Choosing a Birthing Method
Women who have given birth and most healthcare providers agree that taking a childbirth class is invaluable. Even if you've done a lot of reading and feel well informed, there's nothing like getting advice and information from an expert, and being able to ask questions. You also meet other expectant parents, and that support is invaluable too.
No matter what childbirth method your class teaches, basically all classes should focus on
- What happens during labor
- Vaginal and cesarean birth
- Procedures you can expect
- Managing pain through relaxation and concentration]
Typically, childbirth educators have certification from one specific organization. The three largest childbirth-certifying organizations in the U.S. are Lamaze International; the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth, for the Bradley Method; the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA).
You've probably seen movies or television programs showing a woman in labor huffing and puffing exaggeratedly. Many people automatically assume that's what women learn in Lamaze class. Lamaze does teach women how to use breathing patterns to promote relaxation during labor, but it's usually more understated than what you see on TV. It teaches women to direct their attention to a focal point and breathe, putting their attention on the breath rather than the labor pain.
The Lamaze philosophy also encourages women to understand the pros and cons of pain medication and other interventions during labor. It offers instruction on positions and movements that may make labor more comfortable. And it teaches verbal coaching and massage techniques to the birth partners.
The Bradley Method
The Bradley Method is similar in many ways to Lamaze, but many people feel that Bradley is a bit more dogmatic than Lamaze. For example, it strongly discourages the use of medications during labor, while Lamaze explains the pros and cons of drug-free labor vs. pain control medications.
Bradley instructors don't teach specific breathing patterns, the way Lamaze instructors do. Instead, they encourage women to relax and breathe normally.
Like Lamaze, Bradley includes labor coaches in the childbirth classes. For women who don't have husbands, Bradley instructors help find a labor coach.
According to its Web site, the ICEA childbirth philosophy stresses "freedom of choice based on a knowledge of alternatives in family-centered maternity and newborn care." It assures that it certifies instructors so that "the certified educator has achieved a level of expertise without dictating a particular method."
ICEA-certified instructors teach relaxation techniques and the use of breathing. They encourage parents to learn the pros and cons of taking medication during labor. Instructors must demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the labor and birth processes, but the ICEA is open to many philosophies.
A Philosophy that Works for You
Your personal beliefs and inclinations should be the guiding factor in your choice of childbirth methods. Don't be shy to ask the instructor questions. Ask how long the person has been teaching childbirth classes, what he or she thinks of using drugs during labor, whether breastfeeding and other infant care issues are part of the classes…anything that comes to your mind and that's important to you. If it seems like the instructor might not have the same philosophies about labor and birth that you do, it's okay to look for a different class.
To find a childbirth educator, talk to your obstetrician. You'll probably also get helpful advice from friends who've had babies.
A. Lieberman, L. Holt. Nine Months and a Day. The Harvard Common Press, 2000; The Bradley Method of Husband-Coached Childbirth, for the Bradley Method; Lamaze International; The International Childbirth Association; P. Spencer. Parenting Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth. A Ballantine Book. San Francisco, 1998