The CDC reports that in the U.S. today, and many other industrialized nations too, up to 70 percent of women (depending on the state) receive epidurals, spinal blocks or a combination of the two during child labor. It’s believed that only around 10 percent to 20 percent of births are carried out naturally without medicated interventions. (1) The Bradley Method is a popular form of natural childbirth that uses the help of a coach/advocate along with various pain-reducing techniques to help moms deliver their babies without unnecessary intervention or drugs.
According to the Bradley Method website, the underlying belief is that “most women with proper education, preparation, and the help of a loving and supportive coach can be taught to give birth naturally.” (2)
This is essentially the opposite of what many women are led to believe today, the idea that researchers summarize as “pregnancy and birth are intrinsically difficult and potentially dangerous processes that when left to occur naturally, frequently result in poor outcomes.” (3)
The Bradley Method is all about viewing labor and birth as a natural process and having obstetricians/medical staff operate with a “hands-off approach” as much as possible. The method is usually taught over the course of 12 weeks through childbirth classes that ideally involve both mother and father (or another person who acts as the birthing “coach”). The Bradley Method aims to address all aspects of natural childbirth along with common issues that arise during pregnancy and afterward during the postpartum phase. The Bradley Method encourages mothers to learn to trust their bodies and rely on natural methods for birthing and a healthy pregnancy (such as support from a coach/partner, deep breathing, relaxation, nutrition, exercise and education) rather than modern-day drugs.
Who Created the Bradley Method and What Makes It Unique?
The Bradley Method of natural birth was created in the 1940s by Dr. Robert Bradley, an American obstetrician who was personally involved in over 23,000 births (more than 90 percent of which were reported to be unmedicated/natural). What draws many mothers-to-be to the Bradley Method is that it has an astounding 87 percent to 90 percent success rate for natural childbirth, which is very high in comparison to other popular birthing methods. Tens of thousands of families have depended on the Bradley Method for helping them deliver their new babies both naturally and safely, whether at home or in a hospital setting.
Some people refer to the Bradley Method as “husband-coach-natural-childbirth.” When birthing using the the Bradley Method, a woman receives support from her designated “coach,” and often the husband/partner plays a very active role in the delivery, helping keep her calm and aiding in postures or breathing that help manage pain. Other things that make the Bradley Method unique are that it teaches pregnant women about learning self-awareness, emphasizes the importance of relaxation and managing stress during pregnancy and labor, and advocates for proper nutrition during pregnancy followed by breast-feeding afterward.
Studies involving natural birthing methods like the Bradley Method have found that benefits associated with natural births can include:
- reduced risks associated with epidurals (such as prolonged delivery, dangerous drops in blood pressure, severe headaches and permanent nerve damage)
- reduced risks associated with cesareans (such as infections, scarring and excessive bleeding)
- greater involvement for the woman’s partner/newborn’s father
- more relaxed birthing environment and often a quicker birthing process
- quicker recovery time following delivery
- a much more bonding experience between mother and new baby
Sticking to a natural, healthy diet during pregnancy and then breast-feeding the newborn after delivery also offer numerous benefits, including better immune function for baby, lower risk for allergies, protection against postpartum depression for mom and a closer parent-child relationship.
Bradley Method Benefits
1. Stresses the Importance of a Healthy Diet During Pregnancy
The Bradley Method encourages pregnant women to learn all they can about healthy eating during their pregnancies, stressing how important this is not only for the developing baby, but also for the pregnant woman and the delivery itself. A healthy diet during pregnancy can reduce the risk for birthing/pregnancy complications, make pregnancy more pleasant and predictable, and even reduce pain during childbirth.
Of course, proper nutrition during pregnancy — like these superfoods for a healthy pregnancy — is critical for the developing fetus, helping ensure it can grow at a healthy rate and have the best chance for being born safely. According to the Baby Center website, along with a healthy diet that ensures mom and baby are getting enough calories and nutrients, many Bradley Method instructors also teach pregnant women about safe exercises to keep up with during pregnancy in order to make birthing easier. (4)
2. Can Help Reduce Anxiety and Pain During Natural Birthing
Births are safest and most successful when the pregnant woman is able to remain calm and in a supportive environment. Relaxation is one of the keys to the Bradley Method, which can help keep pain levels as low as possible by avoiding panicking and worsened muscle tension. An important aspect of training in the Bradley Method is learning all about stress management and pain-reducing techniques that can be used during natural birthing.
Deep breathing and “progressive relaxation” techniques, birthing positions, visualization, use of mantras, calming music and meditation are all commonly used to help keep the mother feeling calm and empowered. Sometimes birthing equipment, including balls, bands and a water tub, are also utilized, although every birth is different. Natural breathing is an important aspect of this method because it helps the mom learn to “tune in” her pain and work through it, rather than being scared of it (which tends to make pain worse) and trying to avoid it.
Natural childbirth using Bradley Method techniques can be done in a non-hospital setting, birth center or even at home. Usually women are free to move around, get in positions that help them feel comfortable, and use props in order to have more control and freedom. Safe practices, such as hydrotherapy, massage, warm and cold compresses, and visualization and relaxation techniques are often used with help from trained professionals like doctors, registered nurses, certified nurse midwives and Doulas. (5)
3. Considered to Be Very Safe
Wondering how safe the Bradley Method and natural births are? Consider the fact that humans have been having babies naturally for hundreds of thousand of years, and all animals in nature today still give birth this way. Dr. Bradley actually grew up on a farm and witnessed many live animal births throughout his life, and he came to the conclusion that human mothers must be able to give birth without drugs or distress too, just like all other animals do. Based on observations of mammals during labor and birth, he developed his unique childbirth-with-support method to teach women to do the same thing that all other animal mothers already do.
Compared to more popular forms of birthing today in the U.S., especially those involving epidurals and c-sections, natural births actually stack up as being very safe. For starters, the Bradley Method and other natural birthing techniques eliminate the long list of risks associated with epidurals and other labor drugs. The American Pregnancy Association reports that over 50 percent of women giving birth at hospitals in the U.S. now receive epidural anesthesia, and epidural side effects can include: (6)
- prolonged pushing and delivery
- drops in blood pressure
- severe headaches and ringing in ears
- numbness and loss of muscle functions
- difficulty moving and walking
- digestive issues, including nausea and vomiting
- urination issues
- the need to vaccuum and episiotomy (when the space between the anus and vagina neds to be cut)
- in rare cases permanent nerve damage
- trouble with breast-feeding afterward and higher risk for fetal malnutrition
Today, more one in four women in the U.S. is likely to experience a cesarean delivery, according to the American Pregnancy Organization. C-sections also pose many risks, although in some cases they’re necessary for safe delivery. The main problem associated with a caesarean section is that it doesn’t allow for bacteria to be passed from mother to infant during the birthing process, which happens naturally during a vaginal birth as the infant passes through the vaginal opening. (7)
Bacteria that the infant receives from the mother helps immediately colonize the infant’s gut and form the baby’s microbiome and immune system, giving the child a better chance at having a healthy beginning to his or her life. Following vaginal delivery, the infant’s immune system builds a tolerance to bacteria and has protection against immediate infections, plus a lower risk for conditions like autoimmune disease, ADHD and allergies over the long term. (8)
4. Has a Very High Success Rate for Delivering Naturally
The Bradley Method establishes a communication system between the pregnant woman, her coach and her team of doctors/midwives before the birth actually starts, in order to increase the chances that she will get to have the type of birth she desires once things get underway and become more difficult. Moms are well-prepared ahead of time about exactly what to expect during the birthing process, what’s “normal,” which symptoms will likely arise and how difficult feelings can be managed.
Childbirth classes taught using the Bradley Method go over the different stages of labor and set the scene for what can be expected during each stage of pregnancy. This gives the mom or couple the greatest power of sticking with a plan, preparing to avoid pressure to speed up the delivery or to take drugs if the mom doesn’t want to. At the same time, couples are also taught about options for needing to deal with emergency situations (like a cesarean, for example), which helps lower anxiety during the birth should that be the case.
5. Informs and Involves the Father/Partner
Something that makes the Bradley Method somewhat unique is that it also gets the baby’s father (or mother’s partner) very involved in the birthing process. Bradley Method childbirth classes focus on preparing, informing and teaching the father/partner how to play an active role in the birth — this way he can be an advocate/coach to help relieve stress for mom during the most difficult parts. Many women who give birth naturally using the Bradley Method report afterward that they “couldn’t have done it without him,” and that the coach’s support both physically and mentally is crucial for helping get through the birth.
While most women choose to have their husbands or partners trained as their coaches, this isn’t always the case. Some women feel more comfortable working with a sister, mother or professional, such as a Douala, midwife or trained nurse.
6. Teaches New Parents About Importance of Breast-Feeding
Bradley Method instructors help teach new parents about how to care for their newborns, especially why breast-feeding is so beneficial for both baby and mom. (9) Compared to synthetic formula, real breastmilk is naturally loaded with numerous bioavailable nutrients, bacteria, enzymes and more that newborns desperately need, and in the exact amount that’s appropriates for the infant to obtain. The biggest benefit to breast-feeding is that it provides critical antibodies that are passed on from mother to baby that help protect the newborn from both viral and bacterial infections. (10)
In the cases where natural vaginal birth isn’t possible (such as during a c-section), infants usually benefit even more from being breast-fed since these babies are born without passing through the vaginal opening and therefore don’t receive natural bacteria from their moms. Numerous studies have found that breast-feeding started very quickly after delivery gives the newborn the best protection against becoming ill or suffering from complications later during adult life. Not only does the Bradley Method go over tips for successful breast-feeding and solutions for potential problems, but it also informs parents all about their new roles and helps lower postpartum depression/anxiety associated with such a big life change.
Bradley Method vs. Lamaze: How Are They Different?
For most pregnant women, Lamaze brings to mind deep breathing and specific supportive techniques, making it seem very similar to the Bradley Method. The two approaches do have a lot in common, although there are also some differences:
- Lamaze is not always part of a natural birthing process, while Bradley Method usually is. It’s possible to use either method during natural birth, but most people feel that Bradley encourages non-medication more than Lamaze. (11)
- Bradley Method classes tend to start early on in pregnancy (around month five) since they last for about 12 weeks or sometimes even more. Lamaze classes can be attended later on during pregnancy closer to the birth.
- Lamaze birthing classes tend to be bigger than Bradley classes (which are usually kept to about eight couples) and are sometimes given in hospitals, while Bradley is usually done in private settings or instructors’ homes.
- While Lamaze classes also encourage a coach/partner to get involved, Bradley emphasizes the need for support more strongly.
- Learning the Bradley Method is usually more of a commitment and tends to last longer than Lamaze, which gives couples the opportunity to attend only one to two classes if they’d like.
- Lamaze was first created based on the belief that several practices help with birthing: allowing the birth to begin naturally without the woman being induced, giving the woman freedom to drink/eat/move around if she needs to, increasing the woman’s confidence in her ability to birth, and educating the woman about her options for birthing without medications.
- Overall, the Bradley Method is usually more involved and a bigger commitment since it includes support related to mental, emotional and physical aspects of birthing. For women/couples who want to be trained in breathing exercises for birth, but don’t plan to have a natural birth or don’t want to commit to a program that lasts several months, Lamaze can be a better fit.
Natural Birthing Precautions
Although they’re often very safe, natural childbirths are not for everyone, including some women with high-risk pregnancies and certain medical conditions. Ultimately, it’s up to every woman/couple to work with her doctor during the period of prenatal care to determine if natural birth is a good fit and if any risks are involved.
Special circumstances can sometimes make a natural birth too risky. In other cases, pain is too much for a woman to take, and she might decide to change her mind about “going natural” during the birth. While a plan is always very helpful, it’s important to be flexible as circumstances change and to reward the woman for her effort even if she does need medical intervention.
How to Get Started with the Bradley Method and Final Thoughts
- The Bradley Method is a means for natural childbirth that utilizes coaching, breathing exercises, nutrition, preparation and communication to deliver newborns safely with the least intervention possible.
- The Bradley Method has been safely used for natural birthing since the 1940s and has more than an 87 percent success rate.
- To find out more about Bradley Method instructors or classes being offered in your area, you can visit the Bradley Method website directory or call the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (the organization that Bradley founded to disseminate information about his method) at (800)-422-4784.