By choosing your care-giver and the place where you will give birth, you will have made the two choices that will most greatly affect your birth experience. Besides those, however, there are others that also make a big difference. For example your choice of childbirth classes will influence your feelings of confidence and readiness as you approach the birth and early parenthood. So put the itty bitty adorable baby clothes aside, and take a second to consider taking a childbirth class.
The idea of formal classes to prepare women and their partners for childbirth came to North America in the early 1960’s when the work of Grantly Dick-Read, an English obstetrician, became publicized. Dick-Read was the real pioneer of natural childbirth techniques in the Western world. As a young man in the 1920’s and 1930’s, he presented a new approach to childbirth management. He used education, relaxation, slow abdominal breathing, and caring labor support to combat the three-way cycle of fear, tension and pain that fed on itself and escalated during labor to the point where the woman had to be heavily medicated. His belief that childbirth pain is unnatural and unnecessary guided him in the development of the Read method.
In France in the 1940’s and 1059’s, Fernand Lamaze developed another quite different system of childbirth preparation, which was widely practiced in France and later in North America. Lamaze called his method psycho prophylaxis-literally “mental prevention”. He emphasized complex distraction methods and the dominant role of a professional “couch” to reduce a laboring woman’s pain.
Both the Read and the Lamaze methods thrived, although there has always been some competition and rivalry among proponents of the two different methods. They thrived because they appeared at a time in our history when many women were heavily drugged and unconscious through labor and delivery. These methods of “natural” childbirth appealed to women who wished to be more in control during labor.
Childbirth education has evolved over the years, with major modifications contributed by prominent childbirth educators and obstetricians. Among them is Robert Bradley, the American obstetrician who brought the father into the birth situation as a labor couch. Fathers had traditionally prohibited from attending births, but Dr. Bradley felt not only the father’s presence was his right, but also that his role as labor couch was an appropriate one for him to play helping his wife through the labor process.
Sheila Kitzinger, A well known British anthropologist and childbirth educator brought a woman’s perspective to childbirth preparation emphasizing body awareness. Innovative relaxation techniques and breathing patterns will harmonize the intensity of a woman’s contractions. Rather than distracting the woman from her labor pain, Ms. Kitzinger said that labor pain is nothing to fear; it is pain with a purpose. By accepting her pain and working with it, a woman can cope successfully and reap great psychological rewards from her active participation.
The popularity of natural childbirth led to the founding of several national and international organizations devoted to promoting family centered maternity care, parent participation in childbirth, and childbirth education classes. The International Childbirth Education Association, [C.F.A.] the American Society for Psycho prophylaxis in Obstetrics [A.S.P.O.], and the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth [A.A.H.C.C.] were founded in the early 1960’s to give parents a greater voice in maternity care. A closely related issue, the promotion of breastfeeding, became the cause of La Leche League International [L.L.L.I.], also founded in the early 1960’s. These organizations and others contributed to effective change in maternity care in favor of more consumer involvement and choice.
In the 1070’s, Dr. Frederic Leboyer drew our attention to the newborn baby and what he or she goes through during the birth process. He promoted “birth without violence”, or gentle birth. He said that the baby should be helped to a gentle and calm transition from life in the uterus to life outside the mother’s body. He advocated a warm, quiet room with dim lights for the birth and a warm bath for the baby shortly after birth.
Also during the 1970’s, the term “bonding” was coined after it was discovered that when newborn babies stayed with their mothers for extended periods of time, the behavior of the mothers seemed to be more loving and maternal than that of mothers whose babies spent more time in the nursery. The work of Leboyer and others focused the attention of parents and caregivers on the early care of the newborn and early introduction between parents and newborns.
In the 1980’s, investigators with training in psychotherapy focused on the heeling potential [and, conversely, the attention for emotional trauma] of the profound experience of childbirth, and incorporated counseling and stress reduction measures into childbirth preparation. Some have urged more spontaneity and less emphasis on intellectual preparation and prescribed responses to labor contractions. Childbirth education continues to evolve as we learn more as people’s taste’s change and as maternity care changes.
Finding the right childbirth classes for you may require some comparison shopping. Some classes only teach one method [Lamaze or Bradley, for example]. Others provide a broader, more individualized preparation, drawing from these methods and other innovations to provide a framework of relaxation techniques, patterned breathing, massage, visualization, music, sound, and other pain reduction methods, along with guidelines for adapting them to suit the individual. The goal of these classes is to enable women and their partners to discover their own style for labor.
Many communities have independent, consumer-based childbirth education groups that provide classes. Most hospitals and some groups of physicians or midwives also sponsor childbirth classes for their patients or clients.