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How-to Classes for Parents : For couples expecting a first child, courses teach everything from diapering to protecting infants from accidents.

June 04, 1993|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Maryann Hammers writes regularly for The Times

Joe Nichols was stumped. He was trying to slip a tiny white T-shirt onto a life-size baby mannequin, but the task was posing a few problems. "How do you do this without breaking the baby's arm?" he wondered aloud. He gazed at the doll, then looked at his pregnant wife, Liz, who worriedly furrowed her brows.

"Are you going to make me do this at home?" the young husband asked.

The couple, whose baby is due this month, were attending a parenting class at West Valley Hospital & Health Center in Canoga Park. Because infants don't arrive with instruction manuals, many such first-time parents take these classes, which teach them everything from how to diaper a baby to how to protect children from accidents and injuries.

Offered at hospitals throughout the Valley, parenting courses take over where childbirth and breast-feeding classes leave off. Topics typically covered include how to make homes safe for babies, when to call a doctor, how to take a newborn's temperature, how to care for umbilical cords and circumcision wounds, what to look for when purchasing car seats and cribs and how to perform infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

According to Nancy LaSota, director of education and community relations at West Valley Hospital & Health Center, the classes are popular with new parents as well as grandparents, friends, neighbors, baby-sitters and nannies.

"We encourage all parents to take the class a few months before their due date," she says. "They may think they know how to take care of a baby, but when they get home with their little one, it's 'What do I do?' These classes build up confidence and reassure them."

"The classes gave us an idea of what to expect, a little bit of background," said Uta Hughey of Reseda. She and her husband, John, attended the "Expectant Parent" series at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills before their son, Jared, was born. "They helped me know when to feed the baby, how to know when he is hungry. Bathing was a big thing, too--it took me a while before I was comfortable giving him a bath."

Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center sponsors dozens of offerings covering the gamut of a child's life. Class topics include temper tantrums, potty training, hyperactivity, returning to school, stress management, single parenting and step-parenting.

Encino-Tarzana's course on disciplining children usually draws more than 100 parents, according to community education nurse manager Wendy Kelman. "This is such a different world than when we were growing up," she says. "With both parents in the work force, they want to do the best possible job they can in the limited amount of time they have."

But no matter how comprehensive the course, nothing can adequately prepare a new parent for what's ahead, warns new mom Hughey.

"Those first few weeks are just tortuous," she says. "You have this baby, and he is screaming, and you are panic-stricken and your life is totally upside-down. There is not a class in the world that can teach you how to cope. You just have to go through it."

Sampling of Hospital Programs

Parenting classes are offered at many hospitals throughout the San Fernando Valley. Some are free; others cost as much as $15 per person. Most send parents home with fat information packets brimming with baby magazines, helpful articles on baby care and sample products. Here is a sampling of what's available at a few local hospitals.

Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills offers courses in newborn care and sibling preparation. Cost is $20 per couple per class. Classes offered in Spanish are $60 for a four-week series. (818) 365-8051.

Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills offers a six-week "Expectant Parent Series," free to Kaiser members. A support group for parents also meets weekly. (818) 719-4536.

Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center's "Successful Parenting Series" covers a variety of topics from birth to teen-agers. Cost is $5 per person ($15 for child CPR class). (818) 881-0800.

Valley Hospital Medical Center in Van Nuys offers classes in infant/child CPR in Spanish and English. Cost is $15. (818) 997-0101.

West Valley Hospital & Health Center in Canoga Park offers a two-part class covering child safety and CPR. $15 per person; $25 per couple. (818) 719-7344.

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