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Online childbirth classes prove popular during COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Tracy Hanson knew she wouldn’t be able to keep teaching childbirth classes in the same way.

“It became clear in-person education was not an option,” she said.

During normal times, Hanson teaches expectant parents about childbirth, newborn care and breastfeeding in classes at the Providence Medford Medical Center BirthPlace. Once babies arrive, moms can join a support group.

But this spring, hospitals across Oregon put limits on unnecessary visitors in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Hanson launched online versions of her classes in April through the videoconference service Zoom.

The online classes have proven to be a hit — attracting three times as many participants as traditional in-person classes, according to Providence.

“More people are taking classes than when they were in person,” Hanson said. “It’s this age and the days we live in. It’s a generational thing. People are more technology-driven. They can do education from the comfort of their own home.”

The popularity of the classes surprised Providence, especially since there has been a drop-off in people seeking medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people aren’t calling 9-1-1 even when they’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, while others aren’t getting care to manage chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

Although hospitals in Southern Oregon haven’t been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, some people mistakenly think they should forgo medical care so they don’t overburden the system. Others fear catching the coronavirus in a medical setting despite safety measures that are in place.

Part of the boom in attendance for Hanson’s classes comes from the fact that they’re attracting people from Portland, Northern California and as far away as Alaska. Portlanders were quick to embrace the technology. But after a slower start, Southern Oregonians now make up about half of participants, Hanson said.

“People are experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety. People need support even more during COVID-19,” she said.

Hanson said using the videoconference technology has gone surprisingly smoothly.

People seem to enter the class and automatically put themselves on mute, although there are sometimes background noises, like dogs barking. When people unmute themselves or wave their hands, Hanson knows they have a question or comment. She encourages them to interrupt her at any time with a question.

“I tell them, ‘it’s your class,’” she said. “I try to make it as fun and interactive as possible.”

One drawback to the online format is apparent with the postpartum support group for moms. Hanson doesn’t know whether the new moms will form the same kinds of friendships that many participants forged during past in-person support groups she’s led.

“They did form lasting friendships. Some are still friends with people they met 10 years ago. I hope the same type of camaraderie develops, but it’s been slower to start,” Hanson said.

In-person support groups were also a way for new moms get out of the house and spend time with other adults.

“It feels good to get out of the house when you’re there 23 hours a day with a newborn,” Hanson said.

Despite some drawbacks, Hanson said she’s glad the online classes and support groups are available to provide education and guide new parents through the process.

“I want them to feel empowered. I’m trying to cheer them on,” she said.

Given the popularity of the classes, Providence plans to keep offering online options even when in-person classes resume after the pandemic, said Julie Denney, communications specialist for Providence Medford Medical Center.

“It’s clearly something that’s resonating with our patients and community,” Denney said. Local residents interested in joining Hanson’s classes can call 541-732-5717. Those outside the area can call 1-800-562-8964 and ask to take classes with the educator in Medford.

Expectant parents don’t have to be planning to deliver at a Providence hospital to take the classes.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTracy Hanson discusses the birth process at Providence Medford Medical Center BirthPlace Tuesday.