The Lamaze Method: Everything You Need to Know
Lamaze is the oldest and most popular technique of childbirth preparation in the United States. It originated in the 1950s by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, who was inspired by the natural relaxation and emotional support strategies he observed during childbirth in Russia. Nowadays one in four deliveries—or about one million births each year—are to parents educated in the Lamaze method. Keep reading to learn more and decide whether it's right for you.
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What is Lamaze?
The Lamaze method prepares women for a safe, healthy birth by providing current and evidence-based information. It builds confidence, teaches childbirth coping mechanisms, and essentially serves as an alternative to medical intervention.
Lamaze is popularly known for its rhythmic breathing exercises that reduce heart rate, anxiety, and pain perception during labor. They 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 also 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.
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Teachers of the lamaze technique also stress consumer awareness, and they introduce medication as an additional 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 caregivers so they can make well-informed decisions during labor.
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 begin naturally, which signals that all components (including your body, your hormones, the placenta, etc.) are ready for birth.
2. Stay active during labor by changing positions, moving around, and walking. Movement helps women cope with contractions, and it also encourages your baby to move into the correct place for delivery.
3. Receive continuous support during labor from a doula, a loved one, etc. 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. The mother and baby should stay together after birth. 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 natural childbirth experience. When allowed and encouraged, a woman will naturally move, moan, sway, change her breathing pattern, and rock to cope with contractions, eventually finding the right rhythm for her unique needs. Such active comfort-seeking helps the baby rotate and descend, and it also prevents labor from stalling. As a woman's contractions get stronger, her body releases endorphins—nature's narcotic—to ease her pain.
After taking Lamaze classes, women 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.
When Do You Take Lamaze Classes?
Usually you'll take Lamaze classes for five or six weeks toward the end of pregnancy, for a total of about 12 hours. 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.