What is Hypnobirthing? Why we need it and how it works.
Simply put, Hypnobirthing involves using evidence-based hypnotherapy techniques, along with relaxation, to aid with childbirth.
Hypnosis is a state of inner focus, allowing you to become resourceful and receptive to suggestion. It has existed in many formats since the dawn of time. It can be traced back to the Egyptian Sleep temples where people were cured of their illnesses. Much has changed since these ancient ages and Hypnotherapy has withstood the test of time. In more recent years, Physicians and Scientists have studied the benefits of Hypnosis for a range of conditions, giving us ample peer-reviewed papers, which has created a wealth of empirical evidence, to support its use within therapy. Hypnotherapy is particularly effective for managing pain and reducing the perception of effort, which is where it’s use for childbirth comes in.
Women have birthed their children since human life began. We used to treat this as a normal and natural process, much how animals still do today. So why has childbirth become such a worrisome task for so many women? In the early days, before the medical profession had refined their art, women would give birth supported by their female elders. These early ‘midwives’ had the knowledge and the experience to safely help their younger counterparts birth their children in a calm and confident manner. Around the 17th century, childbirth became more medicalised, and (especially in wealthy households) male doctors took over the deliveries. This is where things got tricky, the first few generations of surgeons performing these deliveries had poor hygiene practices and used dangerous instruments, often damaging mother and baby. Many women and babies did not survive the process of childbirth because of contamination and easily preventable problems. It became a life or death event and a lot of young, otherwise healthy, mothers did not make it home with their babies. Infant mortality was also at an all time high. As time went on, hygiene procedures became an expected standard, and forceps were invented, successful births became a more regular occurrence. Midwives regained their valuable place as support for expectant mothers and continued to help a lot of women birth their children at home. Smaller medical facilities began to be replaced by larger hospitals and community midwives who used to visit mothers in their own homes were phased out. This led to most women being referred to hospital for their child birthing. Over the last 70 years, this has now become the normal course of events for most expectant mothers. Although home-birthing is still available for those who request it, there is generally only a very small percentage of babies born this way in the UK. Because of this new ‘normal’, childbirth has become a highly medicalised procedure and interventions are a regular occurrence. Young women aren’t educated on what their amazing bodies are capable of, leading to confusion and fear about what to expect and during labour. Today, in America, 1 in 3 babies are delivered via c-section, and in Europe this is 1 in 4. Due to this high number of women receiving medical intervention, “long term morbidity after childbirth can be substantial and this is particularly related to instrumental and caesarean delivery”. The UK alone faces bills of around £2.6bn a year due to negligence, and worryingly, 70% of these bills are directly related to obstetrics.
How do we change this?
To sum it up, the change starts with you. Calmer, confident women who understand their bodies and are mentally prepared for their childbirth will have more successful outcomes. Women need to understand their own biology and their rights within the delivery room. The choice to be induced or undergo medical procedures are yours, although it might not always feel that way at the time. We as parents, of course, want the best for our children and the medical profession is an extremely valuable resource if things do not go to plan. But attitudes must change, mothers who are in control need to be listened to in the delivery room. We, as women, should be responsible for ensuring that we are confident in our bodies, minds and birthing abilities, one effective tool we have to achieve this is Hypnobirthing.
Hypnobirthing was developed in 1989, by Marie Mongan, as a method of birthing with relaxation, leading to an easier childbirth without pain medication or intervention. It is more than just pain management, it teaches you that your mind controls your body, so if you perceive childbirth as an easy and natural activity, then your body will make it so. It gives women the feeling of control, over their childbirths and themselves, taking away any confusion or fear about what is going to happen. Hypnobirthing lets you achieve full relaxation while still retaining a full awareness, allowing you to be in tune with sensations and have a calm birthing experience. Many women who use hypnobirthing report no feelings of pain, only pressure, as they let their uterine muscles do all the work for them. The real key to this way of birthing your baby is your ability to relax and let the body do it’s job, the uterine muscles are meant for pushing babies out, sometimes even performing evacuation all by themselves (fairly recently a woman who had been in a coma for over a decade gave birth- not a particularly nice story but one that shows what the body is capable of when the mind is elsewhere!). It’s important to understand that a woman’s body is especially designed to birth a baby with minimum effort for the woman herself, the reason this doesn’t often happen at present is because of fear. Fear of childbirth triggers the body’s stress response, aka the fight or flight response, and when this happens the parasympathetic system closes down and the body redirects blood and energy from where it is needed (the uterus!) and into the arms and legs! Although this would be a great response if, let’s say, you were approached by a lion in mid-labour, it does not really help us in today’s climate. When a woman is scared of childbirth, this stress response is triggered and all too often, medical professionals will then intervene… Cue induction, pethidine, forceps, and commonly, damage to the mother and/or baby.
But how do we achieve this serene calmness when we have been conditioned to be afraid?!
With a really good hypnotherapist! Make sure you find someone that you trust, who encourages you to discuss your fears and concerns, and treats you like the unique individual you are. Some ‘brands’ of hypnobirthing train their practitioners to read generic scripts and I have, unfortunately, experienced this first-hand during my first pregnancy! The trouble with this type of training is that the practitioner often has no understanding of what Hypnosis actually is (!) or how to orient someone to it beforehand, and when this happens it is really hard for the client to achieve the correct receptive and resourceful mindset imperative for a successful outcome. In my opinion, look for a Hypnotherapist that also treats other conditions, preferably with a reputable qualification, other than specific ‘Hypnobirthing’ training, and accreditation (as well as insurance!). Hypnotherapy is a collaboration, requiring excellent rapport and understanding, lots of communication and information sharing, along with evidence-based techniques and expectancy management. If you are unable to focus during Hypnotherapy or feel silly undertaking it, then you have not found the right therapist. A good Hypnotherapist will listen to you and design the session around your unique needs, inoculating your fears and allowing you to feel calm, relaxed and confident.
In order to change the way women experience childbirth in this country, we need to take responsibility for our emotional states and celebrate childbirth as a natural and normal process. The change starts with you and every pregnant person preparing for their labour from now. By sharing positive birthing experiences, learning excellent hypnotic techniques and passing the information down to our children, generation through generation, we can move away from this medicalised version of birth, which in a lot of cases does more harm than good.