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Birthing Classes: Which Style Is for You?

How to find a class that matches your personal philosophy of pregnancy and delivery.

Bradley Childbirth Method continued...

Bradley emphasizes what Coulehan calls an important life skill: progressive relaxation. "I tell patients, you'll use it during the labor process, but you'll also use it in life ... to bring inner tranquility or calmness in times of stress." (Stressful parenting, perhaps?)

Like Lamaze, Bradley informs you about wellness issues and natural approaches to birth along with how to handle worst-case scenarios. But it stresses trying to avoid medications and cesareans. Even so, Polan reminds prospective parents, "If your doctor says, 'I know you wanted x, y, or z, but you can't because there's a problem here,' you need to listen to whoever is delivering that baby."

HypnoBirthing and Beyond

A range of other classes and offshoots can also aid your pregnancy and delivery.

HypnoBirthing is a natural childbirth approach that uses self-hypnosis and deep relaxation, Coulehan says. It encourages women to use their natural instincts to enhance the birthing process. 

Birthing From Within focuses on staying aware throughout the birth, not focusing on a particular birth outcome.

The Alexander Technique can be used by anyone to promote ease of movement, flexibility, and coordination. These principles are great for improving comfort during pregnancy, easing delivery, and aiding recovery following birth.

Likewise, special pregnancy yoga classes can prepare you for labor and delivery. And if you'd rather not take a class with others, you can find instructors who teach one-on-one classes in your own home.

Birthing Assistants

Doulas and midwives are two professionals you may want to add to your childbirth team. "But it's not how many people you have with you," says Columbia University childbirth expert Mary Lake Polan, MD, PhD, MPH. "It's that they have a consistent and flexible approach to delivery."

Doulas vary in the training received, but they're not certified to perform medical tasks. They provide emotional and physical support, as well as information to help you make knowledgeable decisions before, during, and after delivery. "They're more commonly used when a partner is not available," says Jeanne M. Coulehan, CNM, MPH, a nurse-midwife also with Columbia University. Or a woman might enlist a doula's support when her partner is less than comfortable in the role of coach.

"I support patients who want doulas," Coulehan says. But she doesn't typically work with one, given that she provides similar advocacy services in her role as midwife.

Midwives receive two to three years of training in midwifery school and can deliver babies in most settings -- home, birthing center, or hospital. Most have also completed nursing training and passed national and state licensing exams. Midwives can request an epidural, give narcotics, and do episiotomies (a small cut in the skin between the vagina and the rectum), Coulehan says. They have obstetricians as backups in the event of an emergency.

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Reviewed on May 13, 2011

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