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The 101 on the Bradley vs. Lamaze Childbirth Techniques

by Sophie Cosic

The Bradley method of childbirth was developed in the 1940’s by Dr. Robert A. Bradley, an American Obstetrician. It is based on the philosophy of ‘natural childbirth’ (drug free) and was pioneering in the involvement of fathers during the birthing process.

The Lamaze technique was also established in the 1940’s by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, a French Obstetrician. Lamaze was influenced by Soviet childbirth practices and he particularly endorsed the role of Midwives during labor.  His method began to gain popularity in the USA in the late 1950’s and is now the most commonly used childbirth technique.

While both the Lamaze and Bradley techniques lead to the same outcome, they differ in a variety of ways. The most significant contrast between these birthing methods is the issue of pain management and how parents confront this challenge. But what do these two methods reveal and how do they differ?

The Bradley Technique

The Bradley Method is a twelve week course that teaches parents how to control the pain of childbirth. It advocates natural childbirth philosophies and is also called ‘the husband coached’ birthing technique. It encourages parents to use deep breathing and relaxation exercises as a means of coping with labor.

The Bradley approach rejects the idea of ‘distraction’ as a way of dealing with childbirth and disputes the use of painkillers and cesarean sections unless absolutely necessary.

However, classes that focus on the Bradley technique do prepare parents for unexpected complications which may result in a cesarean section or other forms of intervention. His methods also include advice on nutrition and diet for the Mother during her pregnancy, which inevitably has a positive effect on the growth and wellbeing of the fetus. The expectant Mother is always encouraged to take reasonable and regular exercise, so that she is properly conditioned to give birth.

The Bradley Technique also educates parents about the different stages of labor and teaches them how to react to the Mother’s changing body. The Father is assigned the role of ‘Coach’ during the birthing process, keeping the Mother focused on the task at hand, helping with breathing exercises and giving plenty of reassurance.  Different forms of massage can also be used.

The Lamaze Technique

The Lamaze Technique uses a Pavlovian response to the pain of childbirth.
Lamaze believed that giving birth was a physical exercise that requires both energy and concentration. His method focuses on arming the expectant couple with various tools to ease discomfort and conserve energy in order to control pain as it occurs.

The Lamaze Technique encourages the couple to use deep breathing exercises and various ‘distraction’ techniques, which can include concentrating on pleasant memories, as a way of distracting the woman from the pain of labor.

Lamaze childbirth classes often recommend the benefits associated with changing positions during the birth, as well as the use of hot and cold packs and ‘birthing balls’ to ease contractions.

The Lamaze Philosophy is not as regimented as the Bradley Method. It gives parents all the facts, yet allows the couple leverage to use the information in ways that work for them.  It’s more liberal approach offers a neutral position with regards to pain medication along with other medical and surgical options. This is left for the couple to decide on the childbirth techniques.

Conclusion

There are many subtle differences and similarities between the Bradley and Lamaze birthing techniques. The primary difference is that the Bradley method instructs women to focus on controlling their pain. While according to the Lamaze technique, they are taught to distract from it. Similarities include the use of deep breathing techniques, the encouragement of appropriate exercise for the Mother during her pregnancy, and the involvement of both parents in the birthing process.

For expectant families the best option is to gather as much information as possible from either their Obstetrician or Midwife, before making a firm decision on which childbirth class to attend. It is always preferable to choose the birthing method that most appeals to each, individual couple, as it will allow them to feel in control and therefore experience the form of childbirth which best suits their needs.

9 Responses to “The 101 on the Bradley vs. Lamaze Childbirth Techniques”

  • Annette Boettner:

    Thank you for your input regarding these two methods. It has been over 30 years since I took LaMaze classes and now I wanted to share with my daughter what was so helpful to me in my labors. My LaMaze teacher Sheila, of Cave Juchtion, Oregon, did an excellent job of helping me to become familiar with my own body and she taught us to use the breathing techniques to help relax each muscle group from the top of our head, moving down to the tips of our toes. I use the techniques to this day and have taught my family to also incorporate it when the need arises, if they stub their toe, hit their elbow, or some other injury that causes one to tense up and contract the muscle, causing more pain from the injured part. Perhaps the difference is with the instructor, in my case, it appears that Sheila taught what you describe as a Bradley element, but I will tell you that using the LaMaze method gave me four beautiful births with NO memory of ‘pain.’ Pressure, yes! Burt not pain! As for tightening up muscles, just the opposite, I was ‘trained’ to relax! Relaxation was the key to overcoming the ‘pressure.’ The breathing technique was for the purpose of providing oxygen to the contracting muscles, thus alleviating any opportunity for ‘pain.’ After reading many blogs on the subject, I count myself Blessed to have had such a great LaMaze instructor. Wherever you are Sheila, I want to say, “Thank You!”

  • Christine:

    Sorry, but this article & the discussion really upsets me.

    As a doula, mother of 2, and certified birthing coach, I teach both of these methods.

    Lamaze is what most people ask for, but these are really complete opposites in many ways.

    (1) Lamaze breathing (“whew-whew-whew”) tightens up all the muscles that Bradley says need to be relaxed. That’s my experience as well.

    (2) Lamaze is much more compatible with hospital birth (Lamaze mothers often resort to epidurals, etc). Hospitals hate (I mean, *HATE*) Bradley birth, even if they don’t know what it is, they think what you’re doing is crazy. It’s completely incompatible with how 99% of hospitals are set up.

    (3) Bradley is much better for use with a midwife, in a natural birthing center, at home birth, etc. It requires a full commitment to natural birth. Most Bradley births are pain-free *if* you really, really follow the instructions and take the classes.

    Wish I could recommend a single book on the subject, but there is no single comprehensive guide. Start with the original Bradley book from the 60s. Avoid Dummies Guides, the keep-it-simple guide, and things like that. They are shallow & full of misinformation.

    • Veronica:

      Thank your feedback. I am drawn more to the Bradley Method….The philosophy behind it seems to be more about getting me mentally prepared for the task at hand. I need to be present in all ways and working through it rather than wanting to remove myself from it seems to be opposing motives to truly going with natural non medicated childbirth. Unfortunately, I am unable to find an instructor where I live (Birmingham, AL). I am reading the original Bradley book. Do you think this will be enough? Thank you again – V

  • Kay:

    This article is written very poorly and unprofessionally. I’m surprised to see that’s been on this website for this many years, with out being ratified or corrected that is. The research of both of these messages incredibly shallow, and I am the future mother would love to see some real information, that is both accurate and in depth. This is an important issue, so I do hope that any women deciding between the bradley method and lamaze method are widening their search to more reliable sources. And I’m sure if they’re serious, they certainly will be, because this is lacking.

  • Jennifer:

    Thank you Ellen for your review of the article. It is nice to see someone focus on fixing the inaccuracies of the article instead of bashing the other side. I am looking into Lamaze and the Bradley Method and I want to hear what both are about, not how bad one is compared to the other. Thank you again Ellen.

  • Liza:

    After reading your article, it appears as though you must not have taken a Bradley class but just did your own limited and misinformed research. I’ve been teaching the Bradley Method for 15 years. We don’t teach to “control” pain. We teach mothers to tune into their bodies to learn how to relax and understand what is going on in their bodies so they can act rather than react. By understanding the emotional signs, and physiological changes their bodies are going through, and the journey their baby is taking during labor, it removes the fear for both mother and father.
    We don’t teach breathing “exercises”. We teach deep abdominal breathing which triggers the relaxation response, the production of endorphins and a more relaxed and more pain free labor and delivery.
    Lamaze breathing imitates panic, which, imitates fear, which creates tension, which creates more pain. We teach 12 different relaxation techniques, positions to use during labor to create more comfort and better progress in labor.
    Above all, we emphasize knowing and asking informed consent questions so that parents can make the most informed and educated decisions for their family and can both play an active role, rather than a passive role, in the birth of their children.
    You really ought to take a class or interview some parents who have taken it. Obviously you don’t know what you are writing about!
    These days it is rare to find a true Lamaze class. What is taught in most hospitals-called “Lamaze”- these days is how to be a good patient, don’t be a martyr, there are few risks to medications in labor. Well, read the research. Just because most people think something is true, that doesn’t make it true.
    Bring your babies into the world in as gentle a way as you can. Your child’s birth has the potential to be the most powerful, inspiring, and gentle experience of your life or it can be a nightmare. Get educated and make your own choices WITH your caregivers.The one thing you can count on in labor and birth is the unexpected. Have an open mind, set your goals, then be flexible, and think about the well-being of your baby and the mother above all else.

    • susan mccutcheon:

      Nice job responding to this article, Liza. Thanks for taking the time and going to the trouble to do it.

    • Vanessa:

      Nice article about the Bradley technique. I am a second timer, expecting my second child in 4 months time. My first child was born a week too early and I was utterly unprepared, what in hindsight helped me a lot.
      Although I attended an antenatal class, this class was more geared towards learning about the actual birthing process and whatever comes with it. No breathing techniques were mentioned, much to my surprise. At that stage I made up my mind I would not take the epidural, simply for one reason: I am scared of big needles. I always maintained the fact that I would rather go for a painkiller intravenously rather than into my spine. My credo from the day I fell pregnant was: rather take me out and deliver the baby, I can’t handle pain. Well, life had a different plan in store for me!
      However, labour came early and it came on fast. But not furious at first. By the time I was sent to hospital I was already 4 cm dilated and labour was progressing, luckily without much pain to begin with. Actually, I had no pain at all. Only once my OB ruptured the amniotic sac things were happening… and boy, they did furiously!
      I asked for the injection about 40 minutes after the rupturing and by the time the nurse came along with the needle, I was already pushing and had to go with pure nature.
      By pure chance and most certainly without intention I was left to my own instincts and natural reactions to get my baby into this world. Pretty much as described in Ellen’s recount of Dr. Bradleys observations on animals. And I fully agree! Follow your instincts, trust your body and don’t try and separate yourself from them by any excessive training. The Bradley breathing technique came to me instinctively, without even knowing about it.
      I only read about different breathing techniques now, during my second pregnancy. Not because I want to learn any of this, simply out of curiosity.
      If at all possible, I would like to give birth to my second child the same way, guided by my instincts and by nature.
      Let me add that I am none of these earthchildren of any sorts. I am the first one to throw myself at any medication for serious issues, but I keep my clear head about it at any time.
      Ok, people might say, I was simply lucky the first time round, and yes, I surely was. My active, painfull labour lasted about 1hour and 15 minutes. My son was born in a flash and shortly afterwards I was already up and running again as I had no medication in my system but endorphins rushing through my veins instead.
      Although I definitely felt the pain (and not too little of it) I enjoyed every moment and can truly say now: I can do it again! I have the fondest memories of that very special moment.
      My torn perineum created much longer lasting memories of pain than the labour pain ever could have….
      This is not to say I don’t recommend to take any birthing classes. I simply don’t see the benefit in trying to apply some learned aspects at a moment of time when all your focus should be on following your own instincts, giving birth to new life and helping a natural process along. Especially that any one person is different and might respond differently to pain.
      Accept the process and embrace it. The right breathing technique for any one person will come naturally.

  • Ellen:

    Interesting article, thank you. My experience of the Bradley Method is a bit different, however. I gave birth to both of my children with Dr. Bradley as my physician, using his method. (As it happens, my husband and his three siblings were also born using the Bradley method, with Dr Bradley in attendance.)

    My experience is that the Bradley Method does not place the focus on learning to control pain. Rather, properly taught and used, it teaches the mother to transcend the pain. There is a big difference here – controlling pain rarely works. Transcending pain has been used throughout the ages, in many cultures, for many types of pain, with excellent results.

    Dr Bradley got the idea for his method by watching farm animals give birth during his childhood. When he later became an ob he was struck by the difference between the pure, natural way most animals instinctively knew to give birth and by the trauma which women, separated from their instincts or training, went through during birth.

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