Women can get through the experience of labor and delivery just fine without any classes or much preparation; there is an element of the body doing what comes naturally. However, many women believe that learning specific methods can make the process easier, especially if they're interested in having a natural childbirth. Typically, an instructor explains everything from prenatal care and fetal development to the benefits of breastfeeding and how to take care of a baby. But when most people hear "childbirth classes," they don't think so much about the information aspect. Instead, they probably think about women huffing and puffing while in labor.
Lamaze is probably the best known of these methods. Named after the French doctor who introduced it in the early 1950s, this method aims to provide women with ways to relax and deal with pain during a natural childbirth. One way is through patterned breathing, or cycling between deep and shallow breaths. When in pain, people often tend hold their breath or hyperventilate, which can actually make things more painful. It also uses up a lot of energy that should be conserved for when it's time to push. Lamaze instructors teach women to focus on breathing through their contractions. They also advocate having a focal point in the room while laboring. Classes are normally taken with a birth coach, who might be a partner, friend or relative. Instructors teach them how best to support the expectant mother -- through massage techniques, for example.
The Bradley method hasn't been around quite as long as Lamaze, but it became more popular when Dr. Bradley pushed a book in 1996 titled "The Husband-Coached Childbirth." Like Lamaze, Bradley emphasizes education and preparation. It also advocates for a birth coach, with the belief that most women can give birth without needing medical intervention. The difference is that this method places more emphasis on muscle control. People in pain tend to tense muscles, which can make the pain worse. Bradley instructors teach how tightening and relaxing different muscle groups in the body can make the expectant mother relax.
One method isn't necessarily better than the other; there are women who have sworn by both. Some childbirth classes teach elements of both methods. Using a method like Lamaze or Bradley doesn't mean a pregnant woman can't also receive drugs. Some women use the method up until the point where they receive an epidural. Even if the methods learned in childbirth classes don't help to relieve pain, the information that can be gained by the women and their partners can be invaluable.
OK, so you know where you want to give birth, how you want to do it, and who's going to be assisting you. Now what?