Why choose a childbirth class? These classes offer information on pregnancy, the process of labor and birth, and the early days of the post-partum period. However, not all classes are created equal. Families opting for a natural birth should look into classes specifically aimed for that goal as hospital classes typically focus more on basic information and hospital procedures. To help demystify natural birth options, we explain the several theories here and list information on how to find local resources.
Theories on natural birth include Lamaze, the Bradley Method, and Hypnobabies. There may be variations of these programs, but these three overall share the same beliefs: birth is a natural, normal part of life, expectant moms can trust their bodies to birth their babies safely, and a relaxed mom is better able to let her body work effectively. Pregnancy-related subjects like nutrition, exercise, baby care, and breastfeeding are also covered.
While no single class can guarantee a pain-free birth, women who have taken these classes report feeling well-informed which in turn reduced anxiety about the labor process. The classes primarily aim to educate first-time parents, but second or third timers may want to go back for a refresher, especially if the earlier birth(s) did not go as planned. The class lengths vary, but are typically 2-3 hours a week over several weeks. Costs also vary by class and instructor. Interested families should register for classes in the late second or early third trimester.
The name “Lamaze” has become synonymous with natural childbirth. In its early days, the idea of birth without medical interventions was a radical one. At the time, most American women were given a cocktail of drugs known as “Twilight Sleep” and have no memory of their babies being born. Lamaze classes teach a specific pattern of breathing and ask mothers to choose a focal point to concentrate on once contractions strike. The theory has evolved over the past several decades, and now bears a striking resemblance to the Bradley Method.
Lamaze teacher and childbirth doula Deborah Rutonno lays out the basic principles of Lamaze: 1) Let labor begin on its own, 2) Walk, move around, and change positions, 3) Bring support, a loved one, friend, or doula for continuous support, 4) Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary, 5) Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urge to push, and 6) Keep mother and baby together after birth – it is best for baby and breastfeeding.
Bradley Method (“Husband Coached” childbirth)
The Bradley Method is also known as “husband coached childbirth.” The belief is that with adequate background knowledge and a supportive partner, it is possible to give birth without painkillers or other medical interventions.
The focus is on prenatal diet, normal breathing, relaxation techniques, and different positions for labor and birth. Fathers are expected to be actively involved. They will help the mom-to-be with her breathing, offer massages, walk with mom if she needs to be up and mobile, etc. At the end of a Bradley birth, Dad is often as tired as mom, but he’s also likely feeling triumphant as well.
Childbirth Hypnosis (“Hypnobabies”)
Childbirth Hypnosis is a lesser-known approach to natural childbirth. According to teacher Lesley Levine, “In addition to using hypnosis to achieve relaxation and fear elimination, we teach ‘medical hypno-anesthesia’ which allows moms to feel the normal sensations of birth in a much more comfortable manner. By the end of the course the moms have several cues to instantly bring themselves into hypnosis, create hypno-anesthesia, and deepen the hypnosis.”
Levine continues, “They practice doing this several times a day. Our hypnosis is also unique in that we teach Gerald Kein’s ‘eyes-open’ hypnosis, which means Hypnobabies moms are able to easily remain upright and mobile while remaining relaxed and in hypnosis. This is really important since we also teach our moms the more ‘traditional’ comfort enhancement techniques like using movement and water during birthing time.”
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