In a nutshell, the Bradley Method is a preparatory course to equip you and your partner to have a non-medicated natural birth where pain is used as part of the process rather than something to be feared. It is touted as a husband coached method but the husband could easily be replaced by a partner, mother, friend, or sister.
The Bradley Method classes educate women and their partners about pregnancy, relaxation techniques, meditation, the childbirth process and how to navigate it, labor and delivery, how to advocate for yourself within the hospital setting, and what steps to take after the birth.
There is a lot of emphasis on creating a nurturing and comforting environment for birth, whether it’s in a hospital or at home.
It is generally a 12-week course, typically starting from the fifth month of pregnancy.
What The Bradley Method Teaches
It teaches you:
- How to relax during labor through a series of exercises that you practice beforehand
- How to create a personalized birth plan
- How to fully immerse yourself in the birthing experience
- What to expect in the different stages of labor
- How to deal with emergencies
- How to prepare for your new life with a baby
It teaches your partner:
- All of the above plus how to be a supportive coach
- How to create a safe, quiet environment for you to birth
- How to guide you emotionally
- How to support you physically and practically before and during the birth process
- How to advocate for you when you can’t do that yourself
The various exercises and relaxation techniques taught in the Bradley Method include self-awareness, breathing, massage, tension release and other practices that help you tap into your own rich and deep reservoir to manage the pain of childbirth. It’s comparable to hypnobirthing in that it puts you, the mother, in the driving seat and allows you a measure of control in the whole birthing experience.
Freedom from Fear through Preparation
Women have been giving birth for eons but it is only in the past 150 years or so that this normal process has been medicalized to the extent that women have become fearful of what is essentially a completely natural process. They have been taught that the act of labor and delivery requires multiple medical personnel, pharmaceutical drugs, fetal heart monitors, surgical instruments, and perhaps even surgical interventions like cesarean deliveries.
Women have come to expect drugs to induce labor, whether the baby is ready or not. They consent to more drugs during labor to hurry it along and to epidurals for the pain. They have come to accept being hooked up to IVs and strapped with fetal heart monitors despite the fact that these interventions interfere with the biological urge to move around during childbirth. They are resigned to the lack of freedom and control over their own birth experience.
What are the Bradley Method Exercises?
The Bradley Method strives to restore natural childbirth to its rightful position. It encompasses not only physical exercises but mental and emotional ones too. There are postural exercises and positions, passive and active exercises, stretching exercises, breathing exercises, visualization exercises, and meditation techniques – all geared towards helping you to stay calm, relaxed, and in control during natural and husband-coached childbirth.
Many of the exercises entail observation and inquiry – how are you breathing, where are you holding tension, what beliefs do you hold about your body and your ability to have a successful and natural birth?
Part of the mental preparation exercises is learning that the female human body is designed to give birth and knows what to do if you get out of the way. This is where the calm abdominal breathing comes in. Stress and anxiety cause us to breathe too quickly and only into the upper parts of the lungs. This causes an excess of the hormone norepinephrine, which makes concentrated focus difficult. Slow abdominal and rhythmic breathing calms you down and delivers more oxygen to you and the baby.
In the Bradley Method classes, you are taught to breathe calmly and naturally by observing the breath and quietly concentrating on inhaling deep into the abdomen. Coupled with learning how to locate and then relax any areas of tension in the body, this allows you to ride the waves of contractions during labor and delivery rather than resisting them.
The mental imagery techniques are designed to shift your attention away from feeling that the pain is unbearable and somehow wrong by shifting your perception about what is happening. If you learn what muscles will be recruited, when they will be recruited and why, you can have much more faith in your body’s ability to give birth exactly the way nature intended.
Examples of Bradley Method Positions and Exercises
The Bradley Method teaches you a seated position (tailor-sitting) and a squat position to accustom your leg muscles to being in the open position required by childbirth.
Additionally, squatting regularly and correctly prepares the perineum for childbirth by stretching it. The perineum is located between the opening to the vagina and the anus. During childbirth, it is under a tremendous amount of strain and can be subjected to a range of traumas from superficial tears to fourth-degree tears that need surgery to repair.
According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, “Up to 9 in every 10 first time mothers who have a vaginal birth will experience some sort of tear, graze or episiotomy.” Perineal tears during childbirth (rcog.org.uk)
Squatting makes the lower back and pelvic floor muscles more flexible. It also bulks up the tissue supporting the bladder neck, which is good for preventing urinary incontinence later.
All of this makes birthing easier and less painful than it would be without this kind of preparation.
Active Stretching for Labor and Delivery
Unlike the passive stretching of the sitting and squatting exercises, this exercise uses active stretches to strengthen the muscles that move the legs out to the side.
If these muscles are exercised prior to delivery you will be able to open your legs wide enough during delivery without undue tension and pain.
This exercise is definitely a team sport! Your coach works with you to provide the resistance necessary to gently and gradually increase the strength and flexibility of the abductor muscles in the legs.
Kegel exercises for birth and beyond
Kegel exercises are legendary for tightening and strengthening the pelvic floor muscle, the pubococcygeal muscle, also known as the PC muscle and often referred to as the kegel muscle.
From the Mayo Clinic: Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women – Mayo Clinic
- The exercise begins with locating the right muscles: The classic way to do this is by trying to stop urine at midstream. The pelvic floor muscles wrap around the urethra (as well as the vagina and anus) – if you can halt urine flow once it has already begun, those are the muscles you are using.
- The trick is not to engage other muscles at the same time, like those in the buttocks, abdomen or thighs. In this study, “Seventy-one women (71%) demonstrated at least 1 inappropriate accessory muscle, and of those, up to 50% of patients contracting 2 accessory muscle groups with abdominal muscles most frequently contracted at baseline.”
- Once you have the right muscles, you squeeze and lift them for a few seconds, then relax and repeat. Instructions from The Mayo Clinic suggest that lying down might be the easiest way to begin before progressing to doing kegels while sitting and standing. They also recommend pretending you are picking up a marble with your pelvic muscles.
After birth, you can pick up with Kegels again to increase healthy blood flow to the area and maintain the circulation.
Best position for Labor – the side
The side-lying position is the perfect position for whole-body relaxation. It ensures that all your limbs and internal organs are in balance and free of tension. A lot of the techniques for dealing with pain taught in the classes reference total body relaxation in a side-lying position.
This position allows you to rest during labor but unlike lying on your back, it allows the pelvis to stay open.
Just make sure that when you practice this in pregnancy the surface you lie on is firm enough to properly support you.
Practice, practice, practice!
All of the Bradley method exercises need to be practiced extensively so that when you are in the throes of labor, you don’t have to think about them because they will have become second nature. It also takes practice to build up sufficient strength in your muscles and pelvic floor. A strong pelvic floor provides a kind of platform that helps the baby slide out smoothly. A weak pelvic floor tends to sag, making the bay’s exit more difficult.
Even the side-lying position needs to be practiced. In the beginning, it might feel unnatural and uncomfortable if you are unused to lying on your side.
Your coach’s job is to help you perform the exercises correctly and often and then to make sure you remember to do them during labor.
There’s a lot going on in labor so it’s important that all the tools you have collected are rehearsed sufficiently during pregnancy for you to use them to good effect when you really need them.
Natural Childbirth through Relaxation using the Mind
Some techniques of the Bradley Method of pain management are similar to those of hypnobirthing where participants are taught to use visualization and imagination as the path to relaxation. One exercise might be to transport yourself to an imaginary place, like a forest, where you will feel completely calm and at ease. You learn to conjure up all the details such as the earthy smell, the hushed sounds of the rustle of leaves, the sight of the lush green foliage, and the vibrant plumage of tropical birds….Ahhh.
When you are in labor, you can go to this happy place in your mind to replicate the feelings of ease, comfort and contentment.
How is the Bradley Method different from conventional birth?
In the Bradley Method, the mother and her partner are a team. Both have been educated about what to expect and they take an active rather than passive role. The partner, as coach, plays an important role in helping the mother stay relaxed by guiding her through the exercises and performing practical duties like massage.
In conventional births, the mother becomes more of an observer and she defers to the medical staff to tell her what to do and make all the decisions for her. Her partner is often either absent or a bystander. No bright lights
Is the Bradley Method right for everyone?
No, the Bradley Method may not be the best choice if your pregnancy is high-risk, you have opted for a caesarian section, you desire a completely pain-free birth via medication or you don’t have the time to practice the exercises.
Does the Bradley Method guarantee a drug- and surgery-free birth?
No, sometimes medical intervention becomes necessary like in an emergency or when the baby and or mother are in distress.
Are there any downsides to the Bradley Method?
Embarking on the course takes a commitment in terms of time and money from the birth mother and her partner that might not be practical. The lessons may be unavailable in your area.
Women are under a huge amount of pressure to do the right thing, especially when it comes to birthing a new human being. Wanting to have natural childbirth brings its own unique set of challenges but it’s entirely possible with the right mindset and the right tools like the Bradley Method.
The keys to achieving the perfect birthing experience for you are desire, motivation, knowledge and preparation. Our program ‘Blessed: Hypnobirthing and Meditation for a Positive Birth’ is an easy to use iPhone app that can be used with any number of other methods to facilitate a joyous natural birth.