Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way is clearly for people who want to give birth without pain medications or medical interventions. The authors, and everyone associated with the Bradley method, are strongly opinionated about the value of natural birth. If you want to have a natural birth, the method has a lot of useful things to help you. If that is not your approach, drop my “prepared for birth” rating down to a 1 because Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way‘s discussion of medical pain relief and interventions is completely outdated. If you are trying to decide if you want an epidural or not, I would also recommend looking elsewhere for more balanced insights.
I’ll be honest; I wanted to not like this book. While I am very supportive of families who want to birth naturally, I find the Bradley method judgmental and distasteful. Bradley-prepared families are often seen as rigid and combative, and women sometimes internalize a sense of failure if they do not birth naturally. I expected to find that Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way judged women who didn’t want to birth naturally. I suspected that it might also promote disrespect of the medical profession.
I was right about the strong advocacy for natural birthing, but I was surprised to find that the advice in Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way was actually very useful for those wanting to birth naturally. It is a close match to what I teach in my own classes regarding labor physiology. Their chapter on the “Emotional Map of Labor” is among the best descriptions of the labor process I have ever read in a book. The recommendations for preparation and nutrition are also effective, though represent only one of many good options for birthing techniques.
I did not find the author, Susan McCutcheon, to be hostile towards the medical community, but rather unapologetically clear about the mismatch between common medical practice and labor physiology, and educational about the shortcomings of the scientific basis for some routine practices. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way emphasizes how to be selective about the hospital where you will birth and who your doctor or midwife will be in order to pave the way for smoothly avoiding most routine procedures. I can’t agree with McCutcheon more – if you want freedom to refuse routine medical practices and birth with very minimal intervention or drugs (which is the Bradley way), you simply MUST do a lot of research and choose your provider carefully. If you do this step well, you will end up with a very supportive provider who doesn’t see you as “rigid or combative” but rather as “involved and prepared.” Instead of the frustration, anger, or “failure” that you may feel after a birth where your ideals are at odds with those of your institution, you will likely experience an intervention-free, un-medicated, and wonderful birth.
That being said, I gave Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way only a 4 out of 5 stars for ‘empowering’ because, although it does a great job with teaching you how to support labor physiology, it still has a strong emphasis on negativity and what to avoid. I find that less useful than a book that models a warm, uplifting approach focused on ability and vision.
With its last revision in 1996, Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way is outdated. You will need to turn elsewhere for up-to-date information on the benefits and risks of medications in pregnancy and medical routines, but the central themes in the book remain true.
If you desire a natural birth and read this book, allow it to be one of several sources of preparation. Read it to glean nuggets here and there rather than reading it as a best-practices how-to guide. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way paints one narrow picture of how women cope with labor pain – deep relaxation – which in reality is one of many ways that empowered, confident birthing takes place.
If you are curious about natural birth, but unsure if it is for you, Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way will also help you begin to think more clearly about different aspects of preparing for a natural birth, such as finding a supportive provider, keeping yourself healthy, preparing your mind, and building a team.
I have one final word of caution about Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. Somewhere between the lines in this book, you might sense that it is against families who don’t choose natural birth. It basically suggests you are a bad parent if you don’t give your baby the gift of a natural birth. I don’t agree. Strong families are built on a whole lot more than a drug-free birth. While the Bradley method may be wonderful for some women, it certainly isn’t for everyone and is not what separates good parents from the bad.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way’s Author, Susan McCutcheon
Susan McCutcheon has been a childbirth educator since 1968 and was in one of Dr. Bradley’s first educator workshops.