The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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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 you need assistance, not of the “let me fetch you some iced tea” variety, but serious, get-down-on-your-haunches help. You’re in luck. In addition to hospital-based childbirth-education classes, a world of choices awaits you—whether you want a tried-and-true approach, the latest tools and techniques or a complete mind-body transformation. Here’s 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 TV and movie depictions of childbirth. Such images may add up to great brand recognition, but they offer only a sketchy overall picture of Lamaze.
The elaborate breathing techniques introduced by the 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 always has been instrumental in promoting a woman’s innate ability to give birth without unnecessary medical intervention and her right to be an active participant in her baby’s birth.
So what’s modern Lamaze like? Typical courses run 12 hours or more over four to six weeks and provide a mix of basic information and in-class exercises. “We spend time learning to communicate. We talk about the effects of anesthesia and other medical interventions in labor so that women can make informed decisions,” says Teri Shilling, M.S., L.C.C.E., a Lamaze instructor in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Lamaze is not dogmatic about avoiding medications and procedures. But, Shilling says, “we believe all women can get through labor without drugs, and we teach 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 drugs of any kind, says Marjie Hathaway, executive director of the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (the formal name for the Bradley program).