During the early 1950's, French obstetrician Ferdinand Lamaze developed a method of pain management based on Pavlovian theory. Lamaze believed that birthing women are either inhibited or nurtured by their birthing environments and by those people who attend them. In the Lamaze method it is thought that there should be little or no medical intervention during labor and delivery, though women are taught about their pain medication options.
The main duty of the Lamaze instructor is to give women the empowerment to make educated and proactive choices about their own health and that of their babies. Lamaze classes train pregnant women to substitute positive thoughts and responses for any negative preconceptions they might have about pregnancy and birth. The women and their partners also learn coping skills for labor and delivery such as relaxation exercises and special breathing techniques.
Lamaze classes are taught over the course of 12 hours during a 6-8 week period. During Lamaze classes, couples are taught about the physical and emotional changes that come with pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. The couples are encouraged to trust each other enough to express their feelings and fears and to work together as a team to cope with labor. They are taught the Lamaze coping skills.
For the normal discomforts that come with pregnancy, the couple is taught how to provide relief for lower back pain by applying counter-pressure. Touch relaxation is taught as a method for coping with labor pains. The pregnant woman learns to respond to her partner's touch by relaxing the muscle groups in that area. The partner learns how the laboring woman's muscles look at times of tension and learns to touch tense areas to help her loosen the muscle groups in those places.
Some laboring women feel more pain in the back than in the abdomen during labor. Couples learn pelvic-rocking while on hands and knees, squatting, and counter-pressure as a method for relieving this type of labor pain.
Lamaze teaches breathing methods that helps the mother focus on and manage labor pains. Deep, measured breathing enables the mother to concentrate her energy on birth instead of using it to fight labor pain which may slow and complicate the birth.
While some women find Lamaze very helpful for the early stages of labor, teaching them about their options, and helping their partners feel a sense of inclusion in the birth process, others find it less successful for coping with pain during the later part of labor and may opt for pain medication. Some women may feel a sense of guilt or failure if they do decide to ask for pain medication.