The Benefits of Lamaze During Childbirth

Lamaze Benefits

As you approach the third trimester of your pregnancy, you may be considering a childbirth class. There are a few to choose from, the Bradley Method, the Alexander Technique, Lamaze classes. Finding out which classes to take may require some homework.

For example, are Lamaze classes right for you? Lamaze classes are designed to help women feel more confident during labor. The classes do so by giving women the facts needed to make informed decisions and by teaching them techniques to help alleviate pain. The Lamaze philosophy toward childbirth starts with the idea that women are the experts when it comes to their own bodies. The classes not only provide coping skills for dealing with contractions but an overview of what to expect during labor, tips for a healthy pregnancy, and pointers on postpartum care.

Many of the techniques taught during Lamaze classes were pioneered by French obstetrician Dr. Fernand Lamaze in the 1940s. At the time many women in developed countries were given heavy anesthesia during labor, which prevented them from caring about their labor pains or even remembering their labor. The anesthesia most often given to women then was known as Twilight Sleep, a combination of morphine and scopolamine. Twilight Sleep caused undesirable side effects such as slowing contractions and depressing the baby’s central nervous system. While visiting the Soviet Union, Lamaze observed the benefits of childbirth classes that informed women about what to expect, plus taught them breathing and relaxation techniques to reduce the perception of pain.

Lamaze was intrigued by the breathing and relaxation techniques he witnessed as they seemed to help laboring women cope with pain in a more natural way.

He was also intrigued by the use of a coach during labor. In that era women usually gave birth in a hospital setting, attended by medical personnel, while their husbands waited outside. Lamaze promoted the benefits of fathers serving as supportive coaches during labor.

In 1956, Lamaze published the book “Painless Childbirth,” which explained his findings. In 1959, Marjorie Karmel, an American woman who gave birth using Lamaze techniques, published the book, “Thank You, Dr. Lamaze,” further popularizing his work. Along with Karmel, physician Benjamin Segal and obstetrician Elizabeth Bing, Lamaze formed the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis (ASPO Lamaze), now known as Lamaze International.

Lamaze classes have evolved over the years, along with safer pain medication options and new insight into optimal birthing procedures.

In today’s Lamaze classes, women still learn what to expect during labor but also how to communicate with their doctors about what feels right to them. The classes teach women how to cope with contractions by walking, rocking, changing position, getting a massage, hydrotherapy, slow dancing, and use of birth balls. Finding a breathing pattern is just one strategy women learn to maintain focused during contractions.

Lamaze classes range from one to three hours and courses last about 12 hours in total. Classes are given in a variety of settings, at hospitals, birthing centers and other locations. The classes are no longer focused on having a completely natural childbirth without medical intervention. Rather they focus on a woman being able to communicate her wishes and the degree to which she wants medical intervention if there are no extenuating circumstances. Even if you plan to take pain medication or have scheduled a C-section, the classes can still offer valuable information to help an expectant mother understand her options and approach labor more confidently.

Lamaze International sums up its birth philosophy in the six healthy birth practices it promotes:

1: Let labor begin on its own
2: Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor
3: Bring a loved one, friend or doula for continuous support
4: Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary
5: Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push
6: Keep mother and baby together – It’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding

You can find a Lamaze Class by visiting their website. Ideally a Lamaze class should have no more than 10 couples and be taught by a Lamaze Childbirth Educator who has passed a certifying exam.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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