When I found out I was pregnant, I soon started thinking about the sort of birth I wanted. As a reiki practitioner, I knew I wanted a positive and, if possible, spiritual birth; the idea of hypnobirthing seemed perfect for the kind of labour I wanted.
What is hypnobirthing?
The principles of hypnobirthing are to combine mindfulness and hypnosis for birth, aiming to remove some of the fear surrounding labour and give women the support and confidence they need to turn giving birth into a truly positive experience.
So many of the labour stories shared by women – our friends, family, and own mothers – are negative; we rarely share the positive, happy stories of birth as it seems much more entertaining to share horror stories. But giving birth is one of – if not the – most natural experiences humans go through, so let’s make it a positive one.
Hypnobirthing arms mums-to-be with the confidence to cope with pain, to aim for an uninterrupted birth (referring to inducements), and also to be prepared should your birth not go to plan, for instance if an emergency C-section is required.
The focus of hypnobirthing is on the connection between the mind and the body, and looks at how self-hypnosis can help birthing mums cope with the pain experienced in labour.
What happens on a hypnobirthing course?
I signed up for a hypnobirthing course, run by Mindful Mamma - an intensive, one-day course that I attended with my husband, Steve.
Mindful Mamma bases its teachings on the ideas of clinical hypnotherapist Sophie Fletcher, and her book ‘Mindful Hypnobirthing’.
The course looked at the physiological side of labour, and informed us about the impact of chemicals in the body on how we feel pain and why, and at what periods during labour these change.
A lot of the focus of the course was on the importance of oxytocin – known as the ‘love hormone’, as it is produced in the body during sex, social interaction, and bonding with your baby. We learned that oxytocin can’t be produced at the same time as adrenalin, so when your body goes into stress mode, adrenalin peaks and oxytocin dips. We then looked at ways self-hypnosis could keep those oxytocin levels high, and keep adrenalin at bay.
The thought of self-hypnosis is quite scary and seems very heavy-duty, but in fact the course showed us that it’s really very simple. It’s essentially a type of meditation, allowing mind over matter, where calming breathing and relaxation techniques can help you cope with difficult or painful experiences.
Hypnobirthing won’t suit every mum-to-be, but at the very least it will arm you with relaxation techniques to practise during your pregnancy, whatever might happen during your labour.
How hypnobirthing includes your partner
Partners often feel left out during pregnancy and birth, as essentially there’s little they can do, or so we normally think. Hypnobirthing can help your partner feel included in the process too.
The course we attended gave my partner tasks on the day, and practical approaches to help me through both pregnancy and labour. This included massage techniques, calming phrases he could say to me to put me in the right frame of mind, and mindfulness practices that we could do together.
The mums in the group also had to write on a Post-It note some of the qualities of their partners that they love, for the partners to then keep in their wallets or pockets. This was to help them too feel confident and loved during the process.
How hypnobirthing helps when your birth doesn’t go to plan
My plan was to have a water birth, in a calm room surrounded by comforting smells and sounds, practising my hypnobirthing techniques throughout labour. However, my body – and my baby – had other ideas.
On the day itself, my waters broke at 3am, five weeks before my due date. I’d barely had time to practise my hypnobirthing techniques!
Active labour then occurred in the delivery suite of the hospital, being monitored for my contractions and my baby’s heartrate, as we were so early. No water birth allowed. However, the calming techniques I learned through hypnobirthing helped me cope with this complete change of plan.
I had contractions for the next 28 hours, practising calming breathing, having no pain relief, until finally the doctor said the risk of infection for my baby was too high due to how long it had been since my waters broke, and because we were so early. The word Caesarean was used for the first time. This was the total opposite of my birth plan and I was very upset – but then I remembered how hypnobirthing wasn’t just aimed at having a natural labour, but a calm one, ready for anything – even if that was an emergency C-section.
Right up to the moment my baby popped out in the operating theatre, I was practising calming breaths and focused mind techniques. And when my baby boy was gently placed on my chest, I knew it was all worth it.
My birth might not have gone to plan precisely, but then whose does? Hypnobirthing allowed me to cope with the unexpected better than if I hadn’t had those breathing techniques and visualisation. A C-section was the last thing I wanted for my baby’s birth, however the most important thing was that baby arrived safely – and he did, albeit slightly early.