Most of the review of the various types of birth classes (hospital classes, Lamaze, Hypnobabies, Bradley Method) are written post-birth, which makes perfect sense. But I thought it would be kind of fun to split up my review of Bradley Method classes into two posts – one before birth and one after birth. After all, even if the method ‘works,’ I’m sure my takeaway thoughts will be completely different post-baby!
I thought it would be most helpful to share my thoughts in response to some FAQs that I’ve received…
What is Bradley Method? The Bradley Method is a 12-week course that teaches natural childbirth techniques and specifically focuses on the ‘husband-coached’ childbirth philosophy. Just an FYI, ‘husband’ can also be interchanged for boyfriend, girlfriend, same-sex partner, mother, father, and friend. One of the women in our class was coached by her mother, for example. Bradley Method was developed in 1947 so some of the terminology is a little old-fashioned; personally, I think the term should be updated to be inclusive. Anyway, the classes teach nutrition, relaxation techniques, pain management techniques, and post-birth baby care (with an emphasis on breastfeeding). The bulk of the courses is focused on learning about the stages of labor, what the mother can do to manage pain, and what the partner can do to successfully coach her through the pain.
What does a typical Bradley Method labor look like? If you’re going to the hospital or a birthing center, you’re taught to labor at home for as long as you feel comfortable doing so; the very general guideline that we were taught is to labor until your contractions are one minute long and three minutes apart, but if you show certain other emotional or physical signposts earlier, you may go in earlier. Laboring at home is a huge part of Bradley because this greatly reduces your odds of medical interventions. You learn a variety of active techniques to assist in calming yourself and having a healthy labor and delivery. Some of these techniques include: laboring in certain positions, moving around during labor, staying hydrated and fueled during labor, etc. (Side note: Gina from Fitnessista.com had a hospital Bradley Birth – here is her birth story: part I and part II.)
Why did we choose it? The Husband and I are hoping for a natural, drug-free childbirth. If it doesn’t happen for medical reasons, that is totally okay because, of course, the safety of BabyHTP comes first. But I recognize that in order to have a relatively intervention-free childbirth at a hospital, I need to specifically plan and prepare for one; most hospital births include a variety of interventions. Hoping for a drug-free childbirth may not be enough. I imagine childbirth to be quite the feat and didn’t really think I could just wing it – I wanted to feel equipped and prepared. The Bradley Method boasts a 86 – 90% ‘success’ rate of non-medicated vaginal births. I liked the emphasis on understanding the physical and psychological changes a laboring mother goes through; I think of myself as a very practical person – if I can say, “This is hurting now because my cervix is doing X, Y, Z,” it may help me deal with the sensations. I looked into Hypnobabies but didn’t think it was for me; I think you really need to completely buy into it for it to work and didn’t think I could go there (I’ve had friends use it with much success, though).
This ‘Husband-coached’ childbirth thing sounds a little weird. Shouldn’t you be in charge? I’ve gotten this question a lot! It’s not that the laboring mother isn’t in charge or has the ultimate say; it’s that the partner is trained to respond to her emotional and physical needs. He is also educated in common interventions so he can intelligently discuss non-emergency interventions with the birth team. In Bradley world, when the partner has this knowledge, he can support the mother through labor and help reduce the risk of interventions (the need for interventions can – but not always, of course – be triggered by fear and anxiety). Delivery isn’t just about me and the baby; to me, Kristien is just as involved, especially emotionally. I know it helps him to feel like he has a clearly defined roll.
What were classes like? Every Monday for 12 weeks, we attended a two-hour class with nine other couples. Classes were held at a local birth center. Most of the couples were delivering at the birth center; only three of us were having hospital births. Each class focused on a particular topic and were led by a Bradley Method-certified instructor (who was also a doula that has had a medicated hospital childbirth, a c-section, and a vaginal home birth – pretty neat); we held discussions, shared information, practiced laboring techniques and breathing methods, and watched movies. Not surprisingly, everyone at my Bradley class was ‘crunchy’ – alternative views about birth, vaccinations, and/or parenting – and that made discussions quite interesting. People were pretty open and non-judgmental. I voiced a few times that we were making more ‘traditional’ choices and never felt like I was being judged or shunned for it.
Did you have homework? Yes. Couples were expected to do weekly homework, practice the techniques at home, and read a total of three books (linked to below). I can’t say that I always did my homework… but I tried. Another important part of my homework was following the Bradley Method nutrition plan, which emphasizes eating whole foods and a lot of protein (to make the bags of water stronger, among other things). As a vegetarian, I struggled to eat the 75 – 100 grams of protein a day but really tried. Good thing I like eggs.
Bradley Method sounds like a lot of work…. It was. Bradley Method is definitely a huge time commitment, especially compared to one-day crash courses at hospitals. There were nights that I dreaded going to Bradley class and weeks that I skipped the homework. However, I think it was worth the time. It gives you a lot of time to ‘simmer’ on the concepts, get used to the philosophy, and talk it out with your partner. It also carries you through nearly an entire trimester of you pregnancy, and it’s nice to have that support. (FYI: Most people ended the class at 34 – 38 weeks).
That also sounds pretty expensive… It was. The course cost us $250 (roughly $20 a class), and we had to buy three books, which cost another $30 or so. Ouch.
Do you think it was worth it? Do you think it will work? I definitely think it was worth it. Regardless of how birth goes, we both feel so much more educated about childbirth. For me, a large motivation for taking any birth class was simply to become more confident about labor. I still have moments that I’m scared of labor, but more often than not, I now look forward to the experience <—a big change from how I felt at the beginning of class! Thanks to Bradley, I think I have really realistic and flexible expectations about natural childbirth and delivering with midwives in a hospital setting. Regarding whether it will ‘work,’ the 86 – 90% success rate makes me hopeful! But who really knows what will happen in the next few weeks? A lot of it depends on things that I have zero control over, but that’s how any birth is, really.
I’m interested in the Bradley philosophy but can’t afford the 12-week course / don’t have the time / there isn’t an instructor near me. Thoughts? I think the classes are helpful because it really encourages discussion between you and your spouse. If you’re an auditory learner (like the Husband), the classroom setting may be helpful. If you’re bad at keeping up with homework (like me), having someone else hold you accountable is helpful. But if you can’t attend a real-life class, I think there are two really great books that you can pick up and read. We were assigned three books, but the Husband was only responsible for reading the third – Husband-Coached Childbirth. I don’t think he really loved it and found it was full of lots of extraneous information. However, we both enjoyed the other two books. If you can’t do classes, you really should pick up these two books and study them.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger
Although this isn’t a Bradley book, I also really liked Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and would highly recommend it!
A word from HTP Sponsors:
Before and during the birth of your child its important to have the most comfortable antenatal care available to you. Although a pregnancy is exciting it can also be a stressful experience for you and loved ones. Many people opt to stay in one of a number of private hospitals in Manchester where you can be assured of a relaxed stay during your pregnancy.
Did you take a childbirth class? What kind? Did you think it was helpful practically and emotionally? What was your biggest takeaway?