When I was pregnant with Freya we attended a HypnoBirthing course in Kinross with Victoria Jackson, owner of Contented Births. I had a fantastic pregnancy but as time went on I became increasingly anxious about the birth itself; everyone I met seemed desperate to divulge their horror stories and I couldn't help but think there must be a more positive, whilst realistic, way to approach things. Victoria was a breath of fresh air; a mum of 3, clued up on the nitty gritty of birth and able to answer a zillion questions. Understanding the processes involved and learning the techniques and visualisations of HynoBirthing gave me confidence to trust my instincts and take an active role in my birth.
I was induced at 42 weeks, and 35 hours of active labour after my waters broke I finally got to meet Freya. I had been disappointed that a less 'medical' birth wasn't possible and had spent over an hour on the phone to Victoria the day before my induction started. She made me realise my birth could still be a positive experience and I had her supportive voice in my head the whole way through as I practiced the techniques during those 35 hours. I'm eternally gratefull to her and have often thought about doing an article on Hypnobirthing, but luckily I've gone one better and managed to convince the wonderful Victoria herself to explain what's involved in her own words. Over to you...
When it comes to planning for the arrival of a new baby, we often spend months researching the best prams, the safest car seats and Pinteresting the latest nursery colour schemes but what proportion of our time do we spend preparing ourselves for the birth itself?
Antenatal or Parent Education classes are often no more than three or four days and many parents-to-be find themselves growing more anxious about the birth the closer their estimated due date arrives. But how ‘prepared’ can we be for something that is supposedly out of our control? After all, many of us know that even the best-laid plans can go out of the window when it comes to childbirth!
HypnoBirthing is one antenatal programme that has increased in awareness over the last five years or so. Celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Gisele Bundchen and Fearne Cotton have openly raised the profile of these birth preparation classes. But what makes HypnoBirthing so unique?
HypnoBirthing is not only an antenatal preparation programme but a birthing philosophy in itself; birth is normal and natural – our bodies are perfectly designed for it! Not only can we prepare the body by learning useful tools for birth such as deep relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, massage and birthing positions, but we can also prepare the mind through positive thinking and visualisation.
HypnoBirthing helps couples understand that sometimes it is fear that stands between them and more comfortable birth. Fear instigates our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ survival instinct and causes tension in the birthing muscles which can stop them working as nature intended and can, in turn, create more pain and discomfort.
When we are deeply relaxed in labour, we release endorphins – nature’s own very powerful anaesthetic – and we also encourage the production of a crucial hormone for birth, known as oxytocin. When we are tense and stressed, we produce adrenaline and stress hormones which limit the important oxytocin and can cause labour to slow down or ‘freeze’. HypnoBirthing teaches techniques for achieving deep relaxation in pregnancy, labour and birth and eliminating tension, helping us to work with our bodies.
For first-time parents, a big part of our birth trepidation is the fact that we have no idea what to expect. Our minds have been programmed by TV shows and movies dramatising birth, or other people’s experiences. HypnoBirthing educates couples on the birthing process and goes through the different stages of labour highlighting what is happening to your body, how you may be feeling and ways in which you can actively help make things more comfortable and relaxed. It helps couples feel empowered and in control of their birth.
Some expectant mums come to classes looking for an alternative to the ‘One-Born-Every-Minute’ mind set. Other mums come with a fear of childbirth, perhaps due to stories they have heard from others or from their own previous experiences. HypnoBirthing helps couples overcome those anxieties and look forward to the birth with excitement and joy, which is a big part of the preparation process.
The course consists of five classes, each lasting around two and a half hours where parents-to-be learn various techniques and practise relaxation. Couples leave feeling really relaxed, refreshed and energised. It’s a lovely time to set aside each week to focus on the baby and totally chill out! But it’s also important to carry on practising at home - practice certainly makes perfect where HypnoBirthing is concerned.
The name HypnoBirthing can often suggest that these classes are a bit ‘alternative’ and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s only for incense-burning, tree-hugging hippies, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! HypnoBirthing benefits everyone and is very much complementary to the care expectant couples receive from their midwives, all of whom are very positive about HypnoBirthing and the difference it makes to women, their partners and their babies in the birthing room. The hypnosis element of the course is simply deep relaxation. You are always awake, totally in control and aware of your surroundings. Mums will be able to master self-hypnosis which means that they will be able to bring themselves into total relaxation in labour.
Most HypnoBirthing couples go on to have natural births but some of the most uplifting birth stories are from those who ended up needing a caesarean. HypnoBirthing helps parents feel in control and approach the experience much more calmly, whatever turn the birth may take.
The HypnoBirthing philosophy and approach is not just for low-risk women planning natural births. It can be hugely beneficial for mums who know they will need to be induced or even have an elective section, helping them stay relaxed in pregnancy, avoiding stress and anxiety and allowing them to take back control of their births and make them more comfortable.
Every birth is definitely different and we can’t ever truly know which path ours will take, but a positive birth experience is about feeling in control, staying calm and understanding what is happening every step of the way. By spending time preparing for birth in pregnancy, we can teach ourselves to easily relax in any situation and to learn to let go of the tension that is so counter-productive. Most importantly, we can really look forward to the truly amazing experience of welcoming our new baby in to the world – which is what it’s all about!