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Pioneer in spreading Lamaze childbirth method in US dies

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NEW YORK (AP) — When Elisabeth Bing became interested in childbirth techniques in the 1950s, women were often heavily medicated, dads were generally nowhere near the delivery room and expectant parents had far less information than many do today.

Bing, the Lamaze International co-founder who popularized what was known as natural childbirth and helped change how women and doctors approached the delivery room, died Friday at 100 in her New York apartment, the organization said Saturday. The cause of her death wasn't immediately known.

Trained as a physical therapist, Bing taught breathing and relaxation techniques to generations of expectant mothers, wrote several books about birth and pregnancy and encouraged women — and men — to be more prepared, active and inquisitive participants in the arrival of their babies.

"I was certainly considered a radical," she wrote in Lamaze's magazine in 1990. By then, she noted, childbirth education had become common: "This so-called fad has been proven not to be a fad."

Born July 8, 1914, in Berlin, Bing fled Nazi Germany with her family for England, where she got her physical therapy training. Working with new mothers got her thinking about delivery practices, an interest she brought with her to the United States in 1949.

She learned about ideas advanced by some doctors, including French obstetrician Dr. Fernand Lamaze, for using breathing and mental preparation to manage labor pain without medication. She and the late Marjorie Karmel established what is now Lamaze International in 1960 to spread the strategies. (Bing gave birth herself at 40, going into a fast labor during which she was given spinal anesthesia and nitric oxide. She told The New York Times in 2004 that she'd gleaned that childbirth training wasn't about refusing drugs, but rather about teaching a woman "to help herself as far as she can go.")

Lamaze became a household word, woven into pop culture in places from a 1980s Bill Cosby comedy routine to the TV show "Friends" in the 1990s. Its signature classes involved both women and men, with the idea that fathers could provide emotional and mental support in the delivery room.

Over the years, the idea of refusing all painkillers during labor fell out of favor with many women, and some couples sought shorter birth preparation classes than Bing's six-week program.

Still, "I feel we have changed the whole attitude toward obstetrics and pregnant women, not necessarily technical changes, but the psychological and practical approaches to pregnancy," she told The New York Sun in 2004.

Lamaze International, which has about 2,000 childbirth educators around the world, now more broadly promotes healthy and natural birth practices and preparation. Bing's influence lingers there, as in delivery rooms around the country, President Robin Elise Weiss said Saturday.

"Even if people haven't heard her name," Weiss said, "she's impacted how they give birth."


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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