My Experience with the Bradley Method

My Experience with the Bradley Method

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This review has been a long time coming. Earlier this year, my husband and I took a 12 week natural child birthing course called the Bradley Method. It centers on an intervention free labor and birth, with a husband, partner or other loved one acting as a coach, guiding the woman through the childbirth process.

The classes are small (usually 8-12 people), which really helped to foster a sense of camaraderie among everyone. It was great being around other like minded couples who desired a medication free labor (This was a stark contrast to other couples I met, who asked How many Epidurals can I get? Can I get a C-Section?). Many of us still communicate on facebook and meetup every once in a while, which is great since we have similar child rearing philosophies.

The class is intense. Even though 12 weeks of classes (1 per week for 2 hours) seems like a lot, it was loaded with information. We were required to read several different books including the Bradley Method by Dr. Bradley, Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League. So many topics were covered on the woman’s changing body, nutrition, stages of labor, pain management and common hospital interventions. My husband and I were required to take a labor class at our hospital in order to get a tour of the maternity wing, and hardly any of this information was presented in the hospital class.

However some of the information presented seemed to be outdated, and the overall tone of the books and class seem to be geared towards distrusting your medical provider. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way in particular was disdainful of hospitals. A big complain I had was of the birth videos they showed in class. They showed a natural Bradley birth from a few years ago, but the video of the hospital birth video was from the ’50s and 60’s where they would literally render the mother unconscious. Of course these videos were horrifying, but definitely not representative of what a medical hospital birth looks like today. Many of the things the class advocated for and against were already standard practice (no routine episiotomies, baby rooms in, immediate skin to skin bonding, no pitocin to deliver the afterbirth, etc). Learning about these things were still beneficial, however the distrust of providers left a bad taste in my mouth. The class did advocate for informed consent, and taught both woman and partner to be involved in the decision making process. Perhaps I just had a more progressive hospital than other areas of the country. And of course, these things do unfortunately still happen (I have read some horrifying birth stories).

The class really gets the partner involved. They are required to do all the same reading, and in many cases had to know much more! The class emphasized it was the coach’s job to recognize stages of labor, and know what pain management techniques work in advance for the woman. It encourages them to be an active participant in the labor and delivery process rather than a helpless bystander. My husband was with me every step of the way. I really depended on him during late labor to get me through contractions (mainly by massage).

The pain management techniques were a big help. During the hospital birth class, they encouraged you to stay home until you entered hard labor, but they taught NO coping techniques. The Bradley Method was full of coping techniques, and encouraged practicing them before labor began. Massage, counter pressure, walking and changing positions were all highly encouraged. The biggest tip was to stay off of your back during contractions (indeed I found this more painful), but no mention at all was made during the hospital class.

The class also briefly goes over infant care and breastfeeding. I didn’t find this portion of the class as helpful (I have a BA in psychology with emphasis on children), but I know other people (my husband included) benefited greatly from this. The Bradley Method contends that medication interferes with the breastfeeding and bonding process of baby and mama.

When we finished the class, I felt informed, excited and ready to deliver my baby. My husband and I reviewed the information weekly and went over our birth plan. I was confident that I would be able to have a natural childbirth. After the birth, I felt embarrassed of our birth story and as if I had failed myself, my husband, and my son. So what happened?

You can read Ethan’s Birth Story to get the full details. I ended up panicking during transition and received a shot of Fentanyl, a narcotic pain relief drug, which took away the natural birth that I wanted. Although I didn’t have an epidural, I felt robbed of my natural childbirth experience. I spent 12 weeks preparing for a natural childbirth only to choke at the last minute. I failed.

I felt incredible embarrassed about it, and found myself making up excuses about why I got pain medication. I was convinced we had trouble breastfeeding in the beginning due to the narcotic (He was later diagnosed with tongue and lip tie). I rushed through my birth story at our class reunion. I didn’t want to share. Everyone else had succeeded while I had failed.

But I didn’t fail. I did nothing wrong. I did what I needed to do in the moment. I began panicking during transition, and tension can often hurt the labor process. Having the pain medication allowed me to relax and get some sleep (I had been up over 24 hours – not a lot compared to son, but enough to amplify my panic). When I woke up, I was immediately ready to start pushing. He was out in 20 minutes.

I didn’t fail at the Bradley Method. The Bradley Method failed me. The class emphasizes all the things that are wrong with medicated childbirth, so when I had some, I felt as if I was doing something wrong.

Overall, I am glad we took the Bradley Method Class. We learned a lot, and I couldn’t have attempted a natural childbirth without it. I just wish there was some addendum stating interventions in childbirth don’t make you a failure! We had a great birth story, and I have no reason to be embarrassed about it. After all, both mommy and baby were healthy.

Have you taken any childbirth classes? What were your experiences with the outcome?

(My birth story was in no way traumatic. My hospital and providers were great, and I suffered from no complications. This post is merely an exploration of left over feelings generated from a class focused on natural and non medicated childbirth. If you are experiencing birth trauma, I highly recommend seeking help. Solace for Mothers is a great resource.)


  1. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article!

    It is the little changes that produce the largest changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

    • Katherine

      I teach the Bradley Method. I often have moms who for one reason or another make the (right, for them) decision to request an intervention. There is no shame in that. I am sorry if you were made to feel like that. The most important facet is being empowered. Even if the whole labor/birth goes haywire if mom feels in control and a member of the decision making team she will come though feeling empowers. I do cover this in class. Life is not always perfect and neither is birth. Good job!!

  2. I’m glad you shared your story, although I am sorry your Bradley teacher did not discuss intereventions in a positive way. There are times when they are exactly what someone needs. 🙂 I taught Bradley for over 20 years, but have since stepped back, due in part to the things you mentioned above: outdated and horrifying videos, and sowing a distrust of medical providers. Keep the conversation going, this is all good stuff! 🙂

  3. amy

    Oh my gosh. Where do I even start. This was such a helpful and in depth article. As a first time mom, I’m trying to make the right decisions from the start about which classes to take and which classes won’t leave me emotionally drained. This was such a balanced review of that. I have been feeling uncomfortable with the fact that so many birthing support people/communities seem antagonistic towards medical providers and your article did a great job of sharing what you like and what you didn’t about the Bradley method. Thank you for taking the time to share!

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