The Era of Lamaze: Can We Bring it Back?

Lamaze, also known as the psychoprophylaxis, or painless childbirth method, was created in the 1940s by French obstetrician, Dr. Fernand Lamaze.  Lamaze incorporated breathing and relaxation exercises for laboring women as a safer alternative to the drastic medical interventions used at that time—such as “twilight sleep”, which included scopolamine, a powerful amnesiac, and morphine, a powerful analgesic. The method gained in popularity in the US in 1959 after a well-known actress, Marjorie Karmel, sought an alternative method of childbirth for herself, and wrote the popular book, “Thank You, Dr. Lamaze.” Together with the influence of the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics (ASPO Lamaze), Lamaze became a household name.  Fathers were just beginning to be allowed in the delivery and cesarean section rooms if they held a “certificate” from a Lamaze childbirth educator, confirming that they had attended classes.

But what has happened to Lamaze and Childbirth Education training?  As a Lamaze instructor myself for 20 years, I saw my practice dwindling with the advanced use of epidurals and other pain relief techniques.  I received phone calls from clients asking, “Do I need Lamaze classes if I plan on getting an epidural?”

Lamaze, the Bradley method, and other methods of childbirth classes were known as “Childbirth Education.”  Childbirth Education is not just about breathing techniques, or preparation for a natural birth. Childbirth Education is a holistic approach that educates the expectant mom and her partner about what is happening in her body and what to expect during labor and delivery.  It builds confidence, and trains women to work with their bodies, keeping labor and birth as simple and safe as possible. 

With the benefit of childbirth education, women arrive at birthing facilities with a strong understanding of what’s going on around them. Women are familiar with the medical terminology that the health care providers use when describing their progress.  And if unforeseen circumstances arise, such as the need to undergo a Cesarean section or other interventions, women are prepared, and understand what is happening.

Giving birth can be a frightening experience for those who have never been in need of major medical care. Many of us are unprepared for the complete lack of control that we can feel the first time we experience the throes of labor. Also, unforeseen circumstances sometimes occur. When this happens, medical staff will be focused on safely delivering your baby. With childbirth education, a woman and her partner can arrive at the laboring suite with an equal, high level of security and self-reliance. They have a solid comprehension of the routine, the procedures involved, and will be able to advocate for themselves and make informed decisions in any situation, with a clear head.

Reading articles on the Internet can be a wonderful way to complement classes, but it is a completely different experience than receiving live interaction from a professional Childbirth Educator, with other couples involved.

Childbirth Education sessions include:

  • basic overview of labor and birth
  • coping skills
  • physiology of labor and birth
  • emotional expectations
  • nutrition and exercise
  • labor training, breathing, and relaxation practice
  • tips on how to try and avoid a cesarean section
  • postpartum, newborn care, and breastfeeding
  • training for your partner to be the best labor coach
  • options for pain management

If you do decide to use pain management, by having the education and the utilization of breathing and relaxation techniques, you can delay your need for medication until absolutely necessary.  The longer you delay the use of any interventions in labor, your labor will progress more efficiently, and it will be better for your baby and yourself.

Childbirth education can be an empowering experience for you and your partner. This will be the biggest event of your lives, and you want to be informed as much as possible. Whether it is with Lamaze, Bradley Hypnobirthing, or any other method, you will want the best birthing experience possible, and you will want to feel good about your choices.

A good birth experience will help you to adjust better to your postpartum state, and going home with your newborn will be a better experience overall.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you.

Cheryl Zauderer, PhD, CNM, NPP, IBCLChas been a registered nurse since 1985. She is a nurse-midwife, a lactation consultant and a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in perinatal mood disorders and other women’s health issues. Dr. Zauderer has authored her first book entitled Maternity Leave: A New Mothers Guide to the First Six Weeks Postpartum, Praeclarus Press. It is a self-help book for new mothers focusing on the first six weeks postpartum. You can follow her with her blog and on her website at: postpartumcare1.com, on twitter, and on facebook.  Dr. Zauderer has also served as a board member for PSI (Postpartum Support International) and has been the Nassau/Suffolk coordinator for PSI since 2009.