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Prenatal Education Then and Now

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Prenatal education has been a part of Memorial Hospital nearly from its beginning. Memorial was founded in 1962 and prenatal education has been a staple at the healthcare facility since the late 1970s. Obstetrics Supervisor, Evelyn Hecht along with other assistants taught the courses at Memorial for many years. In 1980, with the introduction of two new doctors, Dr. Stephen Platt and Dr. James Krieg, the OB department became very busy and enlisted the assistance of two nurses at that time, Jill Arbeiter and Sheila Rhodes to help teach an additional class.

During the beginning years of prenatal education at Memorial, it was the hospital’s policy that the couple needed to complete a class to allow a coach in the delivery room. Each class was held for six evenings, two hours each. If the couple had taken a class with a previous pregnancy, they only had to attend three evenings. For many years, two classes were offered at Memorial to accommodate the number of birthing couples.

(Christine Runge-Barthol shown in the top left image was the first baby to be born at Memorial Hospital in October of 1962. She is shown here attending a class with her husband Frank Barthol in 1989.)

The classes helped educate the expecting parents and the doctors were pleased with their patients’ knowledge of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Epidurals were not available at that time so there was an emphasis on relaxation and Lamaze breathing. The pregnant mother’s knowledge of relaxation techniques made the experience better for not only her but, her partner and everyone in the delivery room. A few years later, the hospital started allowing a support person in for C-Sections, if they had completed the class. The class helped prepare the coaches so they would be comfortable in the surgery department and could share in the birth experience.

In 2004, Memorial ended their OB services along with many small hospitals in the state. The high cost of malpractice insurance for practitioners’ delivering babies forced the smaller hospitals to discontinue their labor and delivery units. However, administration saw the continued importance of public education for childbirth and decided to continue to offer the program at Memorial. The class went from a 6 session class, to a three evening class, and now has been condensed to a 4-hour Saturday morning class that is offered four times a year.

Chris and Briana Koeneman were delighted to take the class in 2018 when they were expecting their first child. Jill Arbeiter, RN, was the instructor of their class and was the same educator Chris' parents, Kyle and Paul Koeneman, had in 1986 & 1989 when they were pregnant with him and his brother respectfully. "I found the class to be extremely informative, and it gave me a boost of confidence going into parenthood," stated Chris. His wife Briana says that, "what [she] liked most about the class was that it went above and beyond the labor and delivery process and gave great advice for all new parents."

Many education topics have remained constant throughout the prenatal education classes such as pregnancy, labor, and deliveries with and without various medical interventions, C-sections, breast and bottle-feeding, newborn care and safety, and care of the mom. Some of the topic additions over the years have occurred due to hospital protocols changing and the introduction of epidurals. “Many patients now opt for an epidural, but they may not fully understand some of the discomfort they may experience for several hours prior to their injection,” says Jill Arbeiter, RN and current class educator.

Over time, the materials have adapted to include more modern techniques and practices such as many hospital’s no longer requiring full surgical attire for a vaginal delivery and new moms no longer stay in the hospital for an extended period of time. Several up-to-date films compliment the current curriculum taught at Memorial and illustrate that new parents are encouraged and almost required to do all of the care for the baby’s needs while in the hospital.

“Parenting is the most important job any of us will ever do and giving birth is just the beginning,” says Arbeiter.

“Included in the class is a discussion of being parents, some discipline and other child rearing hints. We demonstrate conditioning exercises for pregnancy as well as relaxing and breathing techniques. We get on the floor with the couples and help them practice.”

Prenatal education is not just about educating the parents on labor comfort techniques, it covers the many aspects of birthing and rearing a child. Through education, both the mother and father learn what is happening to the body as it progresses through pregnancy and into post-partum. Knowing what to expect and what is causing it, helps them to better prepare.

Jill Arbeiter and Julie Hartman 2021

Jill Arbeiter, RN and Julie Hartman, LPN have taught the Prenatal and Family Education Class together for 28 years at Memorial Hospital. Both are able to continue their OB education by working part-time at other facilities including Perry County Memorial Hospital’s OB department in Missouri, and Heartland Women’s Healthcare in Sparta respectfully. When Jill was asked how many deliveries she has attended, she stated, “Hundreds, and if I wasn’t there for the birth, I was with them sometime during their hospital stay. I have delivered at least 10 before the doctor arrived. That can be stressful, but those fast deliveries are usually the babies who come out screaming and healthy!” These women have extended knowledge of the birthing process and what follows in the time after delivery. The education they are able to pass onto expectant mothers and the families is invaluable. Arbeiter sums it up best by stating, “I really love helping new moms learn how to get started with the most important part of their lives.”

The next Prenatal and Family Education Class will be held at Memorial Hospital in Chester on April 24, 2021 from 8:00am to noon. The class will be offered in-person or there will be a virtual option. For those registering for the in-person session, masks will be required and social distancing precautions will be taken. To register call 618-826-4581 ext. 1223. Watch for future events on the Memorial Hospital website and Facebook page.

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