Everything You Need to Know About the Lamaze Method

Lamaze is a childbirth preparation method aimed at building confidence and teaching coping mechanisms for labor. Read more about the natural technique to decide whether it’s right for you.

Lamaze is the oldest and most popular method of childbirth preparation in the United States. It began in the 1950s with Dr. Fernand Lamaze, who was inspired by the natural relaxation and emotional support strategies for childbirth he observed in Russia.

While it may not be right for everyone, proponents of the method tout that Lamaze offers many benefits to birthing parents such as reduced pain, fewer medical interventions, and even faster labor. Keep reading to learn more and decide whether Lamaze is right for you.

What Is Lamaze?

Lamaze is a method of childbirth preparation that educates pregnant people and their partners by providing current and evidence-based information. It aims to build confidence, teach childbirth coping mechanisms, and encourage birthing parents to move around during labor to reduce pain and decrease the need for medical interventions.

Lamaze is popularly known for its rhythmic breathing exercises that reduce heart rate, anxiety, and pain perception during labor. The exercises work because when breathing becomes a focus, other sensations (such as labor pain) move to the edge of your awareness. Conscious breathing is an especially useful labor tool because it keeps you and your baby well-oxygenated and it's easy to learn and use.

And best of all, breathing is the one coping strategy that can't be taken away from you—even if you're stuck in bed attached to an electronic fetal monitor and intravenous fluids.

Teachers of the Lamaze technique also stress consumer awareness, and they introduce medication as an additional labor tool by explaining its pros and cons. Former Lamaze International president Deb Woolley says, "Like the rest of life, childbirth isn't as good when it's experienced through a haze of drugs or fear."

Lamaze teachers also encourage students to discuss all medical interventions with their providers and labor support team ahead of time so they can make well-informed decisions during labor. It can be more challenging to make decisions in the throes of labor, so Lamaze focuses on education and empowerment by preparing as much as possible ahead of time.

childbirth class

Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices

According to Lamaze International, the foundations of the method are based on six research-based principles, called "The Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices."

1. Let labor start on its own

Letting labor begin naturally means no inductions and allowing all components (including your body, your hormones, the placenta, etc.) to signal that they are ready for birth.

2. Keep moving during labor

Stay active during labor by changing positions, moving around, and walking. Movement helps people cope with contractions, and it also encourages your baby to move into an optimal position for delivery.

3. Use a labor support team

Receive continuous support during labor from a doula or a loved one. The idea is that a trusting, loving environment makes childbirth easier.

4. Avoid non-vital medical interventions

Lamaze International says that unnecessary interference harms the "natural process of labor and birth."

5. When delivering your baby, avoid lying on your back.

Instead, you should assume whatever position feels most comfortable, and push whenever it feels right.

6. Stay together after birth

If possible, parents and baby should remain together immediately after birth and either initiate nursing or skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding and breastfeeding success, among other things.

The Benefits of Lamaze

Management of pain without drug intervention gives the Lamaze method widespread appeal among parents who seek a non-medicated "natural" childbirth experience. When allowed and encouraged, someone in labor will naturally move, moan, sway, change their breathing pattern, and rock to cope with contractions, eventually finding the right rhythm for their unique needs.

This active comfort-seeking helps the baby rotate and descend, and it also prevents labor from stalling. Then, as contractions get stronger, the body releases endorphins—nature's narcotic—to ease pain.

After taking Lamaze classes, many parents also feel more confident about labor and delivery. They better understand how to navigate the maze of modern obstetrics, which helps them have a healthy birth in their desired way.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Lamaze?

While there are undoubtedly benefits of learning Lamaze, it can still be helpful to understand some possible cons to relying solely on Lamaze for pain management during labor and delivery. Here are some of the possible drawbacks to consider when looking at Lamaze.

There may be unexpected changes to your labor

A lot of Lamaze depends on planning ahead and staying in control of your situation, but with labor, unexpected changes can certainly happen very quickly. And while Lamaze can help you stay calm and informed, it can be more challenging in situations where you may be uncertain of what's happening, scared, or have to change delivery plans, such as switching from a vaginal birth to a C-section.

It may be more effective with a partner

Not everyone who practices Lamaze needs a birthing partner, but the method is generally considered more effective with some support through labor. If you're going through birth solo, or facing a situation where your partner can't be with you, it may be more difficult to employ the method.

Labor pain can be very individual

For first-time birthing parents, it can be hard to predict exactly how you will experience labor. Labor and pain itself is a very individual and personal process; some people will feel pain differently and every labor is different too.

For instance, things like your overall health, how much sleep you've gotten, your baby's position, and your comfort in your environment can all affect your perception of pain. Labor can even be very different among people who have given birth before, so it can be hard to predict how Lamaze will help you as an individual.

Lamaze can be inaccessible for some people

Lamaze is a speciality type of childbirth preparation, which means it's different than standard childbirth classes. That means that it may be harder to find a location near you, the cost may be higher, and it may take more classes than other childbirth education methods. For some people, accessibility will be a barrier.

When to Take Lamaze Classes

If you do decide Lamaze is right for you, Lamaze classes are typically offered weekly over the course of five or six weeks for a total of about 12 hours of instruction, and it's recommended that you take them toward the end of pregnancy. In some areas, you can take a full Lamaze series in a single weekend.

Though most ASPO-certified childbirth educators (ACCEs) are nurses, Lamaze teachers can have a background in teaching, social work, counseling, clinical psychology, or physical therapy. Call Lamaze International at (202)-367-1128 or visit www.lamaze.org for a referral to a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator in your area.

Updated by Nicole Harris
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