Friday, February 13, 2015

Mama Says... Birth Boot Camp (online natural childbirth education) Review

“When you change the way you view birth, the way you birth will change.”
-Marie Mongan

Many times throughout the last ten months, I wondered how mothers managed to get through pregnancy before the internet. Every new sensation or curiosity sent me scurrying to ask the advice of the all-knowing Google.

Usually I was met with search results galore, from WebMD to the BabyCenter forums, from individual blog posts to checklists pinned to Pinterest. However, in some instances my searches didn't locate the exact resource that I needed... especially from the perspective that I was looking for.

Over the next couple of weeks in a series that I'm calling "Mama Says...," I hope to write a few of the posts that I wish I had been able to find during my own pregnancy journey... in hopes that someone like me runs across them in their own web searches and finds them to be exactly what they need.

See other "Mama Says" posts here


Since I was a little girl I have always wanted to be a mother. I have soaked up mommy blogs and birth stories for years, hoping to have quite an arsenal of ideas and advice by the time we were ready to grow our own family. Reading about other mothers' natural births, I wondered if I, too, could be strong enough, brave enough, bold enough to give birth without medications.

The thought of an epidural has always scared me, and friends' stories about failed epidurals or awful after-effects of epidurals scared me even more. I wanted to feel empowered by my birth experience, but more importantly I also wanted to recover and bounce back as quickly as possible. I hated to miss any of my baby's earliest moments.

I was nervous about my pain tolerance (I've luckily never been really sick or hurt to test my threshold), but my sister's unmedicated birth experience last summer (informed by Bradley Method classes) really inspired (and to be honest, even challenged) me to really consider a similar goal. When we started researching natural birth classes in our area, we found a few local classes. But, even with the options available, my husband's unpredictable work schedule and commute was going to make it very difficult to commit to a weekday evening class.

When I found Birth Boot Camp, a 10-class online childbirth education program focused on natural birth, I knew that it would be a perfect option for us. Although you can read about the details on their website, here's a quick synopsis of what's provided:
  • 3 months of unlimited access to online videos, exercises & resources
  • 10 lessons providing complete preparation for labor, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding and the newborn period (list of topics found here) based on up-to-date medical information
  • Includes a full-color workbook, links to additional online resources, relaxation audio files, and breastfeeding dvd to supplement the online videos
The price of $300 seemed steep at first (preparing for a baby is expensive!), but very much comparable to other comprehensive childbirth classes. And, now looking back from the other side, my husband and I are both very glad that we didn't let the price deter us.

We started the class around the 25th week of my pregnancy, and we planned to watch the videos as our weekly date nights. Although my husband was really supportive of my choice to pursue a natural birth, at first he didn't really understand why I would put my body through that. But even after the first week of class, he was fully on board, comparing it to his own training for endurance athletic events.

Date night with Birth Boot Camp classes

Each Friday night we welcomed Donna and Sarah into our home. We loved their unscripted dialogue; it felt like we were really sitting in a class with them. But we also appreciated that we were not surrounded by a group of other people; we could add our own commentary, discuss our own opinions, and even joke around to relieve the tension around topics that we weren't comfortable talking about at first (in fact Rob even covered his eyes through the first few birth videos).

Photo via Birth Boot Camp website

We followed along in the workbook as we watched the video lessons, taking notes, answering the question prompts, and bookmarking pages to return to. The workbook itself can almost stand alone... while it complements the videos, it often provides a much more detailed explanation. The website also provides links to additional online resources to explore further. To get the complete picture about the topics, you would want to review all of these resources.

Before signing up for the program, I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what we were investing in. I tried to read online reviews, but found few that answered my most important questions/concerns directly. Now that we've been through the program, I'd love to address these for anyone else that might be curious:
  1. As first time parents (and following a miscarriage), we felt more comfortable seeing an OB as our primary caregiver and giving birth in the hospital. Would BBC look down upon hospital births? The website does mentions that it will help you "plan to birth at home, birth center, or hospital," but would it really? We were relieved to find that the classes did indeed provide support for births in any environment. Although they shared many examples of home births and birth center births (often assisted by midwives and doulas), they never put down hospital births and even gave us questions to ask our doctors and advice to help avoid routine hospital interventions. We were very pleased with our hospital experience for this birth... but, if there is another birth experience in our future, knowing what we know now, I think that we will strongly consider a birth center and/or midwife-assisted delivery.
  2. Knowing that even the best laid plans may spiral out of control, I wanted to remain flexible enough to accept whatever birth experience was most healthy for my baby and myself. Would BBC shame mothers who ended up with an "unnatural" birth? We found that while the class certainly advocated for an unmedicated birth with few interventions, they also provided advice about how to deal with the unexpected, including questions to ask before giving consent, explaining why certain interventions might be called for, and even providing tips about how recover from a c-section.

How Birth Boot Camp inspired us:
  • Although at first Rob didn't understand why I would choose to subject myself to (the media portrayal of) childbirth pain, he became a strong advocate for natural birth, even engaging his coworkers in discussions about it.
  • The birth videos included in each class increased our tolerance for and comfort level with the sights and sounds of the birth experience. (The first few weeks Rob hid his head under a blanket during the birth videos, but by the end of the series he could watch them all the way through!)
  • In each class a physical trainer modeled PT exercises to stay flexible and stretch muscles.
  • BBC's focus on Kegel exercises motivated me to regularly strengthen these muscles (my husband also reminded me regularly after learning about the importance of these exercises). I don't think it's a coincidence that I didn't suffer from the embarrassing incontinence that some of my friends experienced during pregnancy.
  • Even though I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from labor, the knowledge we gained about the process (vocabulary, labor stages, fetal positions, etc.) gave me the confidence that I could manage it.
  • The workbook provided a sample birth plan, and BBC discussed many of the options that we might choose when writing our own birth plan to discuss with our doctors.
  • BBC encouraged us to avoid any unnecessary ultrasounds or vaginal exams... many of our friends seemed surprised when in the last weeks of pregnancy we didn't have an estimate of baby's size and didn't know how much I had dilated, but we knew that such measurements (which are often inaccurate) can lead to unrealized expectations and/or unnecessary intervention. 
  • After hearing stories of labor stalling after arriving at the hospital, I wanted to labor at home as long as possible. When I got to the hospital I measured "8 cm with a bulging bag"... while it rattled the triage nurses a little bit, it was exactly the scenario I wanted.
  • BBC suggested that mom not answer any questions about pain level, a strategy I definitely relied on during our hospital admission process.
  • BBC advocates for lots of skin-to-skin contact with baby. Skin-to-skin time has become one of Rob's and my favorite memories/rituals of the newborn days.
  • Class 6 "Supporting Arms: Mom's Most Important Ally" was the most important for us, teaching us how to recognize and work through contractions. It gave Rob the confidence he needed to act as my ally and gave me the ability to trust that he would be the best ally I could possibly have during labor.  

What Birth Boot Camp could do better:
  • We think that the chiropractic and massage sections should be provided as separate videos... while interesting, I was already somewhat familiar with these techniques, and they seemed to drag out the lessons for classes 3 and 4.
  • On the other hand, we would have preferred the birth videos to be integrated seamlessly into the class videos... clicking back and forth was kind of a hassle, especially because our streaming setup didn't save where we paused the first video.
  • We wished more time was spent discussing the different labor and pushing positions (pictures and descriptions are shown in the workbook, but the video lessons kind of brushed over them). The only disappointment from our birth experience was that by following the doctor's and nurses' lead, I ended up pushing from the supine position and stirrups (resulting in a 3rd degree tear). Perhaps we should have made ourselves more familiar with the techniques by actually practicing them, but it would have been nice for Donna and Sarah to review them with us. 

How Birth Boot Camp could take it one step further:
  • A moderated online forum for conversations... I found myself following the Natural Unmedicated Birth forum on BabyCenter for inspiration from other mothers and my daily questions of "is this normal?", but often wished that I could filter the responses from those with similar BBC experience or even having professionals weigh in.
  • A postpartum/baby care basics supplement... Because we invested so much time and money into the BBC class, we opted not to take an additional class about baby basics at our hospital. I now wish I felt as confident about taking care of baby as I did about birthing him. Because we already trusted Donna and Sarah, we would have been more than willing to listen to their advice on how to give a bath, change a diaper, put baby to sleep, etc.
  • An iPhone app for recording Chow Chart/Daily Log information... Although I was inspired by the nutrition information presented in Class 2, I was already in the habit of tracking my food intake in the MyFitnessPal calorie counter app. However if there has been a similar BBC app to record nutrition and self-care from a pregnancy perspective, I would have happily used it.

Just moments after birth

As I mentioned a few days ago in the abridged version of my birth story, the moments after our son's birth were filled with joy and pride. (I have to admit there were high fives and fist bumps!) We had hoped for and worked for a natural, unmedicated birth, and we had achieved it!

Thank you, Donna and Sarah for inspiring and encouraging us throughout this journey! We will be singing your praises and recommending your program to anyone interested in the natural birth experience.

Disclaimer: A natural, unmedicated birth was the right choice for us for this pregnancy. We understand that for a variety of reasons, many mothers choose other options for their birth experience. Regardless of the birth details (or whether the birth goes as planned), the result is the birth of a precious baby and the beginning of a motherhood journey. We wholeheartedly support each and every mother as she makes hard decisions like these based on what is best for herself and her family.

1 comment:

  1. What a great idea---to have a place to debrief from your "new parent" experience and perhaps answer questions that others might have.


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