Bradley Method

Created by Dr. Robert A. Bradley, the Bradley Method didn’t become popular until after the release of his book, titled Husband-Coached Childbirth. Supporters of the Bradley method believe that both parents, acting as a team, can give birth to a healthy baby without drugs or surgery. The Bradley Method also teaches that there are steps that can be taken to keep the pregnancy healthy and low-risk and thereby avoid complications that could lead to medical interventions. The classes generally last 12 weeks, and are said to be more intense than other childbirth classes such as Lamaze.

The Bradley Method is a registered trademark of The American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth, a private, for-profit organization founded by Dr. Bradley, who died in 1998. The AAHCC claims its method is so successful that 86 percent of Bradley users have vaginal births without drugs or medical intervention, but critics say that no properly controlled studies have shown this to be true.

The Theory Behind the Bradley Method

The Bradley method emphasizes what Bradley called, “the six needs of the laboring woman.” These needs include:

  1. Deep, complete relaxation
  2. Abdominal breathing
  3. Darkness and solitude
  4. Physical comfort
  5. Closed eyes
  6. The appearance of sleep

The Bradley method also relies heavily on teaching the expectant mother’s partner how to be a coach during the labor and delivery. Different labor positions and comfort measures are practiced during the training of the Bradley method. The classes also teach that nutrition and “natural” pain management are the safest ways to avoid undesirable outcomes.

History of the Bradley Method

Bradley’s approach to birthing was inspired by his experience growing up on a farm and watching animals give birth to their young without appearing to suffer a great deal of distress (his acknowledgement of the influence of this experience on his work earned him the nickname “Barnyard Bradley” among some of his critics and peers). Watching how these animals breathed during labor inspired him to devise a similar type of controlled breathing for women in labor. Bradley also believed that the presence and involvement of the baby’s father was important to a successful birth, which is why the organization he founded is called The American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth.

Criticism of the Bradley Method

Many healthcare professionals believe the Bradley method is dangerous, and that the classes leave couples feeling alienated. Some women who have unsuccessfully attempted Bradley births even report that they were made to feel guilty after electing to use pain medications during their delivery.

Much of the criticism of the Bradley method centers on its perceived hostility toward doctors, hospitals, and the medical profession in general, and its insistence that women not be allowed medication even if the pain of childbirth turns out to be more difficult to handle than they expected. Many Bradley patients are taught by their Bradley instructors to regard any medical intervention (such as a c-section birth) as a failure on the part of the mother, and the chief of obstetrics at UCLA Medical Center once told the Los Angeles Times that he felt Bradley mothers were inculcated with unreasonable expectations of medication-free birth.

To some observers, there is even something vaguely cult-like about the atmosphere of the Bradley classes. Tracie Egan Morrissey, a blogger on Jezebel.com, recounted her experience taking Bradley classes in a 2012 blog in which she said:

“[It] kept making me think of Scientology and FLDS celestial marriages and Heaven’s Gate and then about cults in general. …[and I thought] am I being indoctrinated into a cult right now? A cult of psycho people who want women to embrace pain? I opened my eyes and looked around at the couples swaying against one another and making loud vowel sounds. Yeah, pretty much.”

In her article, Ms. Morrissey says she was given a list of things that she and her husband (or “coach”) were expected to do. She provides a PDF copy of this list, which spells out the husband’s obligation to “provide a sacred atmosphere,” and advises the mother-to-be to “breathe normally and send the breaths out through your cervix and vagina.”

Talking to Your Doctor

If you are curious about the Bradley Method (or any other form of natural childbirth), ask your doctor about it. Your ob-gyn has devoted many years of his or her life to studying women’s bodies and learning from experts the best, safest ways to bring healthy babies into the world. Here are some questions you can ask to start the conversation:

  • What is your opinion of the Bradley Method? Is it safe?
  • If I were interested in this kind of birth, would you be willing to have me as a patient?
  • Do you have any personal experience of Bradley births going awry?
  • Do you know of a hospital that is willing to accommodate Bradley Method mothers? Why are some hospitals unwilling to do so?

This page was last updated on 06/2017
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