The Lamaze technique is the most widely used method in the United States. The Lamaze philosophy holds that birth is a normal, natural, and healthy process and that women should be empowered through education and support to approach it with confidence.
The goal of Lamaze is to explore all the ways women can find strength and comfort during labor and birth. Classes focus on relaxation techniques, but they also encourage the mother to condition her response to pain through training and preparation (this is called psychoprophylaxis). This conditioning is meant to teach expectant mothers constructive responses to the pain and stress of labor (for example, controlled breathing patterns) as opposed to counterproductive responses (such as holding the breath or tensing up). Other techniques, such as distraction (a woman might be encouraged to focus on a special object from home or a photo, for example) or massage by a supportive coach, are also used to decrease a woman’s perception of pain.
In 1951, Dr. Fernand Lamaze introduced a method of childbirth in France by incorporating techniques he observed in Russia. This method, consisting of childbirth education classes, relaxation, breathing techniques, and continuous emotional support from the father and a specially trained nurse, became known as the Lamaze method.
Word of mouth spread in the U.S. during the late 1950s after Marjorie Karmel wrote of her childbirth experience titled, Thank You Dr. Lamaze. The book inspired many women to approach childbirth as a shared event for both mother and father, and as a natural part of life. In 1960, Marjorie Karmel and physical therapist Elizabeth Bing formed ASPO/Lamaze (now Lamaze International), a not-for-profit organization composed of parents, childbirth educators, health care providers and other health professionals, to spread the word about Lamaze and to set the standards for Lamaze childbirth educators.