. It's an opportunity for parents, with their babies, to get together to discuss issues that affect them--a chance for moms to get information and support. The YMCA Downtown offers its Y's Moms Groups (including one for moms with multiples) where they talk about everything from day-to-day experience to questions about infant care. "It's not a class," explains Sally. "A class is where you're taught something. We're sharing our lives."
Important to note is that there are also support groups for parents having extreme difficulty adjusting, as well as one-to-one consultations. "The group gives normalcy to the illness. And I say this with all the love in the world, and I'm using women's words: I'm not the only whacko out there! It's terrifying...[but] it is a temporary thing. You are going to get over it."
What Advice Would You Like to Offer 1st-time Parents?
Even though Sally doesn't consider herself an expert, she would rather share than give advice. "Believe in yourself and believe in your body. Believe in your instincts. You know your body better than anybody else does. You know your baby better than anybody else does. Believe in yourself."
Sally Elliott is the Perinatal Program Co-ordinator at the YMCA of Regina - Downtown. She is a Registered Nurse (R.N.), Certified Childbirth Educator (CCE) and an experienced pre and postnatal fitness instructor. Contact Sally at 757-9622 x.242 or download the Y's Perinatal Programs Brochure.
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