Contrary to popular beliefs, Lamaze techniques are no longer just about the breathing methods touted in mainstream media. Instead, techniques range from breathing to distraction to massage by a Lamaze coach/partner and beyond. Understanding these methods can help you feel empowered and better prepared for giving birth.
Choosing Lamaze Birth Techniques
Women who want to undergo a natural childbirth may find themselves inundated with information from the Bradley Method to the Alexander Technique. Lamaze has been a widely regarded practice since the middle of the 20th century. The Lamaze philosophy include the following beliefs:
- Women's inner wisdom guides them through birth.
- Birth is normal, natural, and healthy.
- Childbirth education empowers women to assume responsibility for their health.
The Lamaze method encompasses six practices for women to have a healthy birth:
- You should allow labor to begin on its own. Your baby will come when he is ready!
- Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary.
- Having the support of a partner, friend, or doula is essential. People who can offer love, reassurance, and encouragement will make the birth experience a positive one.
- It is helpful to walk, move, and change positions throughout labor. Freedom of movement makes it easier to cope with contractions.
- Squatting, sitting, or lying or your side can make it easier to follow your body's urge to push. If possible, you should avoid giving birth on your back.
- After birth, mother and baby should be left together to facilitate bonding. Skin-to-skin contact on the mother's chest or abdomen is especially helpful for breastfeeding.
Women who choose Lamaze birth techniques should understand these practices and be knowledgeable about the reasons behind the care. Although one tenant of the six practices is that no routine interventions are used, it is a common myth that practitioners of Lamaze cannot use an epidural or other pain medications. Instead, women are educated to make an informed decision regarding their birth experience.
Lamaze Techniques: Beyond the Breathing
Controlled breathing is an important technique in Lamaze. Focusing on breathing helps women manage the pain of contractions. Changing the rhythm of your breaths with the strength and length of the contractions is another method to cope with pain. Although breathing exercises are an important part of the Lamaze method, they are accompanied by several other exercises that can help ease pain and discomfort of labor and birth. These techniques can include any or all of the following:
Imagery and Visualization
One important technique is the use of imagery and visualization. Focus on something pleasant to engage yourself and distract your mind from the pain. Imagining the process using positive thoughts and feelings while visualizing the birth in a constructive light can be very helpful.
Relation techniques involve learning ways to relax the entire body; this also helps the woman deal with contractions. The progressive technique is a common strategy and begins with relaxing one body part at a time, like the toes, and continues until the entire body is relaxed. Some women practice this strategy throughout pregnancy.
Having a Lamaze coach/partner learn massage techniques can ease the pain and discomfort of the laboring woman. One of these techniques include pressure massage and another is lightly massaging the abdomen with the fingertips. The use of heat and cold can also be soothing.
Focal Point Imagery
This technique involves focusing on a particular place or moment in time and taking in all of the sights, sounds, and smells to ease discomfort. This may also include focusing on a particular person or point in the room; some women bring in an object from home to use. Concentrating on one object keeps the mind occupied to distract from the pain.
Movement throughout labor can assist in the birth. Moving into a comfortable position, such as upright or walking, throughout the labor process is encouraged and allows gravity to help move the baby downward. Movement may also distract you from pain as well.
Another Technique: Pushing
As Judith A. Lothian explains in the article Really Teaching Lamaze: What About Pushing?, pushing in Lamaze is not a directed activity. It is a natural response to contractions and the descending baby. Women should be encouraged to respond naturally by using techniques like the following:
- Moving, tightening, and releasing vaginal and perineal muscles
- Occasional breath holding
- Not using a prescribed "right" position for birth
Taking classes through Lamaze International can help expectant parents learn more about Lamaze techniques. Although hospitals may offer classes, instructors may be restricted on what is and is not taught by hospital guidelines.
Most doctors recommend first time mothers attend a childbirth or Lamaze class, where you can learn the following information and techniques:
- What to expect during your pregnancy and after the baby is born
- How to eat healthy while pregnant and breastfeeding
- How to curb morning sickness
- Vaginal and cesarean childbirth and alternative methods of birth, such as home birth and water birth
- Stages of labor and the signs of going into labor
- Breathing techniques
- Relaxation techniques
- Communication techniques with doctors and nurses
- How to be a good coach
- Coping techniques for labor
- Pregnancy and birth complications
- Pre-admittance to the hospital and possibly a tour of the hospital
- How to take care of a newborn
- Breastfeeding verses bottle-feeding
Women typically begin taking Lamaze classes in the seventh month of pregnancy. However, many communities find that classes fill up quickly. It is best to plan to enroll in Lamaze six to eight weeks before classes begin.
Lamaze for Single Moms
One of the goals of Lamaze is to make the baby's father feel involved in the birth process through his role as the birth coach. But you can still use these techniques even if you are going to be a single mom; your birth coach may be someone else who can still benefit from the education. Some of the topics Lamaze classes cover for the birth coach include the following:
- Massage techniques
- Comfort measures, such as hydrotherapy
- Relaxation skills
- How to offer labor support and advice
It is fine to choose a friend or other relative to be your birth coach. If you wish, you can discuss this issue with your instructor when you register for class.
Other Ways to Learn Lamaze Techniques
If you are unable to attend classes, you can still utilize Lamaze techniques. There are online videos that are available for you to use when preparing for the birth of your baby. You can also purchase DVDs and books.
Empowering Women During Childbirth
Learning about Lamaze techniques can empower women to make informed decisions regarding their childbirth experiences. Whether or not you use the techniques during actual childbirth, it is good to know the options available to help work through the pain and discomfort that comes naturally with labor.