Hypnobirthing is about experiencing birth in an atmosphere of calm relaxation, free of the fear and tension that prevents our birthing muscles from functioning as nature intended them to. Using breathing techniques and self-hypnosis, parents can mutually benefit from a programme that will help you overcome your fears and learn to ignore the traumatic stories that seem to circulate and scare us about labour.
Here we asking hypnobirthing experts everything you need to know, plus a M&B writer tells all about her hypnobirthing experience...
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.
What are the main hypnobirthing techniques?
Caron Newton, a professional hypnobirthing practitioner, told us all...
"Through Hypnobirthing, we teach women and men to tap back into their instinct for birthing. For the majority of women, we are able to both conceive and grow our babies, so why does birth have to be any harder? Using techniques of relaxation and breathing, along with positive images and words," she explains.
"I can equip clients to go into their birthing journey feeling a lot more positive and relaxed. We link emotional attachment with background music and words, through a series of repetition, which allows couples to associate sounds with feeling calm or even excited about labour."
"We all put ourselves into a state of trance on a daily basis i.e. daydreaming, fixation and this is the same feeling we aim to achieve in Hypnobirthing. A woman has to seek a conscious desire for change in order to achieve the mind and body connection, otherwise the mind will continue to draw you back to the negative, fearful thoughts that dominate. Women can naturally achieve a state of trance in childbirth - but the majority of women will need to learn the tools to allow this to happen."
Breathing techniques you need for labour
Breathing seems such a simple and obvious thing to do, it’s hard to believe that it can have much impact on the overwhelming sensations that come with labour. But amazingly, it does – it’s your path through your contractions, so make sure you check out our top breathing techniques for labour...
When in my pregnancy should I do a hypnobirthing course?
Caron suggests between 28-32 weeks into pregnancy, as "this will allow the couples time to practise the techniques learnt in the run-up to the birth."
"Although, I have taught it as early as 22 weeks for some mums suffering with anxiety, and as late on as 38 weeks for couples that have stumbled upon me late on in pregnancy."
Where does the idea behind hypnobirthing come from?
"One woman who played a part in the revolution of Hypnobirthing is Michelle Leclaire O’Neill, who wrote about the phenomenon of natural childbirth in her book published in 1987. Giving birth on your back, under spotlights, in a clinical environment, is not a natural way to have a baby," Caron explains.
"Janet Balaskas, founder of the The Active Birth Centre, has been working hard since the early 80’s, to educate women and health professionals to help women to find positions of comfort in childbirth. A relaxed, controlled birthing woman will achieve much more of a comfortable birth experience."
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.
If I use hypnobirthing, can I use pain relief if I need to?
Tamara, a hypobirthing expert, says: "We never say you can't use the drugs as this is always your choice but we do however find that many attending our classes have already made the decision to avoid pain relieving drugs if possible."
"There isn’t any one right way to labour and this is the same with hypnobirthing. It isn't about us telling you what you should or shouldn't do during your baby's birth but you choosing what’s right for you. We do recommend that women focus on the best birth possible and being comfortable during that experience because it never makes sense to 'rehearse' a negative outcome. But if someone attends a course saying they still want the drugs we wouldn't tell them that was bad."
"What's interesting, though, is that most of the time they don't need them. But if we'd said they couldn't have them they probably wouldn't have attended a course and would therefore have missed out on the wonderful benefits learning these tools can give."
"We also mention that you may want to add to your birth plan, in that, if you want pain relief you will ask rather than them offering it to you and therefore making you think about it."
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.
Giovanna and Tom Fletcher on Hypnobirthing
The pair revealed how they are huge fans of the birthing technique! Giovanna revealed in an interview how she discovered Hypnobirthing, "When we first announced that we were expecting our first child I had a handful of friends (who are all mothers) get in touch to tell me about hypnobirthing and how wonderful they’d found using the technique during labour."
‘Let’s face facts – we’ve all heard pretty traumatic childbirth stories (people just love sharing them – they revel in the horrified expressions they get in return), so I was ready to try anything to help get me through the ordeal… what I wasn’t prepared for was just how lovely I’d find hypnobirthing, and how it would change my whole perception on the day we welcome our little Crumb into the world.’