Lamaze classes have been around since the 1960’s and are a trusted, popular choice for childbirth education. However, these classes have seen significant changes over the years, and may or may not be the best option for you. Get the skinny on Lamaze pros and cons.
1. PRO: Lamaze classes affirm the normalcy of birth and encourage women to make informed decisions.
Today, Lamaze is all about evidence-based education and advocacy to promote normal birth. Per Lamaze International guidelines, all classes are required to include 6 key concepts, known as “Healthy Birth Practices.” These practices range from letting labor begin on its own, to the value of continuous birth support, to keeping mom and baby together after birth (1). The end goal is a safe and healthy birth.
CON: Many classes are taught in hospitals, which can introduce bias into the instruction.
Many modern Lamaze classes are taught in the hospital. Without the freedom of an independent setting, instruction may reflect hospital practice rather than the current best evidence. Not surprisingly, this is more likely when common hospital interventions such as epidurals and narcotics, eating and drinking in labor, and freedom of movement in labor are discussed (2). Do your homework before registering for a hospital-based Lamaze class. It may promote normal birth, or it may be bend to hospital practice.
2. PRO: Lamaze is no longer a “Method” or one-size-fits-all approach to birth.
Over the years, Lamaze has evolved from a “Method” to a “Philosophy of Birth” (3). Rather than learn a set of specific coping tools, women are taught to respond to labor using a variety of general comfort strategies. These include movement, position changes, and massage. Instructors guide women to relieve tension through body awareness and by actively, rhythmically working with their labor (4).
CON: A Lamaze class probably won’t teach you the old-school breathing techniques you were expecting.
Patterned breathing used to be the hallmark of a Lamaze education. Despite the proven effectiveness of breathing techniques in labor (5), these skills are no longer a part of class instruction. To avoid a “rigid” approach to birth, women are taught that right way to breathe is whatever feels right to them (6, 4).
Childbirth is a time when most of us feel an acute loss of control. Not surprisingly, many women like the structure and predictability of patterned breathing during labor. In the words of doula and author Penny Simkin, “Less guidance is not empowering or confidence-building when [a woman] feels she doesn’t know how. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water! Bring back ‘the breathing’ (7)!”*
3. PRO: Lamaze classes prepare couples for a wide variety of birth outcomes.
In the 1960’s, Lamaze classes focused on methods of natural childbirth. Since that time, technology has increased and the healthcare environment has changed drastically (8). Lamaze has evolved to meet the educational needs of a wide range of birthing options. Today, these classes offer an inclusive learning environment for couples planning a cesarean birth, an epidural, or a natural birth. You can expect that most classes will present the process of birth, basic techniques to cope with labor pain, and information on labor interventions.
CON: If your plan is a natural birth, there may be better class options for you.
If your goal is a natural childbirth, you will likely want to invest in a class that caters to a natural-birthing crowd. Classes like Kopa Birth®, Bradley Method, and Hypnobirthing offer plentiful instruction on labor coping tools. With typically small class sizes, you’ll have ample opportunity to ask questions. And, your instructors are more likely to spend class time on challenging skills that require 1:1 feedback, such as deep relaxation. One last perk: these type of classes help ensure that you’ll find a supportive natural birth community in your fellow classmates.
All childbirth classes have their pros and cons. Before committing to any one method, do your homework. Find the childbirth class that best fits your birth goals and philosophy. And enjoy the experience of preparing for the birth of your baby!
*If you’re interested in learning breathing techniques for labor, Kopa Birth® local and online childbirth classes offer instruction in both slow and patterned-paced breathing. Prepare for a natural childbirth in the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class to learn more about preparing for natural childbirth.
(1) Lamaze International. (2012). Healthy Birth Practices. Retrieved from http://www.lamaze.org/healthybirthpractices
(2) Lothian, J. A. (2001). Really Teaching Lamaze: Evidence-Based Practice. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 10(1), viii–xi. http://doi.org/10.1624/105812401X87995(8) http://www.lamazeinternational.org/p/cm/ld/fid=125
(3) Kushner, L. (2005). The Journey of an Early Lamaze Childbirth Educator. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 14(1), 22–29. http://doi.org/10.1624/105812405X23603
(4) Lamaze International. Position Paper – Lamaze For the 21st Century. Retrieved from http://www.lamazeinternational.org/p/cm/ld/fid=211
(5) Nichols F. H. Paced breathing techniques. In: Nichols F. H., Humenick S. S., editors. Childbirth education: Practice, research and theory. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders; 2000. pp. 271–283.
(6) Lothian, J. A. (2011). Lamaze Breathing: What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 20(2), 118–120. http://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.20.2.118
(7) Simkin, P. The Tipping Point in Education: The Price of Ignorance. Retrieved from https://www.pennysimkin.com/articles-resources/.
(8) Koehn, M. (2008). Contemporary Women’s Perceptions of Childbirth Education. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 17(1), 11–18. http://doi.org/10.1624/105812408X267916