Husband-Coached Childbirth - Robert Bradley

Since Robyn and I are interested in natural childbirth (no epidurals) and alternative pain-management techniques, we were checking out classes on the Bradley Method (also called husband-coached childbirth). However, with her residency schedule, there was just no way we could make all the classes (which are also quite expensive). As an alternative, we decided to get the book from the library and see what we could learn.

I did get some good information from the book, including various exercises Robyn can do to help her strengthen the muscles needed during labor and what the various stages of labor will be like, so we know what to expect and how to respond. (For exercises, you can Google "pelvic rocking," "Kegel exercises," and "butterfly leg exercises." Something like that.)

Dr. Bradley got a lot of his ideas from animals, who seem to have much better instincts in childbirth and don't seem to have tremendous pain associated with it. So much of his explanations give animals (dogs and cats especially) as examples of how to behave during labor and birth. He advocates drug-free births, breast feeding, all the sort of natural things you would expect. However, he goes even a bit further than that: he thinks the mother should not use any drugs during pregnancy, but he also advises the father not to take any drugs (including cold medicines or pain relievers) for at least a year before conception. He also thinks that women would have an easier time in childbirth if they never wore underwear. Make what you will of that.

When we first went to see Robyn's new doctor and mentioned the Bradley Method, she said it's okay, but that they tended to indoctrinate rather than inform, and I can see from the book how that could be true. Instead of simply offering natural childbirth as a healthy alternative to the regular knock-'em-out delivery methods, he spends a great deal of effort saying how horrible your children will turn out if you do anything other than what he recommends. He tends to use the "what your doctor won't tell you" scare tactics, listing various problems your baby may have if you elect to have an epidural, from not being as healthy at birth and an inability to breast-feed as well to having serious relationship problems as adults.

There are some things that date the book—when it was first written, natural childbirth was much less widely accepted. Hospitals often did not allow husbands into the delivery rooms at all. So certainly things have changed since then.

Also, he goes to great lengths to convince you that the Bradley Method is the original natural childbirth method, and that all other methods are merely copies. Other people who claim to be the original are wrong, because he had been doing this for decades before they even started. Whether or not it's true is, I think, beside the point—if he thinks that only official Bradley Method courses will prepare a mother adequately for childbirth, then his ego is just a little too big.

A few other quibbles: the book seems to be ordered backwards in parts, with various things about the birth coming first, and then labor, and then all the exercises you're supposed to do during the pregnancy. Also, it's one of these books where you'll come across passages you think you've read before ... because you have. It's like he wrote a passage and liked it so much he decided to use it more than once.

Overall, I think the practical points of the book were useful, and I learned several things about labor and childbirth that I wouldn't have known otherwise. Most of the things that he recommends, I feel like they couldn't hurt, and very likely will be helpful. (Except for the idea that getting lots of sun is good for your skin—I think that bit's a tad outdated.) For the exercises and various labor positions, it would have been more helpful to have diagrams or photos; I'm guessing this is so you're more likely to go take courses. Some of the things Dr. Bradley says should be taken with a grain of salt.

Fed to jonathan's brain | July 26, 2003