The Lamaze method was developed by French obstetrician Ferdinand Lamaze in the early 1950s and is one of the most common birthing programs today. You can learn this method by taking a series of classes. The goals of these classes are to help you get ready for labor and to replace any negative preconceptions about pregnancy and the birth process with positive feelings.
These classes will also help you learn coping and pain management skills for the birth. Participants and their Lamaze partners are taught relaxation techniques and breathing patterns to help ease the discomfort of labor and birth.
These skills are taught in classes over the course of six to eight weeks. Pregnant women can attend with their chosen Lamaze partner. Keep reading to learn about a typical series of Lamaze classes and what you’ll learn each week.
Your first Lamaze class will give an overview of the anatomical, physiological, and emotional changes that are part of pregnancy. It will focus on changes in the third trimester. Common topics and activities in the first class include:
You and your partner are encouraged to share your thoughts, fears, and feelings. You’re taught to trust each other and to work together.
Normal discomforts of pregnancy
You and your partner are taught to provide counter pressure for low backaches and pains by steadily pushing on your lower back. You’re both encouraged to discuss any discomfort you’re experiencing. Your instructor will teach you about different remedies.
The benefits of breast-feeding
Breast-feeding helps your uterus contract after childbirth. These contractions also reduce blood loss after delivery. The mother's milk immunizes the baby from childhood illnesses. The breast-feeding experience strengthens the mother-baby bond.
You continue to need additional nutrient-dense calories for a healthy baby. Brain cell development occurs throughout the last trimester and up until 18 months after birth, during which time proper nutrition is very important.
Changes in the third trimester
The first Lamaze class will also cover changes in the third trimester. As your body grows to accommodate the growing baby, you may begin to experience the following changes:
- You may feel a lack of energy or tiredness.
- You may laugh or cry easily.
- You’ll have an increase in blood volume.
- You may notice generalized swelling.
- You may need to urinate frequently.
The activity session for the first class may include progressive relaxation, positive affirmations, and positive imagery.
You and your partner can practice progressive relaxation. During progressive relaxation, you first contract and then relax each body part, starting with your feet. This process helps you recognize how your body feels when it’s relaxed and not tense. During labor, your cervix opens more easily if you’re relaxed.
You’ll also practice positive affirmations, replacing negative thoughts with positive images. One example is welcoming the contraction as you feel the pain begin.
You can also visualize the work of the contraction by using positive imagery.
During the second class, you’ll discuss:
- fetal growth
- fetal development
- fetal movement counting
- waking and sleeping cycles of babies
You’ll build upon the discussion of feelings about labor and birth that you explored in the first class. You’ll also review anatomical and physiological changes during labor and birth. Some instructors choose the second class as the time to show birthing movies to participants.
Special place imagery
A second relaxation sequence is taught during the activity portion of the class. Using special place imagery involves picturing yourself in a pleasant place and focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells of the special place. This technique helps you distract yourself from the pain and focus on positive feelings.
You’ll probably learn more about Lamaze's theory as well as fetal development and some breathing techniques during the third class.
The Lamaze theory
Your instructor will present and discuss the perception of pain. You may be encouraged to share what you’ve been told or believe regarding labor. A detailed discussion about what happens during birth can help demystify the delivery process.
As you understand more about the nature of birth, you may begin to see it more and more as a normal event. Childbirth preparation can help you and your partner trust more in your body’s ability to experience the birth of your baby positively. It can also help you and your partner to participate in the experience more fully.
Another focus of the third class is the developing fetus and its transition to a newborn baby. You’ll learn:
- how your developing baby is practicing breathing
- how your baby is strengthening and exercising their muscles
- when your baby begins to hear sound
- when your baby starts to develop sight
You’ll also discuss how alert and reactive a newborn baby will be in their first 30 minutes of life and that it’s often best to start breast-feeding while the baby is active.
Lamaze breathing techniques teach you to pattern your breathing to decrease the pain you feel. As each contraction begins, you take a deep, or cleansing, breath. This deep breath is followed by slow, deep breathing in through the nose and out through pursed lips. The focus on careful breathing distracts you and decreases how much discomfort you perceive.
Another breathing regimen is to pant slowly while repeating the sounds “hee, hee, hee.” Your partner will assist you, breathing with you and encouraging you. If you feel the urge to push before your cervix is fully dilated, you may need to blow out more rapid, short breaths. You’re encouraged to learn and practice these breathing techniques ahead of time, finding the ones you find most useful during labor.
The focus of the fourth class is active labor, which begins when the cervix is dilated about 4 centimeters (cm). Your partner will learn techniques to help support you in active labor. You’ll also learn about touch relaxation, which is a strategy to help loosen your muscles during labor.
As the uterus repeatedly contracts, the cervix progressively dilates. During early labor, the contractions are short and occur every 20 to 30 minutes. Early labor usually progresses slowly. When the cervix is about 6 cm dilated, active labor begins. Contractions will occur closer together and with more intensity. Labor usually progresses more rapidly. You may need help with focusing and dealing with the pain at this time.
As the cervix dilates to 6 to 8 cm, labor is intense. This level of dilation is sometimes called the stage of transition. During this time, you and your partner will work very hard to deal with labor. A jetted tub, rocking chair, or birthing ball may help you get more comfortable.
When your cervix is fully dilated, the first stage of labor is complete. In the second stage of labor, you’ll usually feel an urge to push as the baby descends into the birth canal. With each contraction you’re encouraged to take in a breath and push the baby down and under your pubic bone. As the baby's head stretches the vaginal opening and becomes visible, you can reach down and touch the baby's head to help you focus.
Your partner is encouraged to:
- breathe with you
- remind you that you’re doing a great job
- massage your back, thighs, or lower abdomen
- give you liquids to drink
- give you a cool cloth for your forehead
- be present with you
Touch relaxation is a technique to you’ll be taught to help you cope with labor pains. You learn to condition yourself to relax each muscle group as your partner touches it. Your partner learns to identify how you look when you’re tense and to touch the tense area to help you loosen the muscles.
During the fifth class, you’ll learn pushing techniques and strategies to ease back pain during labor. You’ll also discuss how to prepare for the first few weeks after you give birth.
You may find yourself involuntarily pushing as your baby moves down the birth canal. There are various techniques to assist this natural urge. You can take in a breath at the beginning of the contraction and slowly release the air as you push. This is known as the open glottis method. You can also take in a deep breath, hold the breath, and bear down with all the force you can muster.
Some women feel most of the pain of labor in their back. Pelvic rocking on your hands and knees or squatting can ease this discomfort. A hot pack or an ice pack on the lower back may also be helpful. Firm counter-pressure applied to your lower back by your partner can also provide some comfort.
You and your partner are encouraged to prepare yourselves and your home for the arrival of a new baby. A supply of easy-to-fix, nutritious foods are helpful during this time. You should learn to accept help from friends and family. You’re encouraged to nurture your sense of humor as you learn the skills of parenting a new baby.
The sixth and final class will consist of a review of the materials covered throughout the program. You’ll also participate in a labor rehearsal. An important goal of the final class is to help you understand that the birth process is a normal process.
The Lamaze method is just one program that can help you get ready for birth. Many people find the strategies and techniques it teaches helpful for the big day and beyond. A little preparation can help you go into labor feeling positive and confident about what’s going to happen.