What Is Lamaze?

The psychoprophylactic method of childbirth

The Lamaze technique, also known as the psychoprophylactic method, is a form of childbirth preparation that was popularized in the 1950s by a French obstetrician named Fernand Lamaze.

Lamaze teaches natural childbirth coping techniques, including comfort measures, relaxation, and breathing. Patterned breathing used to be the hallmark of Lamaze. Today, the method incorporates conscious breathing and relaxation, among other principles.

Here is an overview of the Lamaze technique, including how it's done, why it's used, and what the research says about its effectiveness.

Pregnant person lies on the floor while a childbirth educator holds a doll on her abdomen

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How It Works

The American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics (ASPO), now known as Lamaze International, was established in 1960 by Marjorie Karmel and Elisabeth Bing. As a nonprofit, its mission is to “advance safe and healthy pregnancy, birth, and early parenting through evidence-based education and advocacy.”

Lamaze childbirth preparation classes are taught by independent childbirth educators certified through Lamaze International. The certification is a three-step process that includes self-study, attendance at a seminar, and an exam.

Lamaze classes can be offered at a hospital, a doctor’s office, at someone's home, or another location. The classes generally last around eight weeks but can be slightly longer or shorter.

Lamaze Birth Practices

In Lamaze classes, participants learn how to cope with labor through breathing, relaxation, and comfort techniques. Attendees also learn about the process of labor and birth, interventions and medication, and the postpartum period.

The Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices

Lamaze draws on what are called the Six Healthy Birth Practices as the foundation of education, which are:

  1. Let labor begin on its own.
  2. Stay mobile and change position throughout labor.
  3. Bring a companion or doula for continuous support.
  4. Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary.
  5. Avoid giving birth on your back, and follow your body's urges to push.
  6. Keep the parent and baby together.

Lamaze Breathing

The famous “hee-hee-hoo” breathing technique, popularized by the media and pop culture, might be what comes to mind when you think of Lamaze, but the breathing pattern no longer defines the method.

When Lamaze became popular in the mid-20th century, patterned breathing was a unique coping method—as there were few options for laboring people other than heavy sedation. 

Over time, the organization recognized other techniques that, combined with controlled breathing, helped people manage pain during labor. The Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices have replaced the well-known breathing technique as the foundation of its education.

Current Lamaze classes teach slow, deep breathing without prescriptive patterns.

Why It’s Used

Fernand Lamaze observed the theory of psychoprophylactic childbirth (a method of pain relief that uses breathing and relaxation techniques) in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s. Using testimonies of people who had used the techniques, Lamaze popularized the method around the world.

Lamaze's curriculum is rooted in evidence-based maternity care practices. Facilitating normal, physiological birth is the foundation of Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practices. 

However, Lamaze is not only for people who want an unmedicated birth. Anyone who wants to prepare for the childbirth process—whether they are planning to use medication or not—may benefit from Lamaze classes.

Lamaze believes that no matter what kind of birth a person desires, being prepared can help boost confidence and provide a better experience.

Benefits of Lamaze include:

  • Having tools to draw on for relaxation and comfort during labor
  • Understanding the process of labor and birth
  • Learning how to self-advocate during pregnancy and childbirth

Lamaze vs. Other Childbirth Preparation Classes

There are many types of childbirth preparation classes, each with its own techniques and focus. Which one is right for you will depend on your childbirth goals and what you find most helpful for coping with stress and pain.

Medicated vs. Unmedicated

Some childbirth education methods are geared more toward people who want to avoid a medicated birth. For example, the Bradley method is information-heavy on the risks of medication and intervention. It fosters unmedicated birth as the goal for its participants.

By contrast, Lamaze covers the risks and benefits of medical intervention and medication, recognizing that an unmedicated birth is not the best choice—or always possible—for everyone.

Coping Techniques

Lamaze relies on a variety of relaxation techniques, controlled breathing, and other comfort measures.

Some childbirth preparation courses, on the other hand, promote unconventional techniques for coping in labor. For example, hypnobirthing, which uses self-hypnosis, is one such alternative technique.

Time Commitment

Lamaze classes last about eight weeks, while the Bradley method course takes 12 weeks to complete. Other methods offer their classes for as few as three to five weeks or can even consist of one or two classes over a weekend.

The Evidence

There is little evidence on the outcomes of births by parents using various childbirth preparation classes. However, there is some research that supports Lamaze as an effective method of education, preparation, and coping.

The following are two studies that have demonstrated potential benefits of the Lamaze methods:

  • A 2018 study found that Lamaze is effective in helping first-time parents overcome their fear and anxiety, be more confident about labor, and have shorter labors that result in a vaginal birth.
  • A 2021 study found that Lamaze breathing combined with comfort measures from a labor and delivery nurse increased rates of vaginal birth, shortened length of labor, reduced pain, and reduced postpartum bleeding in first-time parents.

A Word From Verywell

Lamaze is a popular method of childbirth preparation that uses controlled breathing and relaxation as tools to help people cope with labor. If you hope to have an unmedicated and intervention-free labor, Lamaze might be a good option for you.

Lamaze can also benefit people who wish to explore having an epidural or another form of pain relief during labor, since Lamaze covers this concern.

There is limited research on the effectiveness of childbirth preparation methods, but some studies indicate that Lamaze can be an effective method for coping with labor.

Talk to your doctor and other people whom you trust about the options for childbirth preparation classes.

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Article Sources
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