Mothers learning drug-free technique Bradley classes show couples how to relax during delivery

May 03, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Madonna did it. So did Melissa Etheridge and her partner. And now, hundreds of Maryland mothers-to-be, such as 40-year-old Annapolis acupuncturist Reina Sauer, are doing it too: taking 12-week classes to prepare to deliver their babies without drugs.

With her husband Terry, Sauer is one of an increasing number of expectant parents learning the Bradley Method, which shows mothers how to relax for painkiller-free labor -- and shows expectant fathers how to help them through it without too much stress.

The method, developed in the 1960s by a now-81-year-old doctor, differs from the four- to six-session Lamaze classes because students take twice as many classes, learn less about breathing and more about relaxing, and are encouraged not to rely on medication. Also, the husbands or partners are taught to be more emotionally involved during the delivery.

"They give you tons of tools on how to manage labor," said Reina Sauer, who took the 11th of 12 classes recently in the sunny conference room at Special Beginnings, a birth center in Arnold. "This is more about how to let go into the process of labor, and teaching you how to relax your whole body and let the uterus do all the work."

For a three-hour Saturday morning class with couples ranging in age from 18 to mid-40, Sauer wore loose-fitting black pants and a billowy sweater and, with five other couples who had notebooks and workbooks, she walked around the room with her husband holding her shoulders. She crouched on all fours. She rolled on top of a giant green ball. And she lay on her side, her legs wrapped around a pillow almost her height -- positions Bradley instructors say make labor more bearable.

"The goal for the couple is to be able to find their own particular way to relax completely on all levels so that when it comes time to have labor, they are not fighting with their body, tensing up," said Marianne Walsh, 31, who has taught about 25 couples the Bradley Method in Baltimore. "When women stay active and relaxed, the labors tend to be a little bit easier. When you tense against pain, it makes it hurt worse, so we try to break the fear-tension-pain cycle."

Nationwide, about 1,200 instructors -- most of them women who have had natural childbirth -- teach the Bradley Method to groups of two to eight couples. There are at least 15 teachers in Maryland, a dozen of them in the Baltimore area, and many said their own experience having children using the Bradley Method made them advocates.

That's how the Bradley Method was born. In the 1960s, Margie Hathaway of Denver wanted to deliver her fourth baby without drugs and with her husband present, but couldn't find a doctor who would do it. Then she found Californian Robert A. Bradley, who now lives in Florida.

"From the very first, I have included husbands in the birth team as coaches and minimized the role of the physician to resemble that of a lifeguard, who, when watching swimmers, did nothing as long as everything was going along all right," he wrote in a statement introducing the 1984 book "Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way."

Hathaway went to California to deliver her baby, then began teaching other expectant moms the same ideas. In 1965, she and her husband started the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. They trained teachers and compiled statistics showing about 90 percent who take the class can deliver without medication.

The Sauers say the less medical intervention, the better. Almost a year ago, Sauer was pregnant and had an amniocentesis, results of which showed that the baby might have the birth defect spina bifida. She had an ultrasound for confirmation. Although it showed no signs of the birth defect, she learned the baby had died in its 16th week, possibly because the amniocentesis had caused an infection.

"We wanted to minimize our risk of any medical intervention after the experience with the amnio," said Terry Sauer, 36, who will be at Anne Arundel Medical Center during his wife's delivery.

"It doesn't mean that complications won't arise, or the pain won't be [so] severe that we won't succumb to some sort of medication," Reina Sauer said. "But I think our chances are a lot better."

An expectant father's role

While the mother is in labor, here's what the expectant father can do to help, according to Bradley Method teacher Katharine Dowell:

If she's shaky, has chills or hot flashes during contractions, remind her these are good signs that the baby will be here soon.

Encourage her to visualize her body opening and letting the baby come out.

Don't confuse her moaning during labor as suffering.

Keep reminding her as she endures contractions, "each wave comes to the shore."

Offer her sips of water.

Hug or kiss her.

Massage her head and her hands to let her get rid of tension.

Try to keep unnecessary medicine and intervention such as an IV away if she's delivering with a doctor instead of a midwife.

Bring a little sleeper outfit and show it to her, saying it is what the baby is going to be wearing once it's born.

If the pain has her saying things such as, "I don't really want this baby," know that she doesn't mean it.

Realize that as the man and not the person in labor, you have to accept a certain period of helplessness.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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