Q: Every expectant couple I know is taking a Lamaze or Bradley class. Is it really necessary to learn about the childbirth process? Or will I end up sitting around with the other dads, listening to a bunch of pregnant moms talking about babies?
A: One of the advantages of taking a childbirth preparation class is that it’ll give you and your wife the opportunity to ask questions about the pregnancy in a more relaxed setting than her doctor’s office. You’ll also get a chance to hang out with other expecting couples and listen to the women swap stories about how much weight they’ve gained, how much their joints hurt, how many times they get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Seriously, though, most childbirth classes operate on the belief that the more you learn about pregnancy and birth-from exercise and nutrition to the difference between an epidural and a spinal-the more in control you’ll feel and the less you’ll have to fear.
Also, be careful: People have a tendency to use the word "Lamaze" as a synonym for "childbirth preparation class." But Lamaze is really only one of a number of very different approaches to dealing with labor and the pain associated with it. Here’s a little background on three of the most common approaches:
- The Lamaze method is based on the idea that a pregnant woman can overcome her pain-which is the way her body reacts to being in labor-by focusing on something else, usually her own breathing. One major goal is to help woman achieve drug-free labors and deliveries but Lamaze also tries to give expectant parents as much information as they can to help them make the most informed decisions possible.
- The Bradley method also emphasizes educating and preparing expectant couples. They also focus on exercise and nutrition. But instead of trying to take the woman’s attention from her pain, the Bradley folks encourage her to experience it fully: groaning, screaming, whatever she feels like. Bradley is the method that introduced the husband/coach and includes dads far more than any of the others.
- The Leboyer method puts its focus much more on the baby than on the mother-to-be. Leboyer maintains that the bright lights and high noise levels usually found in most hospital delivery rooms are quite stressful and upsetting for a newborn. For that reason, Leboyer babies are generally born in quiet, darkened rooms, often with mom fully or partially submerged in warm water.
- McMoyler Method is the new kid on the block and is billed as the 21st Century replacement for Bradley, Lamaze, and the others. The method is grounded in two basic principles. First, healthy mom, healthy baby–however you get there. Second, the medical team is not the enemy. I cowrote an excellent book on McMoyler Method called The Best Birth: Your Guide to the Safest, Healthiest, Most Satisfying Labor and Delivery.
Classes typically last five to nine weeks (except McMoyler, which is usually done over a weekend) and usually run about $100 to $200. Most are offered either privately or through local hospitals so check with your wife’s doctor or the maternity ward for a referral. Whichever approach you and your wife pick, get going on it as soon as you can. What you’ll learn will do a lot to make the rest of the pregnancy calmer and less stressful for both of you.