We've all seen it on television, women huffing and puffing their way through clenched teeth during the act of childbirth as their birth partner dutifully holds their hand and tries to comfort them in one form another, all the while saying "blow, blow, blow." Well, what they're doing is practicing the Lamaze technique.

The Lamaze technique was popularized in the early 1950s by French obstetrician Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze who discovered the method on a trip to Russia. It started out using just breathing control in order to cope with the pain involved during childbirth. Today, it involves much than the simple breathing exercises. The emphasis today is on a combination of pain management through relaxation and focus and the traditional breathing exercises. The theory today is that a woman in labor can condition her responses to contractions through the breathing and imagery to minimize her pain. Lamaze classes, a sort of prep school for childbirth, also stress the importance of knowledge, preparation, and ones role as an informed patient.

With today's emphasis on "natural childbirth" and the discouragement of the use of drugs during childbirth, one might wonder what the Lamaze technique has to say on the subject. Well, the official line is that Lamaze technique does not take a hard line against the use of pain relief or anesthesia during labor; rather the technique stresses the importance of an informed decision. My personal experience (as a coach) is that the instructors during the Lamaze classes strongly discourage the use of both and, that if they are used, a certain degree of failure on the part of the woman is felt.

Okay, let's assume you and your partner have decided to give the Lamaze technique a try. Here's what you can expect during the courses. The typical Lamaze class consists of at least 12 hours of instructions. In it, the patient their partner will learn and practice relaxation, visualization, breathing techniques and comfort measures as well as everything you ever wanted to know about labor. This usually includes some very graphic videos of other couples as they go through the Lamaze method during actual childbirth. According to the Lamaze International organization, the classes will address:

Normal labor, birth, and the early postpartum period
Massage techniques to ease pain and enhance relaxation
Comfort measures during labor
Relaxation skills and breathing strategies
Labor support - tips for the "coach"
Communication skills
Problems that could arise during birth
Background on epidurals and other anesthesia choices to enable one to make the best choice
Breastfeeding and the early postpartum period

All that being said, how effective is the technique? Well, each year its estimated two million expectant parents attend Lamaze classes and that one quarter of American women prepare for childbirth with these classes.

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