You know having a baby will be life-changing, so you might be preparing yourself by attending classes and Googling just about everything to do with childbirth. You might also be thinking about alternative pain relief methods and labour techniques, like hypnobirthing.
Preconceptions about the hippy nature of hypnobirthing? You couldn’t be more wrong. Our resident midwife and Hypnobirthing expert, Hannah Ewin explains that hypnobirthing can be for everybody, whether you are planning a drug-free labour, an epidural or having a planned c-section.
Ignore the airy fairy nature to the word, hypnobirthing very simply combines birth education with simple breathing and relaxation techniques to reduce fear (by understanding how your body was designed to give birth) which ultimately makes birth easier and more comfortable. People who have attended a hypnobirthing course tend to rate the level of pain they experienced in birth much lower than somebody who didn't do hypnobirthing.
How does it work?
In order for contractions to work optimally, we need a hormone called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is your calm and relaxed hormone and we have it flowing quite happily throughout our bodies most of the time. When we fall in love, make love or give birth, oxytocin rises massively. Oxytocin is the hormone that is responsible for contractions. If a medical induction is required, contractions are stimulated by a drug called Syntocinon (a synthetic form of Oxytocin). Another hormone that will affect contractions is Adrenaline. Adrenaline surges through our body when we are in our fight or flight mode. It's a life saving system that increases a heart to beat faster and pump blood to your limbs to enable you to fight the situation or run away. In the wild, Adrenaline may be useful for animals in labour if a predator was nearby as it stops Oxytocin from working and would allow labour to pause whilst the animal got to a place of safety. However, for humans, we really want to avoid any rise of adrenaline as this will slow or stop contractions. So we are either in our calm and relaxed place (Oxytocin filled state) or in emergency life saving mode (Adrenaline filled state). You cannot be in both states at the same time, like you can't go up and down stairs at the same time. Adrenaline inhibits the production of Oxytocin and so we need to avoid as much as possible anything that will trigger adrenaline.
Think for a second about what could potentially trigger you to feel anxious or on edge?
Feeling frightened about birth
Not feeling comfortable in your surroundings
Not trusting the person looking after you
Not understanding what is happening during labour
Not feeling in control
Privacy is something that all mammals (including us) seek in labour. If you've ever watched those programmes where somebody has given birth unexpectedly at home, which room is the person often found in? The answer is the bathroom! This is because it's one of the only rooms in the house with a lock on the door, it's a small space and often the room furthest away from the front door. Over the years, I have found myself in some very small awkward spaces with women giving birth. One lady even pulled her bed out from the wall and went behind it! It's also the reason that labour more commonly starts at night time. Most mammals labour at night where there are less predators. We don't necessarily have predators in our world but we're less likely to get our amazon deliveries arriving at night; so we expect minimal disruption and quietness. When I was training to be a midwife we had to deliver 40 babies and we were all desperate for night shifts if we were short of births!
So one of the first aspects of hypnobirthing is to educate you on ways to avoid these potential triggers of adrenaline and how we can optimise Oxytocin production.
Secondly, we teach you the importance of breathing properly during contractions.
The uterus is an organ made up of incredibly powerful muscles. In order for muscles to work optimally they need an oxygen-rich blood supply. You can easily demonstrate this by raising your hand above your head and opening and closing your fist. To begin with, it's easy to do, but as the blood leaves your hand, your arm starts to ache and it gets much more difficult to open and close your hand. If you hold your breath during a contraction or hyperventilate because you're scared, you are not breathing effectively and so the uterus is not receiving the necessary amount of oxygen to work efficiently and easily. Deep breathing reduces tension in your body, gives your baby lots of oxygen and makes contractions a whole lot more comfortable. Even without doing a hypnobirthing course, if you learn how to breathe effectively for birth it can make contractions feel so much more comfortable. I once cared for a young lady who arrived on delivery suite absolutely petrified and in active labour. She was asking for an epidural but as we waited for the anaesthetist to come I taught her how to breathe effectively. After a few contractions she changed her mind about the epidural and asked to use the birthing pool instead. She had an amazing water birth a few hours later!
Thirdly we use relaxation scripts to help reframe negative ideas about birth into thinking about birth much more healthily and positively.
Unfortunately, we hear scary stories from the media that birth is supposed to be this frightening, excruciating and helpless experience. Our subconscious mind then stores all of this information. Hypnobirthing involves going into states of deep relaxation to access and reframe those views within the subconscious mind. This is where the 'hypno' comes into 'Hypnobirthing'. Deep relaxations can be used to access the mind at the subconscious level. We all go into states of hypnosis throughout the day. Daydreams for example are a state of hypnosis, and we go into these states of relaxation as we drift off to sleep and when we are waking up. In a deeply relaxed state we are in an altered level of consciousness where we are not fully awake and not fully asleep. Listening to guided relaxations relevant to birth in a relaxed state can shift those negative ideas into positive thoughts about birth. We learn to trust our bodies’ ability and feel confident going into birth. Furthermore, the more we practice going into relaxation, the quicker it is to do. On the day of the birth, women use these relaxations to help them go into deep relaxation in labour.
These three elements of hypnobirthing combined will ultimately help you to feel in control by giving you confidence in your body's ability to give birth, educate you on choices that will allow you to feel more in control going through labour and teach you relaxation techniques to keep you calm in the moment.
I wish you well with your birth!
Midwife Hannah x
You can follow Hannah on Instagram at @birth_boutique for more advice and top tips.