Why take a Bradley class?

Forget the epidural vs no epidural part.  Bradley classes are a wonderful thing and it would be great if more folks took them, even if planning on pain medication.  I can’t remember exactly, but ours were once a week for a couple of hours for 2-3 months.

Childbirth isn’t 100% natural.  Evolution must have relied on culture in order to make it work, just like breast-feeding doesn’t come 100% naturally.  In the past there were always women around to give tips on what worked for them.   Though, of course, childbirth is more natural than we make it in many hospital settings… for example, I really wanted to squat while pushing, but other heads prevailed and I ended up on my back in a position from which it would be more comfortable for the doctor to catch the baby.

The 1-3 hour childbirth classes from the hospital really don’t cut it when it comes to everything that’s going to happen with the birth and before and after.

The best part of Bradley classes, IMO, is the information on pain management during pregnancy as well as during labor.  The Bradley method heavily borrows from cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (CBT) for relaxation including breathing, positive visualization, progressive muscle relaxation and so on.  Prenatal yoga also borrows some of these techniques, but I’ve been told from people who have done both that the Bradley techniques are better and more focused.  In addition to the CBT techniques, a Bradley class will provide exercises that help stretch or strengthen the exact muscles that need to be stretched or strengthened.  I remember the first day of class when we learned the pelvic tilt– a collective sigh of relief from pain we didn’t realize could go away came from all the prospective mothers.  And I remarked to DH, just learning that one stretch made every penny we’d spent on the class totally worth it.

Bradley classes also provide valuable information for after that helps another unnatural/cultural gap:  breast-feeding.  There are a lot of counter-intuitive things about breast-feeding that cause insecure young moms to doubt their abilities, when in fact, it’s just the natural order of things.  Things like how a newborn’s tummy is the size of a marble and how and when one can expect it to grow, what colostrum is and when milk is expected to come in and what it looks like, where to find help for nursing in the community, and so on.

Yes, it would be great if the doctor’s visits gave this information, but most doctors visits seem to be focused on the medical aspects — blood pressure, what’s in your urine, and drugs, not exercises or relaxation.

I did have a natural childbirth.  It really wasn’t so bad (not like my crippling fear of anesthesiologists).  I don’t particularly buy the propaganda that a natural childbirth is what’s best for the baby, but I tend to believe that it does speed up childbirth in normal cases (I also believe that an epidural can speed up childbirth in a subset of cases), and may help avert c-sections.  I will say that I only know two kinds of mothers who successfully had natural childbirths– those who had premature babies and didn’t make it in time for an epidural and those who took Bradley classes.  (I know a few women who did Lamaze or hypnobirthing, but did not end up with natural births, but I don’t know as many women who did those classes, so it could just be a small n.)

When the contractions came at first, it hurt a lot.  Then my mom, a Bradley class veteran from 20-odd years prior said, “Shouldn’t you be breathing or something?”  And I did.  And my doula timed my contractions in 10 second intervals, just like in that awful exercise in class with the super-cold water (which, btw, hurt more than my contractions), and I alternated a hot shower with a heating pad.  And really, it wasn’t so bad once I remembered to breath.  There were other techniques we learned and tried that didn’t work so well (like the positive visualization or playing the calming CD we’d been listening to while snuggling each night, and other positions and stretches), but other mothers in the class said worked great for them.  The main thought that stuck in my head was, “How do women who didn’t learn these relaxation techniques survive before the pain killer kicks in?”  Unimaginable.

If you ask most Bradley instructors, they’ll tell you that their main job is to give the woman control– control of her birth experience, control of her body, and the ability to trust that she and her birth team are making the right decisions.*  No woman should regret her birth experience.  And I think having information, not only on when a birth goes right, but also information on things that can go wrong and what the various options are and pros and cons for those options so that nothing is a surprise, really does help in that respect.  I knew what to expect during labor and in the delivery room and what the words they used when monitoring meant.  If I’d had to have a c-section I would have known that it was a necessary c-section.  No second guessing, no regrets.  And I think that’s powerful too.

But really, it’s all about the pain management during pregnancy and labor (especially prior to an epidural).  Most awesome thing ever.

Have you taken a Bradley class?  If you’ve given birth, how did you deal with pain before getting to the hospital?

*Yes, some are preachy people who suck.  Sadly that seems to be true in every area of life.  But the ones in our town are the good kind who just want to give women agency so that birth is a positive experience.


28 Responses to “Why take a Bradley class?”

  1. Adjunctorium Says:

    Yes. Back when my son was born, we called it LaMaze instruction.

    My gynecologist disapproved and informed me that a baby’s head is the size of a football and that it would hurt to deliver such a thing.

    He was wrong.

    During most of my reproductive life, I had excruciating menstrual cramps. Sometimes the pain would make me throw up.

    After this doctor had told me how painful giving birth would be, I assumed labor would hurt more than my period. It certainly did not. Because I was not in pain, to speak of — certainly not compared to what for me was a normal menstrual period — I did not even know I was in labor until I was 10 cm dilated. When my husband and I walked into the hospital, I heard one of the nurses say to another, “How on earth was she able to bear the pain this long?”


    The best day of my life was the first day of menopause. ;-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Contractions were EXACTLY like my period, except only in 30 second increments!

      Lamaze is actually different than Bradley. It doesn’t work as well and can lead to hyperventilation and passing out. If you watch old TV shows, Lamaze is the one where they do the “hoo hoo hoo” breathing and then the woman starts screaming at the husband (that last part isn’t part of Lamaze). Bradley’s breathing is deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth, and is exactly the same as CBT breathing.

      • Adjunctorium Says:

        LOL! At least with contractions you get little breaks in the pain…well, for most of the process. Also, at the end of it you get something for your discomfort. ;-)

        I think any type of controlled breathing where you have to concentrate on that process helps to deflect your attention from pain. To this day I use the breathing techniques learned at LaMaze for other kinds of pain, with varying degrees of benefit. Sometimes it’s quite effective. It also works well to quiet a panic attack.

  2. Perpetua Says:

    I never took a Bradley class, and I had one epidural birth and one intervention-free birth (in that order). I don’t have any regrets about my epidural (though I do regret the cascade of interventions of which that was a part; on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything I could have done to prevent it, besides just having a different labor), but my non-epidural birth was 10000x better, if only so that I could really work with my body on pushing. My best prep for labor was reading The Big Book of Birth, which contains the most lucid description of normal (or physiological) birth I’ve ever read. It also discusses all interventions in a neutral way, which I found very helpful. I love this book. I labored for a long time (with #2) at home, and I coped by walking and standing (leaning against a doorframe) while hula-ing my hips during contractions. I noticed every time I sat – or worse, laid – down, the contractions would feel excruciating So for me, it was all about being on my feet. I was on my feet for six hours, I think. I concentrated on keeping my muscles relaxed and when contractions got more intense, I started low-tone vibration vocalizations (like an Ommmm). I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it, but the Ommmms actually made the contractions hurt less. Going deep is key. (A high pitched sound doesn’t offer relief). When I got to the hospital, I sat on the birthing ball for a long time (arms and head resting on the bed), and then during transition I was in the tub. Transition was the only part that really and truly sucked, though the tub was amazing. The rest was completely manageable and not at all frightening. I had an OP baby, so the pushing stage was looooonnng and slloooow, esp for a #2. But I don’t find that stage painful, just intense and exhausting.

  3. First gen american Says:

    I took one. The lady teacher didn’t like me. I asked too many questions. She also used it as a forum to preach her ideology towards childbirth, nursing, pain meds, etc, which I thought inappropriate. My class was a waste but I suppose it made me feel at least a little more prepared as to what to expect. . I am glad you had someone better.

  4. julier Says:

    I was very thankful to have a doctor who paid a lot of attention to my blood pressure and the stuff in my urine. because I developed preeclampsia fairly early in my pregnancy and his careful management of these issues kept me alive and allowed me to carry my twins until almost 34 weeks.

    But before I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, I took the Marvelous Multiples class at my hospital. It covered a lot of issues pregnancy/delivery issues faced by women who are pregnant with more than one baby. This class is taught at a number of places around the country and I recommend it for anyone who is pregnant with multiples.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Obviously one needs the doctor stuff too, although my experience today makes me want to eschew all prenatal care (I am sure I will calm down after I stop hurting). The point I was trying to make is that the doctor stuff is not comprehensive.

  5. bogart Says:

    Hmmm. Bradley was not an option for me; I had a choice between classes at our hospital and at a yoga place. I chose the latter. I don’t think they did help, but neither do I think the hospital ones would have (i.e. I don’t think I chose wrong between the options available). It’s possible some other alternative (e.g. Bradley) would have; I’ll never know. Per Cochrane, birthing classes (of any flavor) have not been shown to help, but of course, as with so much of our “evidence-based” medicine that leaves us stuck with what the null hypothesis should be. It sounds like you’d assume (as I would) that some sort of teaching/advice is the baseline condition for the pregnant female and therefore, we should assume it helps until it’s proven otherwise; medical research typically assumes that doing nothing is the baseline and therefore interventions should only be implemented if they have been proven to help.

    I’m assuming that having done this, you are OK with reading “Gee that didn’t progress as I’d hoped even though happily the outcome was good” birth stories, but if not, you should stop here.

    As for me, I went into labor at night at home at 40w3d gestation after about a week of being uncomfortable and underslept (OK, it’s not a word, but it should be). I forget whether I woke the hubby up or not, but that persisted through the night in an uncomfortable but dull way. About 7 a.m. we called the doulas, who came over, and went to the hospital where one of the midwives checked, found I was just 2 cm dilated, and gave me the option to go home or check in. I went home. I hurt a lot; enough it was hard to walk. I stayed at home trying to take it easy and let my body do its thing while staying fed and hydrated but around … 4 pm? … realized I hadn’t peed in a long, long time and couldn’t though I was sure I should need to (hard to say what I felt given the pressure/pain). So in we went and sure enough my bladder was really full; the midwives gave me a catheter that was temporary — not one to leave in — and that emptied out my bladder and then I was back to being in labor unfettered, but still unproductive. I stuck around and we found the peeing problem remained (I still couldn’t do so independently) so I got a leave-it-in catheter and of course that restricted my mobility some (though the midwives I was working with were great about helping me move around as much as I could/wanted to; I still had access to a birthing ball, e.g.). I labored all that night and the next day was about 4 cm and finally said sometime that next day I’d have an epidural.

    In retrospect, I do wonder whether having had one earlier would have helped. Again, I’ll never know.

    Non-productivity persisted and signs of fetal distress emerged (there was also tons of blood in my urine which I was completely unfazed by, but the midwife, not so much). So a c-section it was (and obviously my care was handed over from the midwives to the OBs, though the midwife then took her lunch hour the next day to talk me through my emotions about the whole thing, which I was frustrated by). I forget the exact math but my recollection is that I estimated I was in labor 36 hours, and my son was born about 7 pm. Happy and healthy and with a head circumference in the 50th percentile, 7 lbs and some of him, so it’s not that he was unusually big, nor am I unusually petite.

    I have no idea what happened (other than bad presentation, i.e., clearly something about the way he was coming out was messing up my body’s functioning — making it so I couldn’t pee and banging the heck out of something in my bladder/urethra) but strongly suspect that in another era or another place I’d be either dealing with a fistula, or dead (and of course there’s the question, too, of how my son would have fared but honestly I don’t want even to mull that except to say I’m so very glad all turned out well). None of which is to say I regret trying for an unmedicated childbirth, but I’m also glad to live in an age and a place where other options were available when I needed them. And, I really didn’t find the stuff we had discussed/practiced in class helpful, though again, there may have just been something about DS’s position that wasn’t compatible with labor progressing; I don’t know.

    • bogart Says:

      Oops, sorry, I’ve done it again. Apparently I DO need my own blog.

    • Nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That sounds like exactly the kind of situation for which c-sections are so important.

      Again, the point of this post wasn’t about natural childbirth vs. not but about pain management prior to getting to the hospital and having knowledge of what can happen during the experience.

      And I’ve read (back 6 years ago when I was trying to decide what kind of class/prep to do, if any) a lot of literature showing that Bradley classes do decrease c-section rates and woman’s satisfaction with her birth experience. Not so with Lamaze. There’s some promising, but still very early, research on hypnobirthing.

    • Adjunctorium Says:

      Oh! What an ordeal! I’m so happy the baby came out OK!

      I edit medical books, a scary proposition. Most recently I helped an OB-GYN give birth to a handbook for OB-GYN residents…and I must say, if most women knew what can happen during pregnancies, no children would ever be conceived! While it’s true we tend to over-medicalize normal pregnancies (pregnancy is not a disease, after all), IMHO one needs to have a doctor standing by no matter what strategy one chooses for giving birth.

  6. joyeh Says:

    I considered Bradley but was put off by the (moreso at the time, I think) emphasis on husbands, no inclusive language about gay families, and reports of the hetero-family emphasis of the method. I just didn’t need to run the risk of having an instructor not treat my wife the same as they would treat a husband.

    Also, I get irritated by the “natural birth” language. I can’t imagine that women haven’t been using techniques to ease pain/birth for centuries (although I grant I haven’t done the research), and to call one kind of birth natural appears to pit it against all the other unnatural ones. It is just something that is a pet peeve.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My mom did it with a female helper since my father was working in a different city at the time. There didn’t seem to be any problem. Of course, this was in California in the 1980s, which is a more inclusive place and time. She also got to have a midwife at a hospital birth, but that option is gone from even that specific hospital.

      Women have forgotten pain techniques. They used to be passed on, but with the medicalization of childbirth, that transfer has stopped. It is the same with breast-feeding. And I actually have done the research (for an academic project unrelated to my own childbearing).

  7. Nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Again, this was not meant to be a post about natural vs. c-section, epidural vs. not.

    This was meant to be about pain management before you get to the hospital and knowledge transfer about the birth process so a person can make informed decisions.

  8. femmefrugality Says:

    I took classes, but they weren’t Bradley. I had minimal pain as my water broke. Had to be put on meds to speed things up. When those contractions came, you can bet I took that epidural. I have no tolerance for pain. Thought I was going to die.

  9. femmefrugality Says:

    *that comment isn’t meant to be confrontational. Just the epidural was how I dealt with the pain when it came. That’s all.

  10. mom2boy Says:

    “I had minimal pain as my water broke. Had to be put on meds to speed things up. When those contractions came, you can bet I took that epidural. I have no tolerance for pain. Thought I was going to die.”

    Yep, me too, only I always thought I had a fairly decent pain tolerance. I felt the contractions pre-epidural. And felt them again when the first epidural wore off at about 1 in the morning. Only I didn’t know what I was feeling, I just woke up and started crying. That was pretty weird. I didn’t have Bradley or any sort of classes.

  11. Practical Parsimony Says:

    1968–no pain before going to hospital after water broke, one contraction and they put me to sleep….3.5 hrs labor.
    1970–no pain after my water broke, no contractions, they put me to sleep…2.5 hrs labor
    1975–labor for 30 hours, and it hurt from first contraction, shopped and bent over grocery cart and gritted my teeth and moaned softly during contractions, had strangers following me through the store to help me. LOL…they asked if I were okay, and I said, “Oh, I am just in labor, that’s all.” Once at hospital, I was in labor and got nothing for pain even though I begged. Finally, an Xray showed it was going to be a breech birth. A little girl finally came out toes first, and I had no meds at all! Contractions came every 10 minutes for all but the last few hours of labor. I hated the nurses putting a hand on my stomach to time contractions and told them to stop. The hand on my stomach made the contractions about four times more painful.
    The worst part of the last birth was the pressure exerted by doctor, nurses, my parents, and my husband to have a C-section.

    The worst part of all, more than the pain was having my hands strapped down. That’s barbaric.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      When it came time for me to push, I couldn’t feel the contractions anymore– I absolutely needed the nurse telling me when. But the contractions before that were pretty obvious!

  12. C Carsonia Says:

    I read your blog but haven’t commented before.

    I tried to take a Bradley class. It sounded like roughly what I was looking for, but unfortunately the only one nearby was taught by a very bad instructor. I don’t think it had much to do with what Bradley classes are supposed to be. I am pro natural childbirth when possible, and wary of unnecessary interventions (I had an OB who was frighteningly pro-C-section until I switched). But I also don’t think it is a problem for women to make different choices that are right for them and their pregnancies. The instructor of my Bradley class, however, though it was a great idea to say all kinds of scary and false things about vaccinations and ultrasounds about how they are known to poison fetuses and babies (terrifying some of the other young parents-to-be who had just had ultrasounds). We left the class series early on, and ended up in a different class that was also not very good (not Bradley).

    I was sorry to miss out on the pain management training I’d hoped for. It seems surprisingly hard to find. I speculate that the focus on support from others (midwives, doulas) is replacing the older focus on control over one’s own breathing and pain management.

  13. Molly (Mike and Molly's House) Says:

    My sister-in-law just had a baby this past week. I forgot all that goes into having a baby. Also the guilt that can occur if you don’t give birth a particular way. My Dr. encouraged me to stand/sit however I needed to. The contractions hurt so bad after I would move I stopped moving–my pelvis was higher than my head! I refused to move so gave birth uphill!

  14. Revanche Says:

    I’ve taken pain management classes for not-pregnancy and I just stink at it. I should try the pregnancy version, maybe it’s better :)

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