What is Lamaze?

The Lamaze Method is based on the belief that pregnancy and birth are natural processes for which the female body is uniquely designed. Much like transcendental meditation, it is based on physiological principles. In other words, you don’t have to believe in it for it to work!

In essence, this method reinforces the ideas that women's inner wisdom guides them through birth, that the birthing experience has long-lasting effects on family life, and that childbirth education empowers women to make informed choices about their own health care.

When French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze visited Russia in 1951, he was impressed with the trailblazing work being done in "conditioning" by the psychologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov did research on "the conditioned response," which demonstrated that living things responded "automatically" to stimuli and events to which they became accustomed. In other words, they became "conditioned" to respond to familiar things in a reflexive and essentially non-thinking way. Lamaze reasoned that women, too, could be taught to respond to the contractions of labor in a similar way.

He had already begun to implement some of the teaching methods for pregnant women he had learned from Grantly Dick-Read (the author of
Childbirth Without Fear), and believed that he could introduce relaxation "conditioning" exercises that would teach women how to respond to the contractions of labor – before they got too intense.

During this time – when many women in the U.S. were being "knocked out" during childbirth – an American woman, Majorie Karmel, was living in France and was among the first to participate in the
Lamaze Method. She was so delighted with her experience that she wrote Thank You, Dr. Lamaze, a book that effectively spread the word about the method's philosophy of encouraging both mother and father to share in the birth of their baby.

In 1960, Ms. Karmel and physical therapist Elizabeth Bing formed ASPO/Lamaze (now
Lamaze International), a not-for-profit organization composed of parents, childbirth educators, health-care providers and other health professionals. Today, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators teach more than 150,000 Lamaze classes every year, which are attended by more than two million parents, representing approximately one quarter of American women who give birth.

In developing the
Lamaze Method, Dr. Lamaze used a multifaceted approach. With the goal of having women respond to contractions in a conditioned way – in other words, automatically – he devised a number of exercises that were designed to minimize anxiety and reduce pain.

At the first sign of a contraction, a woman focuses her eyes on a particular object (say a spot on the wall), thus introducing a visual stimulus that goes directly to her brain. Next, the woman takes a deep cleansing breath, followed by rhythmic breathing that maintains the same kind of relaxation introduced centuries ago in Eastern cultures. This is followed by a light fingertip massage ("effleurage") that the woman (or her partner) performs on her abdomen or thighs. The massage introduces a tactile stimulus that, again, goes directly to her brain. Finally, the woman’s partner provides a series of commands or verbal encouragement that introduces an auditory stimulus to her brain.

The result is that several powerful stimuli – visual, tactile, and auditory – rush to the brain before the pain reaches the brain. This "beats the pain to the brain!" When the pain ultimately reaches the brain, it is gated off and so less intense.

Of course, the experience of pain is a complicated phenomenon having to do with cultural styles, individual perception, and especially brain chemistry (i.e., the level of endorphins in each individual person). Some people can have root canal with no anesthesia while others wince when combing knots out of their hair! In addition, some labors are longer and more arduous than others and may require mild sedation or regional anesthesia (i.e., an epidural).

In other words, this is not "natural" childbirth, unless you’re giving birth in a field! And it’s not "painless" childbirth, unless you’re fully anesthetized, which is almost never the case. Rather, it is "prepared" childbirth in which knowledge of labor and delivery, practice of the method, and support during the entire process goes a long way to diminish anxiety, reduce pain, and make the entire event infused with excitement and joy.

At the heart of the course are three techniques which are used throughout the course of labor and delivery: relaxation methods, breathing exercises, and pushing during contractions.

There are three stages of labor, each one requiring variations in the Lamaze Method. The first stage is divided into three phases: early labor, transition (or hard labor), and pushing. The second stage is the delivery of the baby. And the third stage is the delivery of the placenta.

In early labor, the cervix is effacing (or thinning out) and beginning to dilate (or open up). The cervix must open to ten centimeters before a woman can start pushing, but by the time the cervix is three centimeters dilated, it is usually completely effaced. During this phase, labor is quite tolerable. The uterus, which is a muscle, is contracting regularly, at intervals that may start out at 15 minutes apart but then become more frequent. Contractions during this phase usually last about 30 seconds.

When the cervix is about four centimeters dilated, the contractions increase in duration, becoming more frequent and lasting about 45 seconds. At about six or seven centimeters, hard labor begins, with contractions coming every 90 seconds and lasting for about 90 seconds. While this is the most arduous part of labor, it is also the shortest, often lasting no more than one or two hours. When the cervix is completely dilated, the mother will feel a sensation of pressure that feels like she has to make a bowel movement. Hard labor is over! And she can now begin the one or two hour process of pushing the baby down the birth canal so he or she can finally meet Mom and Dad!

A "typical" first labor lasts about 15 hours, with subsequent labors usually, but not always, being significantly shorter. In another age, all this information was well known to women who, for the most part, learned about childbirth from their mothers and sisters and gave birth at home, surrounded by family members and wise women who provided comfort and encouragement through labor and in the days and weeks after birth.

Today, however, all that has changed. Many women live thousands of miles from their families and depend solely for information on articles, books, anecdotal tales, and the understanding they hope they’ll receive from a busy and overworked medical system. Many women have deferred childbirth until they’re past the age of 30 or even 35, when pregnancy may involve numerous sonograms, an amniocentesis, and lots of anxiety. Still others may not be able – for geographical, career, or health reasons – to take a hospital-based or private course in the Lamaze Method.

Having Your Baby!" solves that problem and offers women and their partners every facet of the Lamaze course on video, where they can learn "everything they want to know" in the privacy of their own homes. This includes not only the method itself, but answers to numerous questions related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Having a baby is the ultimate life-changing event. That’s why it’s a good idea to start your parenting journey well before your baby is born. "
Having Your Baby!" will help you prepare for this awesome experience.