Tools & techniques through pregnancy, birth & parenthood

5 min

When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn’t really think about any additional birth preparation. I took part in antenatal classes offered by the NHS, and I did pregnancy yoga as I couldn’t do my normal yoga routine any longer. I thought that I probably should keep doing some sort of movement rather than stopping it completely. Physical birth preparation is probably as important as mental birth prep, which is why pregnant women should always try to stay fit throughout pregnancy. That can be a daily walk, swimming, yoga, or any other form of gentle exercise. But how would you prepare mentally and is this important? Why would you do Hypnobirthing? Isn’t that the same as an antenatal class?

What does Hypnobirthing do for you?

A Hypnobirthing course is a complete birth preparation program, that teaches for one the psychology of birth: how your mind triggers the production of certain hormones during pregnancy and labour which can either disrupt the natural flow of your physiology OR can help it to work more efficiently (we aim for the last one of course). Hypnobirthing teaches you how to stay calm and relax on demand, to avoid the stress hormone adrenaline and support the production of good birth hormones (oxytocin and endorphins) instead, which are needed to reduce the reception of pain and also to make labour most efficient. Further, Hypnobirthing teaches you the physiology of birth: what happens during the birth process, what muscles are used and how they work, what baby does during labour etc. It basically teaches you how your body is designed to not only grow a baby perfectly, but also to birth the baby in a comfortable, easy, and efficient way. Hypnobirthing brings back our primal instincts: birth is a very natural and instinctive process for our body. As Hypnobirthing aims to reduce fear and anxiety associated with labour and birth, the concept behind the techniques is that a calm and relaxed mind promotes an easier and more positive birthing experience. Using positive affirmations, relaxation practices and focused breathwork you change the way you feel about birth: Hypnobirthing enables you to clear any negative messages around birth from your subconscious mind and allows you to create a positive mind-set. A Hypnobirthing course further makes you understand the maternity system, your birth rights, options available and how to make truly informed decisions – which is crucial in birth too, since it is YOUR body, YOUR baby, YOUR choice.    

Why does a positive mind-set matter for labour?

If we are honest, we all have a lot of worries, fears and concerns when we think about labour and birth. If I would ask you to write down the first three things that come to mind when you think about birth, you probably would come up mainly with negative thoughts. The reason for that is that our mind has been fed negative things related to birth such as TV-Shows (I mean what have Stargate Atlantis, Friends and Grey’s Anatomy in common? That’s right: some sort of stressful or traumatic birth scenarios) and negative birth stories all our life. The problem is that if we expect birth to be negative, it probably will be negative. To back this thought up I would like to share a bit of history:

Dr. Grantly Dick-Read was a British obstetrician and leading advocate of natural childbirth in the last century – for a good reason. He argued that with the absence of fear, the body’s natural endorphins can replace the stress hormone adrenaline that causes pain in childbirth. He wrote the most influential book about childbirth in 1942 called “Birth without Fear” after he had witnessed a few natural and calm births. One of the famous stories is that he witnessed a birth with a woman birthing her baby relaxed and at peace, refusing any pain relief. Afterwards the Dr. asked her why she refused the pain relief, because it must have been painful. She then said that it wasn’t and asked the Dr. confused if it was meant to be painful. Dr. Dick-Read discovered that the mind-set regarding birth and certain hormones in labour are crucial for the birth experience. The logic is that expected pain generates fear, which creates tension which, in turn, causes pain. The cycle would continue: if pain is experienced, fear rises which then creates more tension and leads to more pain. On the other hand, if you don’t expect pain and don’t fear birth and have a positive mindset about birth, your body will stay relaxed and will only produce good hormones which support an easier, efficient and more comfortable birth, which leads to a positive birth experience.

What has that to do with the hypnosis part?

So, to break the fear-tension-pain-cycle the use of relaxation and proper breathing techniques with the contractions are needed as well as support (by family/birth partner/midwife) and education about birth. We do not assume that everyone is scared of birth. But we all can get caught up in that cycle, if birth takes an unexpected turn or if you feel out of control, feel unheard, feel vulnerable etc. During a Hypnobirthing course we go into detail, how our mind works and why we cannot know if and when a moment of stress and the production of adrenaline gets triggered. It can happen to anyone though. To break the cycle and calm your mind and body on demand is then crucial. And this is what we do in Hypnobirthing:  women using hypnosis, breathing techniques and the knowledge provided in Hypnobirthing report feeling like they are safe in their birth bubble or somehow lost in their birth dream but still focused and absolutely in control. Being able to disconnect from anything that doesn’t serve you or isn’t needed in labour will enable you to focus on pure energy for birthing your baby. Self-Hypnosis techniques help you to reach a state of deep relaxation by disconnecting from your surroundings. A very powerful and unique element (not only) during birth that helps you also to break the fear-tension-pain-cycle, in moments of distress.

Can I not just decide to stay relaxed during labour?

Well, not really. Relaxation is a skill and needs a bit of practice, especially if you want to relax on demand in challenging situations or moments of stress. Relaxation is trained with some breathwork and hypnosis techniques, where you focus all your energy on your breath and your mind. The more often you practice certain breathing techniques to calm your mind, especially connected to some form of visualisation, the easier and faster you will learn how to relax on demand. Hypnobirthing makes use of so-called anchors. With anchoring you train your body to relax by making an association in your brain between the state of calm and an anchor such as music, positive affirmations, scents, voices etc. Repetition is key here - the more often you repeat positive affirmation, the more often you repeat breathwork and self-hypnosis practices, the faster and easier you will be able to relax and reach a state of calm within seconds.

Did you know that these cognitive techniques are not only used for birth prep, but also for other mental work such as grief or anger management or even to reduce anxieties or panic attacks e. g. quite a powerful tool.

Why is relaxation during birth needed?

Relaxation is needed in labour to support your own body and your baby too. If we hit moments of stress during birth, our body will produce adrenaline and will stop producing our good hormones such as oxytocin (making contractions more efficient) and endorphins (our natural pain relief). Our breath shortens, oxygen level drop and the blood will go from your uterus towards arms and legs – getting the body ready for fight or flight. Being in this kind of distress can have a huge impact on the length of labour by making contractions inefficient, feeling more pain, or making muscles tense that work slower. It can also put your baby into distress when oxygen and blood flow aren’t optimal. Relaxation is key during pregnancy and birth to have a positive and calm birth experience and to also stack the odds in your favor for a straightforward and easy birth. Often women end up being exhausted in labour as their tense muscles work harder than they should, as their breath isn’t ideal to save energy, as their body is just not working as efficient as it could be. Further down the line this can lead to interventions such as inductions, medication, assisted births or c-sections.

Final words

That being said, taking part in a Hypnobirthing course will not guarantee you a straightforward birth. It will not guarantee you a certain outcome. It can’t. Every birth is unique and can take unexpected turns. But it can train your body and mind to best support your baby’s birth. It prepares you for birth properly to have the most positive birth experience – regardless of if it’s a natural waterbirth, homebirth, assisted or cesarean birth. The knowledge gained and the tools given during a Hypnobirthing training will help you to stay in control of your own experience and to go into labour with complete confidence, for you both, you, and your birth partner - not just throughout labour, but also throughout parenthood. Relaxation practice will provide you huge benefits for gentle parenting as well.   

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