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"gentle Birth" Techniques

One way that the process of labor can be made easier for the expectant mother is the use of certain techniques often referred to as gentle births, such as the Lamaze and Dick-Read methods of childbirth. Both of these became very popular in the early 1970s. Grantly Dick-Read believed that pain during childbirth is not inevitable but is the result of fear passed on from mother to daughter over the generations. Dick-Read stressed that by educating the woman about the birth experience, the fear of the unknown can be removed. In its place a more positive view about delivery can be substituted. In 1967 a French obstetrician, Fernand Lamaze, developed a method for childbirth he called "childbirth without pain." This popular technique usually begins in the third trimester of pregnancy when the woman practices breathing and other exercises with her "coach" (usually the father). These exercises are used during labor to help a woman control her anxiety and be able to relax and push at the appropriate time. By practicing the exercises in advance, the command or suggestion of the coach is quick in coming and easy to maintain at the time of childbirth.

A doctor holding a newborn baby boy at a hospital in Moscow. The birth was complicated because the infant's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Doctors had to push on the mother's belly and use forceps to get him out. (David & Peter Turnley/Corbis)

There are a substantial number of studies showing that prepared childbirth enhances feelings of self-esteem, increases the husband's degree of participation, and even strengthens the marital relationship. Whereas in the 1970s fathers were still marginally included in the birth of their children, it is almost the exception in the early twenty-first century when they are not.

What are the baby's first impressions of the world he or she is being thrust into? One French obstetrician, Frederick Leboyer, believes that the very act of being born can be a terrifying experience. In Leboyer's view, the violence of modern delivery techniques contributes a good deal to this "hell and white hot" experience.

The Leboyer technique involves a number of radical changes in the delivery procedure. As soon as the infant begins to emerge, the physicians and nurses attending the birth lower their voices, and the lights in the delivery room are turned down. Everyone handles the baby with the greatest possible tenderness. Immediately after delivery the baby is placed on the mother's abdomen, where the baby can start breathing before the umbilical cord is cut. After a few minutes the obstetrician places the baby in a lukewarm bath, an environment very much like the amniotic fluid. In this way the difference between the fetal environment and the world is minimized.

Is Leboyer's method better? Safe? Of the few studies that have been done, the results seem to indicate that babies delivered this way are similar to others delivered in a more conventional fashion. Whether or not there are any long-lasting effects will have to be judged after sufficient information is available about these "gentle birth" babies as they grow.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1Birth - Labor, Stages Of Labor, "gentle Birth" Techniques, Alternate Birth Centers, Midwives, Complications