There's a world of options when it comes to giving birth.
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).
Bradley is not for the lightly committed. For starters, typical courses run two to 2 1¼2 hours per week for 12 weeks. Students learn the benefits of prenatal nutrition and fitness, as well as muscle awareness and relaxation techniques for labor. Husbands act as doulas, coaching their partners through everything from preparatory pelvic tilts to final-stage pushing. Parents become vigorous advocates for having a drug-free, intervention-free delivery. 800-422-4784, www.
Birthing From Within
>Empowering women to give birth Childbirth is an undeniably physical experience, but it’s no less an emotional and spiritual one. Birthing From Within approaches birth as nothing less than a life transformation.
“Our classes aren’t about teaching women where the cervix is,” says Birthing From Within founder Pam England, C.N.M., who was a midwife for 20 years and had an epiphany following the birth of her son, now 22. “I realized that attending a birth as a midwife was nothing like giving birth. I knew a lot about the external experience of childbirth—the technical and scientific aspects—but very little about the internal experience, what it feels like to give birth.”
In a typical eight-week Birthing From Within course (two of the classes are postpartum), couples explore their hopes and fears about labor. They learn the physical processes but also delve into murkier territory: How do they feel about the impending delivery? How will they respond to the stress? In one exercise called “Taming Your Birth Tigers,” students visualize themselves facing an unwished-for surprise, such as an unplanned Cesarean section. They plan ways to deal with the outcome, then replay the mental tape with their resolution in place. “Once women can visualize themselves coping, they experience not only greater physical relaxation [at the prospect of labor] but also emotional relaxation,” England says. 505-254-4884, www.birthingfromwithin.com.
>The spiritual side of birth In Birth Works classes, which typically run 10 weeks, students learn how the bones of the pelvis move and which positions provide more space for the baby to move. They explore their beliefs and attitudes about childbirth through art, music and expression of feelings. Students also learn about the risks and benefits of medical procedures and drugs in pregnancy and labor. Birth Works promotes the idea that every woman already possesses the knowledge about how to give birth and helps expectant moms to have more trust and faith in their bodies.
“Our program is oriented toward personal growth,” says Birth Works founder Cathy Daub, P.T., C.D., C.C.E. “Women who make it through get more than a better birth experience; they also learn something about themselves.” 888-862-4784, www.birthworks.org.
Prepare your mind and body
Cultivating a wide base of knowledge allows you to make the right choice about your own labor. Use the Internet to learn about water birthing. Take a prenatal-yoga or water-fitness class. Have your partner learn prenatal massage. Read books. Talk with new mothers. Do whatever it takes to get comfortable with the awe-inspiring, life-transforming big bang to come. That’s the best preparation you can get.
hypbirth>> is an interactive CD-and-video
program designed for use in the later part of pregnancy and during delivery. It empowers women by changing their perceptions of labor; program designers say that 80 percent of women who used it gave birth in less than six hours. 818-248-0888, www.hypbirth.com.
hypnobirthing>>covers traditional childbirth-education topics as well as self-hypnosis techniques. It’s presented in five childbirth classes.
Leclaire Hypnobirthing>> offers intensive one-day pregnancy-preparation classes. 310-454-0920, www.leclairemethod.com.
Find it online
Are you interested in laboring—and perhaps delivering—in a tub? Many women find that the warm, gravity-free environment of water not only comforts and relaxes them during labor but also seems to help the process along. For more information: www.waterbirthinfo.com; www.waterbirth.org; www.midwiferytoday.com/