Understanding the Different Methods of Childbirth Education

by Debra Flashenberg, IMI Advisory Board Member and Guest Blogger

A student asked me the other day how she should pick a birthing  class. Her doctor had suggested she take one in preparation for her  upcoming birth. She explained how overwhelmed she started to feel while  she researched the different styles and methods of classes available. So this blog is intended to give you a “Cliff Notes” version of the  different styles and also to briefly highlight what each method focuses  on.

Lamaze While the idea of “Lamaze” classes often conjure up the image of a woman panting to a dictated rhythm, that is far from the reality of Lamaze  today. Lamaze International, as it is now referred to, focuses on  providing evidence-based research in helping women build confidence and  find good support in making decisions about how she approaches her  pregnancy, birth and motherhood.

Lamaze classes highlight:

*Lamaze supports evidence-based pregnancy and birth practices  that are supported by research and experienced childbirth educators.

*Lamaze guides you as you navigate all of your options, and their benefits and drawbacks.

*Lamaze seeks to empower you as you explore how your body was  designed for birth, and encourages you to work with your body’s natural  abilities.

*Lamaze provides strategies for natural pain management during labor, reducing unnecessary medical interventions. Lamaze ensures that you feel continuously supported during labor and birth.

*Lamaze stresses the importance of natural pain management  strategies through labor and birth, helping you choose methods that are  safe and healthy.

*Lamaze encourages bonding between you and your baby, with the  importance of skin-to-skin contact and time to get to know your new baby after birth. (1)

The structure of a Lamaze Class is 12-15 hours, usually 6 classes of  2-2.5 hours each. Lamaze teachers are also responsible for creating the  outline of their own class, and class styles may vary as long as the  required Lamaze Childbirth Education material is included and covered.  In my experience, Lamaze is the most “middle of the road” method. It is  more factual, and less experiential then some of the other methods. You  are not likely to be spending lots of time on visualizations, birth art  or explorations of birth fears.

The Bradley Method® The Bradley Method® is taught in a strict 12 week class series. There is a specific week by week curriculum that each certified Bradley Method®  follows. This method is very strongly focused on natural birth and  including the partner as the “birth coach”.

The Bradley Method® describes itself as “is a system of natural labor techniques in which a woman and her coach play an active part. It is a  simple method of increasing self-awareness, teaching a woman how to deal with the stress of labor by tuning in to her own body. The Bradley  Method® encourages mothers to trust their bodies using natural  breathing, relaxation, nutrition, exercise, and education.” (2)

Like the Lamaze method, Bradley Method® also focuses on the  fundamentals of pregnancy and nutrition as well as the anatomy and  physiology of the different stages of labor, variations and  complications and postpartum health.  There is also a whole class  dedicated to constructing a birth plan. Participants also receive a 130  page study guide.

This method may not be suited for couples that are not focused on a drug free birth experience.

HypnoBirthing® HypnoBirthing® focuses on the laboring mother using relaxation and  hypnotic techniques to move into a state of relaxation and allowing her  body to open without fear and trusting the natural process of birth.  This philosophy of HypnoBirthing® is based on breaking the  fear-tension-pain cycle. Basically when a person is fearful, the mental  and physiological response is to get tense. (Tension causes a person to  move into sympathetic nervous system which increases the heart rate,  shortens breath and constrict the blood flow.)  When the body is tense,  pain is felt more intensely. If the laboring woman can feel more  confident and trust the natural birthing process, the fear is removed  and her body will be more relaxed, leaving her feeling less pain.

HypnoBirthing® does not claim to put the mother in a trance or to  sleep. They state, “What you will experience is similar to the  daydreaming, or focusing, that occurs when you are engrossed in a book  or a movie or staring into a fire. In this calm state, your body’s  natural relaxant, endorphins, replaces the stress hormones that  constrict and cause pain.” (3) To achieve this outcome, this system  relies heavily on the couple practicing the relaxation and visualization techniques that are given in the class.

The structure of HypnoBirthing® is similar to The Bradley Method®, in which there is a set curriculum.  HypnoBirthing® is a 5 week program  with each class running 2 1/2 hours long.

*Side note: I would also like to point out, there is very little  focus on anatomy and physiology of the different stages of labor taught  in the HypnoBirthing® system. Since they do not cover much of variations and complications of labor and cesarean births, I would consider  HypnoBirthing® more of a pain management technique rather than a full  childbirth education class. Granted, I am biased as a certified Lamaze  teacher, but I think it is important for women and their partners to  understand the broad scope of what labor will look like and have several pain management techniques to choose from in case one specific method  does not work.

BIRTHING FROM WITHIN® BIRTHING FROM WITHIN® is the exact opposite of HypnoBirthing® in that  BIRTHING FROM WITHIN® classes are NOT about relaxing or “pain-free”  birth. No need to bring pillows: you will not be relaxing, because the  truth of labor is that it is hard work, and you may move better through  labor by being upright, active, dancing, rocking, or sitting. You and  your partner will learn about coping with pain and the challenges of  labor, and have lots of time to practice together. “BIRTHING FROM  WITHIN® is NOT outcome-focused. In other words, we do not promise that  if you practice or believe in a certain thing, you will achieve a  specific result. Your positive actions and intentions will influence  your body-mind, but there is no way of knowing just how.” (4)

BIRTHING FROM WITHIN® is strongly based in approaching childbirth  through a spiritual and holistic preparation. This method encourages the mother to explore her feelings around birth through “birth art” and  discover not prescribed coping methods, but instead, discover more about herself.

Classes cover:

*Experience birth as a rite of passage     *Eat a sound diet (pregnancy and breastfeeding)     *Open your body-mind before and during labor with self-hypnosis and visualizations     *Build confidence in yourself and your partner     *Ask questions and make decisions in labor     *Protect your birth space     *Tame your “Birth Tigers”TM     *Push your baby out     *Welcome your baby     *Recover and plan postpartum     *Care for and feed your newborn     *Give birth from within during a Cesarean, while using pain medication, or with medical support.

BIRTHING FROM WITHIN® believes the essence of childbirth education is self-discovery, not assimilating obstetric information. Following in  this philosophy, the do not offer research-based information about  birth, or routines and policies of the hospital. They suggest if you are seeking this information to take a supplemental Lamaze or Bradley  class, read an evidence-based book about birth or ask the “mentor” for  additional information. Their focus is experiential, focusing on  spiritual and holistic childbirth preparation.

The classes do not follow a specific curriculum; parents’ individual needs and differences determine class content.

International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA): ICEA is a professional organization supports educators and other health  care providers who believe in freedom to make decisions based on  knowledge of alternatives in family-centered maternity and newborn care. (5) ICEA is very similar to Lamaze in the practice of presenting  evidence based research, fully covering the anatomical and philosophical changes of pregnancy, teaching the different stages of labor, pain  management techniques, reviewing interventions and complications and  covering postpartum care.

“ICEA strongly supports the arrival of a baby is very much a “family  affair”. ICEA believes family-centered care consists of an attitude  rather than a protocol. It recognizes a vital life event rather than a  medical procedure. It appreciates the importance of that event to the  woman and to the persons who are important to her. It respects the  woman’s individuality and her sense of autonomy. It realizes that the  decisions she may make are based on many influences of which the  expertise of the professional is only one. It requires that all relevant information be made available to the woman to help her achieve her own  goals, and that she be guided but not directed by professionals she has  chosen to share the responsibility for her care.” (5)

BirthWorks Intenational® BirthWorks® classes are based on the philosophy that every woman is born with the knowledge about how to give birth.  Therefore, birth is  instinctive and what is instinctive doesn’t need to be taught. (6)

One component that sets BirthWorks® apart from some of the other  methods is the strong focus on pelvic bodywork and optimal fetal  positioning. They spend several classes focusing on this topic. The  belief is, if the pelvis is well aligned, the baby will move into an  optimal fetal position which leads to a more efficient labor.

BirthWorks® is taught in an 8 week series. The classes are  interactive and experiential, providing both an academic and an  emotional preparation for birth. BirthWorks® does cover the “basics”  like medical procedures, VBACS, indications of a cesarean, birthing  positions while also including a holistic approaching by encouraging  participants to express fears about birth-related feelings. From my  understanding it seems like a combo of Birthing From Within® and ICEA or Lamaze®.

I hope that this brief breakdown of these six different birthing  techniques will help you decide what is right for you. Happy birthing!

For more reading, see this previous blog post: “Childbirth Education Classes” and “The Importance of Continuing Labor Support.”

Sources and websites for all the different birthing organizations

1. http://www.lamaze.org/

2. http://www.bradleybirth.com

3. http://www.hypnobirthing.com

4. http://www.birthingfromwithin.com

5. http://www.icea.org

6. http://www.birthworks.org

About Debra

Debra, founder of Prenatal Yoga Center in NYC,  has studied with renowned prenatal yoga teacher Colette Crawford, R.N., at the Seattle Holistic Center. Debra has received certification for Vinyasa Yoga from Shiva Rea as well as completed the OM Yoga advanced teacher training with Cyndi Lee in 2004. Debra has also studied the Maternal Fitness Method with Julie Tupler. Debra currently studies with Cyndi Lee, Genevieve Kapular, and Carrie Owerko. In 2006, Debra received her certification as a Lamaze® Certified Childbirth Educator. In September of 2007, Debra completed a Midwife Assistant Program with Ina May Gaskin, Pamela Hunt and many of the other Farm Midwives at The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of  the International Maternity Institute.

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