The Bradley Method of Childbirth

The Bradley Method views birth as a natural process and prepares women to give birth naturally with the help of a labor coach. Simply, it encourages women to be aware of their bodies and handle the stress of labor using natural breathing and relaxation techniques.

What is the Bradley Method?

The Bradley Method is a structured class that is taught by a certified, experienced instructor, usually over a 12-week period, usually beginning in the 5th month of pregnancy. The classes teach couples about prenatal nutrition and exercise, relaxation for easier labor and delivery, the role of husbands/partners as coaches, designing birth plans, and preparing for your new family.

The goal of the program is to prepare women for a medication-free labor and delivery by teaching women to relax and trust their own bodies. Advocates of the Bradley Method assert that a natural childbirth gives babies the best mental, emotional, and physical start to life.

What makes it unique?

Dr. Bradley grew up on a farm in the American Midwest and was accustomed to animals giving birth: he noted that these animals seemed relaxed and in control of an entirely natural process. Simply, he believed that humans could approach birth the same way.

It was 1947 when Dr. Robert Bradley first put forth the idea of childbirth in which women did not take pain medication and husbands played an active, supportive role. At this time, his idea was radical and revolutionary. Husbands were not allowed in delivery rooms and women almost never had the option to choose natural delivery. In fact, many women were given so many drugs that they were nearly unconscious and couldn’t take an active role in the labor and delivery themselves. Episiotomies and traumatic forceps deliveries were common. Women couldn’t remember the deliveries of their own babies, and complications for mothers and babies, including death, were common.

In order to achieve a natural childbirth, the Bradley Method teaches that a few things are necessary for the mother:

  • Dark or dim lighting to promote relaxation
  • Solitude
  • Comfort
  • Familiarity
  • Sense of safety
  • Confidence
  • Physical relaxation
  • Controlled breathing

If these techniques are applied, women report reduced pain and anxiety and high levels of preparedness and confidence. Women and their labor coaches learn to be their own best advocates during the childbirth process.

What are the risks associated with the Bradley Method?

Very little research has been done to compare the safety and effectiveness of different birthing methods. However, most women who have prepared for childbirth with the Bradley Method report satisfaction with the method.

There are risks associated with drugs and medical interventions, and it’s healthy and helpful to be informed of your individual risks, but focusing too much on these risks during pregnancy can cause undue anxiety. And, if circumstances change and women are unable to give birth naturally, some have reported feeling like “failures.”

The Bradley Method is a specific coursework of material taught by trained educators. These classes can be expensive and time consuming and may not be available in your area.

Is the Bradley Method the right choice for me?

If you want to include your husband or partner as an active part of childbirth, if you desire a drug-free childbirth and want to minimize hospital-based interventions, if you place a high value on nutrition and exercise, and if you are seeking education about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and breastfeeding, then the Bradley Method may be right for you.

But, even Dr. Bradley noted that some births require medical intervention. There are high-risk cases in which women need medications and the support of physicians and surgeons. If you simply want to have the option of pain medicine during labor and delivery or you know you will need to have a Cesarean section, the Bradley Method is likely not the best choice for you. There are many other childbirth preparation classes available and you will be able to find one that supports the type of birth experience you and your partner desire. Share your preferences with your doctor and he or she can help you find the classes and techniques that are right for you.

The ultimate goal of any childbirth method is a healthy baby and a healthy mom. How women get to that goal varies depending on the health of the mother and baby, previous complications or pre-existing medical conditions, access to healthcare education and resources, and personal preferences. Choosing the birth method that is right for you is the best way to set your baby up for lifelong health and happiness.

Jennifer Gibson
Dr. Jennifer Gibson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Clemson University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She trained as a hospital pharmacist and is the author of clinical textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and continuing education programs for the medical community, as well as a contributor to award-winning healthcare blogs and websites. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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