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Choosing a Natural Childbirth Class: Comparing the Big 3

Taking a natural childbirth class is a great idea if you’ll soon be giving birth for the first time, even if you plan to use medication. But which should you take? In this blog post, learn about the similarities and differences between the three most popular childbirth classes in the US – The Bradley Method, Lamaze, and HypnoBirthing. (Plus, read my recommendation about which I think is best.) 

women at a childbirth class

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If you’re pregnant for the first time, you’ve probably been told that you should take a childbirth class.

That might have led you to search google for childbirth classes near you. Which probably led to you feeling overwhelmed and having no idea which to choose or what was important in a childbirth class.

I get it. There’s a zillion different childbirth classes out there. It seems like everyone and her dog offers one of some sort or another. So how do you know which to take?

That’s what I’m here to help with. In this blog post, I’ll explain what a childbirth class should cover, the similarities and differences between a few of the most popular childbirth classes, and my recommendation of what I think is the best one to take.

But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about who childbirth classes are for.

Who Are Childbirth Classes For?

Childbirth classes are easy to find but who should take them? Generally, two groups will benefit the most from taking a childbirth class.

The first group is first-time parents who have never gone through labor before. Labor and birth aren’t like anything else you’ll experience. So taking a class will give you an idea of what to expect and how to prepare for labor.

Of course, if you are second- or third-time parents (or more) but you want to learn more, you will still be welcome in a childbirth class. 

The second group is parents who are hoping for an unmedicated (sometimes called “natural”) birth. Most childbirth classes are designed with these parents in mind. Many cover topics like the risks of medications and how to cope with contractions naturally.

Still, all new parents will benefit from understanding labor and birth from a natural perspective, even an epidural is the plan. Because, after all, birth is still the same even if the sensation are numbed.

That means that natural childbirth classes aren’t just for home birth mamas; they’re for everyone.

What You Need to Know About Hospital Childbirth Classes

Now, I want to point out that not all childbirth classes are created equal.

Most hospitals provide their own childbirth classes. They teach good information about the labor process. But before you sign up for one, I want to offer a bit of food for thought.

A doctor or a nurse or even a nurse-midwife may have the best of intentions and they may teach valuable information. They may even cover topics like coping techniques if you hope for an unmedicated labor.

But anyone who has graduated from medical school and sees only hospital births is likely going to teach things in a very different way than a midwife who attends births at home, always unmedicated, and whose education was not obtained through a medical institution. 

If you’re hoping for more holistic information or a non-medicalized way of viewing birth, I strongly recommend you consider a natural childbirth class taught outside of a hospital setting.

What You’ll Learn in a Natural Childbirth Class

A good childbirth class teaches you what normal, natural labor and birth is like, no matter what your birth plan looks like – hence why I called them “natural childbirth classes” in the title of this blog post.

While your options for childbirth classes are nearly endless, most cover the same general topics. They include:

  • Signs of labor beginning
  • The labor process
  • Birth options (care provider, location, newborn procedures, etc)
  • Pain management options
  • Newborn care (including breastfeeding)
  • Practicing for labor

Depending on the type of class you take and the method they teach, you may also learn things like:

  • How to have a healthy pregnancy (including nutrition and exercise)
  • What your husband or partner can do to help during labor
  • The risks of common medications and interventions used during labor
  • Specific coping techniques such as massage, breathing, or self-hypnosis
  • How to manage your hopes, fears, and expectations surrounding birth

Pregnancy, birth, and caring for a newborn (while caring for yourself postpartum) bring a lot of new experiences and new challenges. Taking a natural childbirth class is a great way to feel more prepared and to ease the transition into parenthood.

The Three Most Popular Childbirth Methods

While many of the childbirth classes you can find online are probably good options, in this blog post we’re going to focus only on the three most popular childbirth classes, the ones that have been around for decades.

Each one is also a childbirth method. That means each is founded on a specific philosophy of birth and teaches specific methods for coping with contractions.

These three methods are The Bradley Method, Lamaze, and HypnoBirthing. Let’s look at the history and philosophy of each.

The Bradley Method

Dr. Robert A. Bradley grew up on a farm in Nebraska. He regularly saw animals give birth and was intrigued by how well the birth process went for them, without doctors or intervention. But as an adult he saw doctors intervening in human birth daily.

Though the belief was uncommon at the time, Dr. Bradley came to believe that women could learn to give birth “naturally” – without intervention and without pain or fear.

He also believed that if fathers were involved in pregnancy, labor, and birth then it was much more likely that things would go well and that women would be able to give birth without pain medication.

Thus, The Bradley Method was born. Dr. Bradley began teaching his method in 1947. It gained popularity when he published his book, Husband-Coached Childbirth, in 1965.

The Bradley Method is clearly focused on helping mothers give birth without medication. And they achieve that goal – 86% of mothers who utilize The Bradley Method are able to give birth completely unmedicated.

We’ll look at the specifics of what The Bradley Method teaches later on, in a side-by-side comparison with the other two most popular methods.

Lamaze

Dr. Fernand Lamaze originally created The Lamaze Method in the 1950s. Lamaze International was founded in 1960 by Elisabeth Bing and Marjorie Karmel. Marjorie gave birth under the care of Dr. Lamaze and shared her experience in a book that she published around that same time.

If you hear “Lamaze” and think about breathing in funny patterns, that’s because breathing used to be one of the main elements of the Lamaze Method.

Over time, though, Lamaze has become less about breathing and more about a general approach to pregnancy and birth that prioritizes healthy practices and individualized decision making.

HypnoBirthing

HypnoBirthing might sound a little wacky if you’ve never heard of it before. It isn’t about someone hypnotizing a woman so she does whatever is suggested to her. Rather, it’s a method of relaxation that allows a woman to welcome contractions with no resistance so that her body can do what it needs to do.

HypnoBirthing was created by Marie Mongan. She was a hypnotherapist who applied the work of Dr. Jonathan Dye and Grantly Dick-Read, two leading advocates of natural childbirth in the late 1800s, to her own experience.

The result was a method of birth focused on reducing fear – and therefore pain – in labor through getting out of your own way to let your body function as it was designed to. 

Many people claim that using the techniques of HypnoBirthing made their labor and birth easy and painless.

Bradley Method vs Lamaze vs HypnoBirthing

Now that you know a little bit about the history and philosophy of The Bradley Method, Lamaze, and HypnoBirthing, let’s look at some specifics.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of different aspects of the classes. It covers how long each class is, the kind of information they provide, and what coping methods each teaches.

chart comparing The Bradley Method, Lamaze, and HypnoBirthing

Explanations

For clarification, I want to add a few notes about some of the information in the table.

A Caveat About Lamaze

Though Bradley, Lamaze, and HypnoBirthing all allow only certified instructors to teach their courses, Lamaze is unique in the fact that they don’t have strict guidelines on what form those classes take.

Certified Lamaze Instructors are allowed to teach classes in whatever format they prefer. It can be several weeks, all in one weekend, 6 classes or 8 classes or 2. Each instructor creates their own course based on the Lamaze Learning Outcome and some essential content, which is laid out generally here.

My warning is this: Because the structure and content is not closely regulated, one Lamaze class may be very different from another. That is not necessarily a negative thing, but it will be harder to know what you’re getting when you sign up, than, for example, if you were signing up for a Bradley class. 

Obviously, a class based on any method will be slightly different depending on who teaches it. With Lamaze classes, though, that difference is likely to be much more extreme.

If you decide to take a Lamaze class, just make sure that you know who your instructor is and that you understand their beliefs and philosophies surrounding birth.

Biases are Everywhere

In that same vein, it’s always a good idea to know your instructor’s background and experience. The content of each class can be generalized (like I did in the table), but every instructor is going to have biases.

For example, if your HypnoBirthing instructor is also a La Leche League leader, you’ll probably get more positive messaging about breastfeeding than if your instructor formula-fed her baby.

Similarly, if a home birth midwife teaches your Bradley class, the information will likely be presented in a slightly different way than if it was taught by a woman who gave birth unmedicated in the hospital.

Nutrition

The reason I specifically list “Nutrition during pregnancy” in the table is that healthy eating during pregnancy is vital for the proper development of your baby.

Most doctors have little to no education about nutrition, so if you’re not learning about nutrition on your own (or through a childbirth class), you’re probably not learning it at all.

The healthier you are, the easier pregnancy and labor will probably be. As my midwife often said, “Your tissues” – which have a great deal to do with a growing belly and a vaginal birth – “are only as healthy as the food you eat.”

The second of the twelve Bradley Method classes is focused entirely on nutrition during pregnancy. Taking care of your body prenatally is one of the foundational principles of the Bradley Method, which strives to keep mothers low-risk.

The Bradley Method teaches The Brewer Diet. As part of that, you’ll likely be asked to track everything you eat so your teacher can help ensure you are getting what you and your baby need.

HypnoBirthing classes cover nutrition too. With only 5 classes, though, and such a heavy focus on hypnosis during labor, healthy eating likely won’t get nearly as much coverage.

As for Lamaze, none of their 6 Healthy Birth Practices have to do with pregnancy or nutrition, so each instructor would probably determine how much time – if any – is spent discussing diet.

READ MORE >> Why “What Not To Eat While Pregnant” is the Wrong Question

Interventions and Induction

If you aren’t sure what I mean when I talk about interventions and medications in labor, check out my blog posts about the cascade of interventions and the risks of medications during labor.

Both The Bradley Method and Lamaze discourage the use of medical interventions unless they are necessary. In both classes, you’ll learn about the risks of each intervention, common myths about them, and when they might become medically necessary. 

Be aware, though, that because of its focus on respecting parents’ choices and individualizing every woman’s birth experience, Lamaze instructors may be less decidedly against interventions than a Bradley instructor.

As with other information, know who your instructor is so you know their biases and beliefs.

On the other hand, HypnoBirthing intentionally avoids talking about medical intervention because they believe that talking about it would only create more fear. They do specifically encourage women to avoid artificial induction, but that’s the only intervention they address.

Father’s Involvement

Historically, fathers were most definitely not a part of the birth process. Thankfully, that’s changing. Fathers are not only welcome but, in many settings, encouraged to be a big part of the labor and birth experience. 

Different childbirth methods view the father’s role differently. To simplify in the table, I labeled each as high, moderate, or low. Here’s what I mean by that:

The Bradley Method is nicknamed “husband-coached childbirth,” so it doesn’t take much to understand how important the father is for women who choose “Bradley births.” The father is encouraged to be the main support person to his wife or partner, coaching her through labor and being as involved as he can.

That’s why I labeled The Bradley Method as “high” involvement.

HypnoBirthing also teaches the father how he can help during labor, but it’s not as much of a focus. Thus, the “moderate” label.

Lamaze does encourage women to bring a continuous support person, but it does not specifically encourage the father’s involvement. Thus, the “low” label.

My Recommendation

Now that you have the facts, I want to give you my recommendation of which is the best natural childbirth class. 

In my opinion, The Bradley Method is best.

I know it seems long. You might be wondering why you’d need 12 weeks to learn about birth. Well, there’s more to labor and birth (and pregnancy) than you might think. Twelve weeks makes it a more comprehensive class than any other.

Plus, I really do believe that the more you know, the better it will go.

In addition to the wealth of information you’ll gain, the focus on preparing not only the mother but also the father is invaluable.

Some women may prefer to have a doula or someone else with them too. Even then, the father will be able to provide uniquely intimate support. And the more he knows, the better his help will be.

One of the biggest reasons I recommend The Bradley Method over the others is because of its focus on educating women about medications and interventions and the risks inherent in them. I disagree with HypnoBirthing’s philosophy that talking about hard things leads to more fear. I believe the opposite is true; lack of knowledge fuels fear.

As the bible says, the truth will make us free. We mothers need all the facts so that we can make the best choices for ourselves and our babies.

What It Comes Down To

All that said, of course no class or method is going to be perfect, nor is one class going to be the perfect fit for every woman. Maybe, for example, the coping techniques The Bradley Method teaches don’t seem like a great fit for you. I relate to that.

If that’s the case, instead of giving up on Bradley completely, I recommend you still learn The Bradley Method and then you add on Lamaze or HypnoBirthing or other techniques that you feel will help you cope best (for example, by reading the HypnoBirthing book!).

As is always the case, you should do what you feel is best for you and this pregnancy. Whatever you choose, happy learning!

Until next time,

Allison

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