How to Use Childbirth Education Handouts Thoughtfully

childbirth education handouts

One of the wonderful things about practicing Birthing From Within is that while we all work from the same core ideas and experiences, no two mentors are exactly the same.

About six months ago, BFW mentor Megan Malone-Franklin wrote a wonderful piece for this blog about why she and her wife don’t use handouts in their classes or with their doula clients. I agree with everything she wrote – and yet…I do use handouts in my classes. How do I fit handouts into the Birthing From Within model? Let me explain…

First of all, I am admittedly, a recovering Handout Addict. I used to have huge stacks of them in binders for parents. My thinking was, “There’s so much information! I can’t cover it all! I must give them handouts about every little topic I can’t go over in class!”

That level of work was, frankly, exhausting. (And more than a little stressful, because my printer had the magical ability to run out of ink the night before a class.) So I stopped and asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” And what I found when I looked within  was…fear. Fear of parents feeling like they hadn’t gotten “enough” out of my classes. Fear of them being upset at me for not “covering” something that they felt was important. Fear of their judgement and censure, and fear of getting bad reviews.

In short, it wasn’t about them, it was about ME. Wow.

So I started to re-evaluate my handout collection, and why/when/how I was using each one. I found that I could chuck a good 99% of them; the information was readily available elsewhere, and I could point parents in the right direction if they asked. With the remaining handouts, I asked myself these questions:

  • What am I attempting to communicate?
  • How does this information serve parents?
  • What does this material ask of parents?
  • Does this material support independent exploration and discovery?
  • How does this material support class content?

After this purge, a small packet of materials remained. Now, on the first day of class, I give parents folders with blank and lined paper in it. Parents use the their folders as journals, and over the course of our class, we add just a few handouts, such as the Labor Candle Circle, Easy Contraction Tracking Chart, and Postpartum Expectations.

Each handout I give is either an ‘extra’ idea to explore; a guide for continued  practice, preparation, or reflection; or an actual tool that they might use over the course of their perinatal experience.

I don’t distribute these handouts all at once, and I only give them new pages at the end of each class day. I joke that it’s so they can’t jump ahead without me, but it’s also so they aren’t distracted by written information during class. Also, I don’t give every group the same stack of Stuff. I look at what the class is asking for and needing, and tailor what I serve to what’s being ordered up.

While I might say at the end of class, “Your homework is …,” I don’t directly check that “homework” at the next class. Instead, I ask parents how their home practice went and if there are any questions that came up for them. (Here’s a great place to point them towards sources for the types of information that I used to give as handouts!) Sometimes, I’ll send the parents out information gathering: “That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. Why don’t you take the next week to see if you can find more about that for us, and I’ll look too!” Then I can dive into my handout archive and see if I have something to bring next week, just in case — but most of the time they come back excited to share what they found!

The journal becomes part of their process. I encourage them to use the blank pages to sketch, write, question, and explore, and to see the handouts as extra bits that help document the journey they are on, from pregnancy, through labor and birth, and into the wild wonderful world of parenting.

My main pointers for mentors wanting to pare down their handout routines are:

  • Examine every handout you currently use, asking yourself the questions I listed earlier in this post.
  • Start by picking just two or three handouts. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your clients. You can build from there if the need arises.
  • Don’t sweat getting it “right.” If one approach isn’t  working for you, try something different!
Happy mentoring!

About Charlene Hamilton

Charlene Hamilton is a Birthing From Within Childbirth Educator and birth doula, as well as an artist, writer and general Doer of Many Things. She has been involved in the birth world for two decades, and is firm in her the belief that preparing heart and mind is just as vital to childbirth preparation as physical skills and knowing data. When she's not doing birth work, she's puttering on the computer, or curled up with a good book and a cat or two. She can be found online at www.heartofbirth.net.

1 Comment

  1. Megan Malone-Franklin on March 2, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I loved learning about your thoughtful process! Thanks for sharing.

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