As a nurse, Kimberly Hinrichs does her best to help expectant parents prepare for the big event.

But she couldn't help noticing that there were a lot of empty seats at the childbirth classes she oversees at Cambridge Medical Center north of the Twin Cities.

So this year, she decided to try something new: a "Fast Track" class for harried parents-to-be.

Normally, the classes run once a week for four weeks, 12 hours in all. She squeezed the material into two four-hour sessions in hopes of attracting more couples. And it seems to have worked.

"We're just finding that parents are so busy," she said. "They just want to get in, get all the information and be done."

For several years, she said, Cambridge and other Allina hospitals have offered a day-long childbirth class: eight hours crammed full of lessons on labor pains, C-sections, car-seat etiquette and more. But, Hinrichs said, "I personally think it's a really long day." She figured a two-part class would be a little more appealing.

The "fast track" by definition gives some things short shrift; there's less time spent on breathing and relaxation and less time for group discussion. But they still cover the main points: what to expect during labor and delivery.

Even though they have months to prepare, couples typically take the class a month or so before the baby is due.

"I've had fathers fall asleep," she said -- but not mothers. "The mothers are sitting there wide-eyed just taking in every [word]. Sometimes they're nudging their spouses, saying, 'Listen! I have to go through this!' "

Eventually, Hinrichs said, Allina plans to create a video so expectant parents can take the class online. Already, they can get a lot of the information on the Internet, she said, but there's an advantage to being in class in person. For one thing, they can ask questions of "a live person." And talk to other couples at the same stage of life. "Just to know that you're not alone."