It’s inevitable: Sometime during pregnancy, you realize (with panic! with dread!) that the living, growing being inside you will have to come out. Not with a dainty parting of curtains or a gentle opening of doors, but with hard work, pushing and sweat: with labor. You realize that you need assistance, not of the “let me fetch you some iced tea” variety, but some serious, get-down-on-your-haunches help.
You’re in luck. In addition to hospital-based childbirth-education classes, a host of options awaits you—whether you want a tried-and-true approach, the latest tools and techniques or a complete mind-body transformation. Here, a guide to finding a happy fit.
Relax and breathe> Perhaps the best-known program belongs to Lamaze International. Popularized in the 1970s, the Lamaze method is nearly synonymous with childbirth education—witness the frequent lampooning of Lamaze-style breathing techniques in television and movie depictions of childbirth.
The elaborate breathing exercises introduced by the Lamaze program to take a laboring woman’s mind off her pain still exist today, but this method is about more than giving labor the old hee-hee-hoo. Lamaze is instrumental in promoting a woman’s ability to give birth without unnecessary medical intervention and her right to be an active participant in her baby’s birth. Though these ideas may no longer seem revolutionary today, they are still among the best reasons to take a childbirth-education class.
So what’s modern Lamaze like? Typical courses run 12 hours or more over six weeks and offer a mix of basic information and in-class exercises. “We spend time learning to communicate, and we talk about the effects of anesthesia and other medical interventions in labor so women can make informed decisions,” says Teri Shilling, M.S., L.C.C.E., a Lamaze instructor in the Fresno, Calif., area. Lamaze is not dogmatic about avoiding medications and procedures. But, says Shilling, “We believe all women can get through labor without drugs, and we give them tools that can make this happen: positioning, conditioning, confidence-building and a variety of active-relaxation methods, such as sitting on a birthing ball or dancing slowly with their partner.”
> 800-368-4404, www.lamaze.org
Let nature take its course> If Lamaze encourages women to pursue natural childbirth, the Bradley method makes a mission of it. Working in the late 1940s, obstetrician Robert Bradley drew inspiration from the way animals deliver their young: capably, instinctively and in solitude. No, Bradley graduates don’t build nests out of palm fronds and feathers, but 87 percent of them who deliver vaginally do so without pain medication, says Marjie Hathaway, executive director of the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (the formal name for the Bradley program).
Bradley is not for the lightly committed: Typical courses run 30 hours over 12 weeks. Students learn the benefits of prenatal nutrition and fitness, as well as muscle awareness and relaxation techniques. Partners take an active role, coaching the woman through everything from preparatory pelvic tilts to final-stage pushing. Parents become vigorous advocates for a drug-free, intervention-free delivery.
This approach can be empowering. With the help of her husband, Dino, and her Bradley classes, Pennie Gioia of La Crescenta, Calif., delivered her now 10-year-old son, Antonio, naturally after 16 hours of labor. “There was no point where I thought, I can’t make it,” Gioia says. “Taking the classes was like training for a marathon; I really felt prepared.