Lamaze Childbirth Education

What Is It, What You'll Learn, and How to Find a Class

pregnant women taking notes in childbirth education class

 

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Lamaze is the most recognized name in childbirth education. If your mom, sister, or even grandmother took childbirth education classes, there’s a good chance it was a Lamaze class. Lamaze-style breathing techniques are most frequently represented in the movies, too.

While you might be familiar with the name Lamaze and the breathing style associated with it, you may be surprised to hear that the Lamaze class your mom took may not be the same as what’s being offered today. Lamaze is also about much more than breathing patterns. Lamaze has evolved and changed over the years, deemphasize breathing-patterns and encouraging a wide variety of skills and techniques to have a healthy, normal birth.

History

While French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze is frequently cited as the source of the Lamaze method of childbirth, the roots of this birthing style originated in Russia.

Before Lamaze was known as Lamaze, it was termed the psychoprophylaxis method of childbirth preparation. Literally, psychoprophylaxis means “psychological prevention of disease.” Less literally translated, in the context of childbirth, it means using psychological methods to prevent or reduce childbirth pain.

Russian psychologist I. Z. Vel’vovskii and neurologist K. I. Polatono developed psychoprophylaxis by applying Pavlovian theory to childbirth. You are likely familiar with Pavlovian theory from the classic experiments of Pavlov’s dog, where Dr. Pavlov would ring a bell every time he gave a dog food. The dog would naturally droll in response to the food dish. Until, eventually, one day, Dr. Pavlov rang the bell without presenting food, and the dog still drooled.

Using this theory of conditioning, psychoprophylaxis was intended to help women during childbirth feel less or “no pain” during labor by practicing relaxation and distraction techniques before delivery day.

In 1951, Dr. Fernand Lamaze witnessed the method being used in Russia. He brought the method back to France with him, where he started teaching it on the labor and delivery ward of his hospital. By the end of the 1950s, the method had spread to other European countries, North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The method became known as “painless childbirth.”

An American actress Marjorie Karmel gave birth in France using Dr. Fernand Lamaze’s method. Based on this experience, she wrote a book in 1959 entitled Thank You, Dr. Lamaze. This book brought the method to the United States.

In 1960, physical therapist Elisabeth Bing and Marjorie Karmel co-founded the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics (ASPO)/Lamaze. The ASPO/Lamaze is now known as Lamaze International.

Lamaze as it was taught in the 1960s, 70s—and even in the 1990s—is very different than the Lamaze taught today. They no longer call it “painless childbirth,” and the information taught has been adjusted as the approach to childbirth has changed and as research has revealed better ways to improve the childbirth experience for women and their families.

How Lamaze Works

On their official website, Lamaze International defines its mission as: “to advance safe and healthy pregnancy, birth and early parenting through evidence-based education and advocacy.”

Lamaze believes that childbirth is a natural process, that women have an innate ability to give birth, and that unnecessary medical interference with that natural process can increase risk for the mother and baby. All of their childbirth preparation skills and education are intended to support the normal birthing process and avoid unneeded interference.

Lamaze bases their curriculum and core principals on evidence-based practices. Unlike some childbirth methods that are focused on a specific technique or idea, Lamaze’s embrace of research is a part of why this style of birth education has evolved with time. You could say that Lamaze is beholden to breathing as a coping technique for birth; however, even this classic Lamaze technique has been changed based on the latest evidence available. 

Lamaze is less of a “method” and more of an approach to childbirth.

There are six key principals to the Lamaze childbirth education philosophy, which they call The Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices. They are...

According to Lamaze, these six key principals—all based on research—are what enable mothers and families to have normal, healthy birth and postpartum experiences. 

Learning the Lamaze Way of Childbirth

Lamaze childbirth education classes are typically six weeks long, but there are exceptions to the rule. For example, some courses are offered over the weekend and may include two days of instruction. Other courses may run weekly but may go a little longer than six weeks. There are even Lamaze classes that are packed into one long, full day.

How many times you meet for a class is dependent on the instructor and the chosen format of the course. Also, some instructors choose to include additional content or instruction, beyond the basics. The core content of every Lamaze class should, however, be similar.

Topics that every Lamaze class should incorporate include…

The Anatomy and Physiology of Birth

Encouraging women to be confident and trust in their body’s ability to give birth means helping them fully understand what happens during late pregnancy and childbirth. Every Lamaze class talks about…

  • the basic anatomy and physiology of labor and delivery
  • the various stages of labor
  • how hormones play a role in late pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period
  • what the role of pain and discomfort are
  • the different normal variations in labor and delivery (for example, long labors or what it means to have “back labor”)
  • the normal physical and emotional aspects to the birthing process

Self-Advocacy Skills

Essential to avoiding unnecessary interventions and being an informed patient, every Lamaze class includes…

  • education on communicating with your health care provider
  • negotiation skills
  • your rights as a birthing mother (including your right to refuse interventions)
  • what it means to give consent for a medical procedure or intervention

Moving Around During Labor

Every Lamaze class will cover…

  • why movement during labor is important
  • different ways you can keep up movement
  • avoiding or working with obstacles to movement (like fetal monitoring)
  • how the baby moves through the birthing canal during labor
  • how the mother's movement helps the baby get into position for birth   

Coping Techniques for Labor

The famous (but updated) Lamaze-breathing techniques will be covered, but you’ll also learn other ways to soothe and cope with labor pains, including things like…

… and others.

In the past, a lot of class time may have focused on teaching and mastering “correct” breathing patterns. This is not the case in modern Lamaze classes. Mothers are given a variety of labor tools to use, with breathing styles being just one possible option among many.   

Support Persons and Skills for Supporting a Laboring Mother

Your class will include discussion on…

  • who can support a laboring mother
  • the possible benefits of hiring a professional labor doula
  • how a support person can best help the laboring mother
  • communication skills for the labor team

Information on Various Medical Interventions

Lamaze believes that birth should be free of unnecessary medical intervention—but when it’s needed, a mother should be able to make that choice with confidence and full understanding. Every Lamaze class will cover…

  • the most common childbirth interventions
  • discussion of routine vs. necessary intervention
  • possible risks and benefits to various interventions
  • communication with your birth team when it comes to refusing interventions or giving consent 

Information on Pain Medication for Labor

Lamaze classes don’t only teach non-pharmacological pain techniques, but you’ll also learn about your medication options, including epidurals, and how to best use them (if you choose do to so). 

Positions and Techniques for the Pushing Stage of Labor

You’ll learn…

  • what is happening in the body during this stage of labor
  • the differences between directed pushing and spontaneous pushing
  • various position options
  • the role of your support person
  • the birth of the placenta

Breastfeeding and Early Baby Care

Lamaze classes will teach you…

  • about those first moments after the birth
  • why the mother and baby should stay together
  • the benefits of skin to skin contact
  • breastfeeding basics
  • the pros and cons of all the newborn procedures offered at the hospital
  • how to get help with breastfeeding
  • how to know if your baby is getting enough
  • basic baby care and normal behavior for those first weeks

Postpartum Health

The class will also cover…

  • your physical and emotional health just after birth
  • what’s happening to your body during this time
  • how to stay healthy in those early days
  • signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety
  • how to get support as a new mother

Time to Practice Your New Skills

Your Lamaze class should also include time to interact and practice whatever you learn. If the class is online, this practice time may be more like “homework” you’ll need to do after watching or receiving video instruction. In a group in-person setting, you’ll get to practice together with your partner and/or classmates. 

Education Options

Because of the popularity of Lamaze childbirth education, your options for classes are increased compared to almost every other method out there. If you live in a large city, you’ll likely have several instructors or class options to choose from.

Group In-Person Classes

You may find these classes hosted by a hospital, birthing center, or women’s health center, or they may take place in someone’s home or a general community center.

The advantage of group in-person classes is you can connect with other mothers and families. Lifelong friends are sometimes made in this setting. Another advantage of in-person classes is you can more easily interact with the instructor, and you can learn from other people’s questions during class.

The disadvantages of group in-person classes are the time it takes and expense. The classes are usually a few hundred dollars.

One-on-One Classes 

Maybe you’re on bed rest and can’t get to a group class setting. Or, maybe you just prefer to learn one-on-one. There are also private Lamaze classes available. The class may be in person, with the instructor coming to your home, or it may be online via video conferencing software.

If you hire a doula, she may offer one-on-one childbirth education classes in addition to her doula services.

A disadvantage to one-on-one classes is they can be expensive.

Online Classes

There are also online Lamaze classes. Lamaze International has a website dedicated to online learning:

They have a free class available on laboring with confidence if you want to try out the format before you pay for a class.

Lamaze encourages participants to combine online with an in-person course, but you could learn a great deal through online education only. 

Self-Study

You can teach yourself Lamaze techniques. Their official book is Giving Birth with Confidence (Official Lamaze Guide, 3rd Edition) by Judith Lothian and Charlotte DeVries.

Self-study requires more discipline and dedication. No one is there to tell you to practice. You will also have to seek out demonstrations of techniques online yourself, and you can’t ask a teacher questions. That said, self-study is the best or only option for some people, usually due to financial constraints.  

How to Find a Class

The Lamaze website has a Find a Class by location tool.

While the database will give you a list of certified Lamaze instructors, not every instructor or class will be the same. It’s worthwhile contacting a few and asking questions about the course. While Lamaze requires educators who label their class “Lamaze” to include specific topics, the instructors still have a lot of freedom in how they conduct and cover that information.

Note that many hospitals offer childbirth education classes, and people may refer to them as “Lamaze,” but that doesn’t mean they are Lamaze courses. The word Lamaze is sometimes used the way the word Kleenex is used when people mean facial tissue. The instructor may be Lamaze certified, but the content may not meet Lamaze guidelines and the official course title will probably not include “Lamaze” in it. The title will likely be very general, like “Childbirth Preparation.”

This isn’t to say that hospital-based courses aren’t good or aren’t an option you can consider. However, they may not include everything you need to have a successful birth in accordance with Lamaze International. Also, some classes may be more about the hospital and “being a good patient” and less about being an informed client.

Criticisms

Lamaze may be the best-known childbirth education course, but they don’t always get the most praise. Some criticisms against Lamaze are based on outdated or even incorrect information. 

One criticism is that they present medication options and childbirth interventions in a more “positive” light than other childbirth methods. Lamaze isn’t strongly opposed to the use of medical intervention when it’s right for the mother.

Some see this as a negative against Lamaze—and it’s true that more Lamaze trained mothers may choose to use epidurals or interventions—but others see this as a benefit to Lamaze.

While some childbirth education classes can lead to feelings of guilt or shame when the birth doesn’t go as planned or may cause a mother who wants an epidural to feel shame for her decision, Lamaze’s more open approach to interventions (when needed) can reduce the risk of post-birth shame. This also makes Lamaze classes an option for mothers who do know they want an epidural or know they will require a C-section birth.

Another criticism against is against the breathing techniques. The older Lamaze courses did teach the breathing techniques in a stricter format, with “right” and “wrong” ways to breath during labor. This is no longer the case. This would be considered an outdated criticism.

Another critique against Lamaze breathing is it’s not as effective as once thought. Research has found that while a large percentage of women try Lamaze breathing during labor, they don’t report that it was the most helpful. The breathing techniques work best in combination with other comfort options.

However, this is why Lamaze teaches a variety of birthing comfort options. Breathing is only one skill taught. Also important to note, for some women, breathing is the only option available to them. For example, massage and a birth pool are wonderful birthing tools, but not every mother has someone to give them a massage during labor and not every hospital or birthing center has a birthing pool available.

Another criticism against Lamaze is less about Lamaze and more about people confusing hospital-taught childbirth classes with Lamaze classes.

As mentioned above, people sometimes use the word Lamaze like they use the word Kleenex. They might say that “Lamaze” classes teach parents to be “good patients” and don’t offer enough education on normal, natural birthing options. However, they are actually thinking about hospital-taught classes—and not courses that meet the Lamaze International guidelines.

If Lamaze Isn’t for You

The good thing about childbirth education is you have many options!

Other possibilities for childbirth education include…

  • The Bradley Method
  • HypnoBirthing
  • BirthWorks
  • Birthing From Within
  • CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association)
  • an ICEA-certified (International Childbirth Education Association) childbirth educator

A Word from Verywell

Lamaze International childbirth education classes teach evidence-based coping and communication skills, along with vital information on birth and the postpartum experience. They also provide information on interventions, so mothers can make informed choices during childbirth. Lamaze classes are honest about the risks of medication and routine intervention use without completely ruling out their use when necessary. Whether you’re hoping to have a natural birth or think you may want to consider an epidural, Lamaze classes are a good choice for childbirth preparation education.

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