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.