Friday, July 9, 2010

Guest Post: Informative, empowering, and maybe even life-changing: How Bradley Method classes can help you prepare for birth and beyond

Jenny David is a local Bradley instructor who I have had the pleasure of getting to know on Facebook and at birth circles. I have found her thoughts and ideas to be unbiased, informative, and just downright wise :) She was more than happy to supply me with a post on this particular method when I asked - Thanks Jenny!

Allison and her husband Dave were looking for something different. They knew they wanted to prepare for a natural, unmedicated birth, but had no idea where to start. Their health care provider offered them information on the childbirth classes offered by the hospital where they would be birthing, but upon investigating further, they feared the hospital class would not prepare them for the birth experience they were hoping for.

“I read about The Bradley Method, and it sounded like exactly what we were looking for. So we found a local instructor, and we spent one evening a week the entire third trimester of the pregnancy in our Bradley class, and it was the best choice we ever made.”

Allison and Dave are not alone. While The Bradley Method is not as well known as some other childbirth methods, since its inception in the early 1970s, over 200,000 women and their partners have prepared for birth using the Bradley Method. For many of these women Bradley classes are not only informative, but empowering and can even be life changing. It’s not for everyone, but for many women and their partners, the Bradley Method is a great choice. Here’s why:

First of all, it’s important to know that the Bradley Method is unambiguous in its message that birth is a natural process and that for most low risk women and babies, the healthiest choice is usually to give birth without the use of drugs or interventions. Our bodies have innate wisdom, and are perfectly designed to give birth; however many of us are not yet in touch with our instinctive birthing selves. Many women who hoped for an unmedicated birth find that, when the time comes, they feel pressured to induce labor, or they are not able to cope with the intensity of labor and end up using the very interventions they were trying to avoid. It’s something many women, including Allison, have heard over and over.

“So many of my friends went into their pregnancies with the attitude that, because it’s a natural process, and women have been doing it for millions of years, they figure they’d just see how it goes. And most of them ended up with inductions, epidurals, and even c-sections. I thought there had to be a better way.”

And there are better ways. One is to increase our comfort in the natural process by understanding it thoroughly.

Bradley classes are comprehensive childbirth education, covering nutrition, exercise, anatomy and physiology of labor & birth, how to make informed choices about care, support and comfort measures for labor, breastfeeding, and postpartum care. Perhaps most importantly, women and their partners learn to use deep relaxation to reduce the fear and tension that can lead to unmanageable pain, and to help make the sensations of birthing more bearable. As with any hard work, the right tools can make labor go more smoothly. Bradley couples have many tools at their disposal.

Dr. Robert Bradley, the founder of the Bradley Method, likened giving birth to an athletic event and advocated a training regimen of sorts. For this reason, Bradley classes are 12 weeks in length. This time frame allows women to increase their fitness through excellent nutrition, conditioning exercises, and to practice a variety of deliberate relaxation techniques. The third trimester of pregnancy is spent preparing physically, mentally, and emotionally for the entire experience of giving birth.

Throughout the class emphasis is placed on empowering the birth partner with those tools to use throughout the pregnancy and birth, allowing them to take an active role in supporting the birthing woman through the birth process. Many couples find that taking a Bradley class together strengthens their relationship, fostering closeness and communication in a completely new way.

Allison remembers, “We started to look forward to our Sunday evening class as a chance to just focus on us as a couple, and on what we wanted for our baby’s birth. It was kind of like a date night, with the added benefit of really helping us to concentrate on the task at hand. When it was over, we sort of missed it!”

Of course, even though the Bradley Method was originally called “Husband Coached Childbirth,“ there’s no requirement that couples are married, that they are opposite gender, or even that they are a couple. All that is necessary is that a dedicated, caring birth partner is present to support the birthing woman. In Bradley classes, it’s not unusual for women to attend with their mom, sister, best friend or doula.

While birth is usually a safe and uneventful process, complications and unexpected situations can arise. Some of these possibilities are discussed in class, and couples are encouraged to develop a birth plan that facilitates communication with their care providers, enabling them to be active partners in all their care decisions. It was this process of taking ownership of her birth plan that Allison found to be empowering.

“It had never occurred to me before that I would have to ask so many questions. I guess I just assumed my doctor would tell me everything I needed to know. Once I started going to Bradley class, a whole world of possibilities opened up. I ended up having fantastic conversations with my doctor based on what I learned in class, and in turn I just felt so much more confident in my relationship with her and in myself. It felt good to know I had choices and that my opinions mattered.”

Allison and Dave, like all new parents, consider their baby boy’s birth to be a peak experience in their lives. “It wasn’t easy, and there were certainly moments of doubt, but throughout the whole labor and birth, I never felt afraid. I did experience pain, and I had a long labor, but Dave was always there, anticipating my every need and I know his amazing coaching was a direct result of what we learned in Bradley class. I birthed my son in exactly the way I wanted to, and it has made me feel like I can do anything. I am changed forever. And in a good way.”

There are several Bradley Method instructors in the metro Phoenix area. Class locations and schedules vary by instructor. You can get more information on the Bradley Method, (including a listing of local instructors) by going to Bradley Birth.

Jenny David is a Bradley Method instructor, birth doula, and freelance writer in the east valley. Visit her website at Valley Childbirth. She’s also on Facebook! Look for Valley Childbirth Support Services.

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