Before the 1970s, fathers were not allowed in the delivery room while their babies were being born (Larsen, 2007). Today’s parents-to-be can expect to work as part of a team with their health-care provider in preparing and planning for the physical and emotional aspects of childbirth. Obstetricians are medical doctors and midwives are nurses who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth care. In the United States during the last 20 years, the number of hospital births attended by midwives has increased to about 10% of births. Midwives typically work with women who have low-risk pregnancies and uncomplicated births, and often help coach the woman throughout her labor (Cantor, 2012; North American Registry of Midwives, 2008). Physicians have additional training in managing medical complications during labor and childbirth, and women who work with midwives need to have this care readily available.
Parents-to-be often participate in prepared childbirth classes that provide thorough information about medical interventions and the process of labor and birth. The classes also provide training for the pregnant woman and her labor coach (either her partner, family member, or a friend) in breathing and relaxation exercises designed to
Conceiving Children: process and Choice
cope with the pain of childbirth. Research has found that women assisted by a birth attendant during labor had fewer cesarean sections, less pain medication, shorter length of labor, and greater satisfaction with the birth experience (Campbell et al., 2006).
Approaches to contemporary childbirth began to develop when Grantly Dick-Read and Fernand Lamaze began presenting their ideas about childbirth in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They believed that most of the pain during childbirth stemmed from the muscle tension caused by fear. To reduce anxiety, they advocated education about the birth process; relaxation and calm, consistent support during a woman’s labor; breathing exercises; and voluntarily relaxing abdominal and perineal muscles.