20 August, 2020
What is Hypnobirthing?
‘We are the only species of mammal that doubts our ability to give birth’ – Ina May Gaskin.
So why as intelligent, informed women do we still doubt our bodies? Because we have stopped listening to them.
Hypnobirthing, in its basic form, is understanding how your body works during labour and birth, and how to support this process through controlled breathing techniques to manage the discomfort and to keep the mind and body relaxed. It is becoming more popular, but there is still some uncertainty around hypnobirthing and its credibility as a mechanism for helping to support the birthing process. The reason for this is largely due to the fact that we as a society have been conditioned from an early age to expect birth to be unbearably painful, which automatically creates a sense of fear around feeling this kind of sensation. This is completely counterintuitive to what our bodies actually need to give birth. If a birthing mother is frightened and stressed, the body tenses and adrenalin is released, slowing and sometimes even stopping natural labour. Instead, what needs to be encouraged is the body’s natural pain relief, endorphins and the hormone Oxytocin, which is responsible for the uterine surges (contractions). Hypnobirthing uses a range of techniques to manage the stress and fear and to encourage the natural pain inhibiting hormones that our bodies need to give birth.
There are different approaches to teaching hypnobirthing, all of which originate from the Mongan Method written over thirty years ago by Marie Mongan. Over time, some of the techniques have been refined but ultimately hypnobirthing teaches a woman about preparing her body and mind for a physiological birth with the least amount of medical intervention as possible. However, there may be times when medical intervention and drugs are necessary, or, wanted. Hypnobirthing should never make the individual woman feel like these are a bad option, instead, it should empower the pregnant mother to have all of the information regarding these options and allow her to make an informed decision. A birth journey is so individual, and women should feel supported to do what they are most comfortable with. Some methods lean towards a drug free birth, or don’t cover medical intervention but this is key information to ensuring the birthing woman is empowered with this knowledge should this become necessary, so that she can fully understand what is happening to her body and why.
The techniques taught will vary depending on what method your instructor is certified in but generally there will be a focus on breathing techniques that can be used in-between and during surges to maintain a relaxed, focussed state. Instructors will also go through coping strategies to disrupt the pain signals travelling from the body into the brain and how guided visualisation can allow the woman to ‘be’ elsewhere mentally, whilst retaining absolute control of her body.
One of the most important elements of hypnobirthing is the explanation of the physiology of giving birth and how the body responds at different stages of labour. In understanding this process, it automatically takes away the fear of the unknown because women are prepared for what should happen and when. For example, knowing how the baby’s head moves down through the pelvis compressing the colon and rectum, which then gives the feeling of needing a poo, and sometimes it happening, is completely normal and a really good sign that labour is progressing as it should be. Women worrying about this before birth creates tension, which leads to the unintentional tensing of the body when labour actually happens. If the body is tense due to stress or fear and labour cannot progress naturally, this is where medical intervention starts to happen. By remaining in a completely relaxed state and listening to the body and its natural indications of labour (and if there are no other concerns with the pregnancy or baby) the process of birth can usually happen without medical assistance.
It is important to recognise that the techniques that work for one individual might not necessarily suit someone else. For example, a woman might prefer to focus on deep breathing and find visualisation a distraction, where-as another might be much more visual and find that she can quite literally be somewhere else in her mind. Hypnobirthing sessions should give enough of a variety that allows the woman to pick and choose what works for her specifically. In addition, the broad range of information covered in a hypnobirthing class gives the birth partner the right preparation and confidence on their role during the birth. It can be frustrating as a birth partner not knowing what to do, but all sessions should involve the birth partner and demonstrate how they can support the woman physically and emotionally as her advocate in the birthing environment.
Hypnobirthing does not promise a pain free birth, every woman’s pain threshold is different and whilst some women can labour in comfort, others can feel more discomfort. This discomfort is something that shouldn’t be feared, it is a natural feeling that helps women listen to their bodies and when prepared properly, it can be managed to ensure the woman remains comfortable and in control throughout. Having control allows the woman to understand what is happening at every stage, so that if something unexpected does arise, she is prepared and can make a rational decision about her body and her baby, without being influenced into something she does not want. Hypnobirthing is about choice and empowerment and when used properly, is an incredibly effective method to help support and manage the journey of birth.
I feel very lucky to be able to say that my experience of birth was amazing. I felt calm and in control the entire time and I had absolute faith in my body’s ability to do what it was supposed to do. Hypnobirthing and regular training (modified as my pregnancy progressed) kept my mind and body connected and listening to each other.
My experience has made me incredibly passionate about giving other women the opportunity to have a positive birth experience. I want to support women to feel empowered at a time when they can be vulnerable and to look back on their pregnancy and birth journey knowing that all choices were theirs.
If you are interested in hypnobirthing or birth and postnatal doula support, then please contact me for more information. All sessions and support can be in person or over Zoom, depending on location.