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A Primer on Bradley vs.. Lamaze Childbirth Methods

For many, childbirth is the defining moment of our lives. However, along with the excitement and joy of bringing a new life into this world comes the challenges of the birth. There are two major competing schools in dealing with the discomfort, stress and pain associated with childbirth: Bradley and Lamaze.

In the 1940’s, Dr. Fernand Lamaze, a French Obstetrician, established a technique for childbirth that we be named the Lamaze technique.  Lamaze was influenced by Soviet childbirth practices and he particularly endorsed the role of Midwives during labor.  His method began to gain popularity in the USA in the late 1950’s and is now the most commonly used childbirth technique.

Around the same time, Dr. Robert A. Bradley, an American Obstetrician, developed a method of childbirth now known as the Bradley method.  It is based on the philosophy of ‘natural childbirth’ (drug free) and was pioneering in the involvement of fathers during the birthing process.

While both the Lamaze and Bradley techniques lead to the same outcome, they differ in a variety of ways. The most significant contrast between these birthing methods is the issue of pain management and how parents confront this challenge. But what do these two methods reveal and how do they differ?

The Bradley Technique

The Bradley Method is a twelve week course that teaches parents how to control the pain of childbirth.  It advocates natural childbirth philosophies and is also called ‘the husband coached’ birthing technique. It encourages parents to use deep breathing and relaxation exercises as a means of coping with labor.

The Bradley approach rejects the idea of ‘distraction’ as a way of dealing with childbirth and disputes the use of painkillers and cesarean sections unless absolutely necessary.

However, classes that focus on the Bradley technique do prepare parents for unexpected complications which may result in a cesarean section or other forms of intervention. His methods also include advice on nutrition and diet for the Mother during her pregnancy, which inevitably has a positive effect on the growth and wellbeing of the fetus. The expectant Mother is always encouraged to take reasonable and regular exercise, so that she is properly conditioned to give birth.

The Bradley Technique also educates parents about the different stages of labor and teaches them how to react to the Mother’s changing body. The Father is assigned the role of ‘Coach’ during the birthing process, keeping the Mother focused on the task at hand, helping with breathing exercises and giving plenty of reassurance.  Different forms of massage can also be used.

The Lamaze Technique

The Lamaze Technique uses a Pavlovian response to the pain of childbirth. Lamaze believed that giving birth was a physical exercise that requires both energy and concentration. His method focuses on arming the expectant couple with various tools to ease discomfort and conserve energy in order to control pain as it occurs.

The Lamaze Technique encourages the couple to use deep breathing exercises and various ‘distraction’ techniques, which can include concentrating on pleasant memories, as a way of distracting the woman from the pain of labor.

Lamaze childbirth classes often recommend the benefits associated with changing  positions during the birth, as well as the use of hot and cold packs and ‘birthing balls’ to ease contractions.  

The Lamaze Philosophy is not as regimented as the Bradley Method.  It gives parents all the facts, yet allows the couple leverage to use the information in ways that work for them.  It’s more liberal approach offers a neutral position with regards to pain medication along with other medical and surgical options.  This is left for the couple to decide.

Conclusion

There are many subtle differences and similarities between the Bradley and Lamaze birthing techniques. The primary difference is that the Bradley method instructs women to focus on controlling their pain.  While according to the Lamaze technique, they are taught to distract from it. Similarities include the use of deep breathing techniques, the encouragement of appropriate exercise for the Mother during her pregnancy, and the involvement of both parents in the birthing process.

For expectant families the best option is to gather as much information as possible from either their Obstetrician or Midwife, before making a firm decision on which childbirth class to attend. It is always preferable to choose the birthing method that most appeals to each, individual couple, as it will allow them to feel in control and therefore experience the form of childbirth which best suits their needs.

Check out more articles like this at 6 months pregnant.

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