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Prenatal education is learning received before a child is born, usually while the mother is pregnant. The term often refers to lessons in preparing for a baby's arrival, including the birthing process, infant care, safety, the benefits of breastfeeding, and living a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy. Many hospitals and birthing centers offer this type of prenatal education which helps people transition into parenthood. Another form of prenatal education involves stimulating the fetus with sounds, movements, and smells to help the baby’s developing senses. Advocates believe this form of prenatal education gives the baby an early learning advantage.
Many soon-to-be parents sign up for prenatal training classes. These sessions may especially be helpful to first-time parents as they learn about pregnancy, birth, and caring for an infant. The classes are designed to deal with the parents’ emotional and physical needs as the pregnancy progresses. Sessions especially highlight the needs of the mother and fetus during each stage of pregnancy and offer advice on nutrition, activities to avoid, and getting proper rest.
Prenatal training includes childbirth classes where expectant mothers learn about the birthing process. Instructors explain the mechanics of birth and options for the parents. For example, some classes might focus on minimizing labor pain without drugs, while others discuss the specifics of a Cesarean delivery.
Classes also highlight caring for infants. The sessions teach essentials such as the following: infant CPR and first aid, how to diaper, feed and burp a baby; and how to bathe the child. Breastfeeding is another common topic during the prenatal education sessions. Instructors guide the mom-to-be in how to properly breastfeed an infant, how to overcome common pitfalls, and the physiology of breastfeeding.
Expectant parents often attend prenatal training where the birth will take place; this is often a hospital or birthing center. Most obstetricians will recommend alternative places to take classes should the hospital not offer the service. Depending on the venue, classes can have a comprehensive curriculum or may be offered "a la carte" if parents want to choose among the options.
Prenatal development classes are another form of neonatal education. These sessions focus on educating the fetus rather than the parents. The theory behind this approach is that the developing fetus constantly learns while in utero; exposing it to different sounds, smells, and touches helps the baby advance.
Many such education offerings are done on the mother’s own time rather than in a classroom. For instance, the pregnant woman may attach small speakers to her stomach to play music for the fetus. She may also use a machine that plays rhythmic sounds in patterns. Supporters argue that this type of prenatal education helps the baby learn to recognize sounds that it will encounter in the world.
Other prenatal development classes encourage expectant parents to engage the fetus through smell, taste, and touch. Developing babies can taste and smell the amniotic fluid that surrounds them. Advocates believe that the mother can help the fetus better develop its senses by experimenting with different types of food throughout pregnancy to expose the baby to many smells and tastes. Touch, achieved by lightly massaging the mother’s belly or gently pushing back when the baby moves in utero, is thought to help the child learn to bond with its parents while in the womb.