Kate has kindly shared her story with us and unlike many of the birth stories we receive Kate didn’t take one of our classes. She did however listen to the audio book of ‘Mindful Hypnobirthing’.
Here is her story….
“My hypnobirthing story! I’m not sure if I’d recommend hypnobirthing or not mainly because I was so calm I had an unplanned home birth!
I was monitored more in my second pregnancy due to high blood pressure during my 1st labour where I was given lots of medication, had a very stressful labour and suffered with PND for months after. I knew my raised blood pressure was white coat syndrome and panic not pre-eclampsia but doctors would not agree.
I decided to use Sophie’s hypnobirthing audio book so I could listen to it before and during hospital appointments and labour, it worked so well got signed off to give birth in the birthing centre and was delighted as I could try a water birth and less intervention.
My baby had still not arrived at 41weeks and a induction date was looming, I kept calm listening to the book and making a visualisation board and phrases, I was so calm I agreed to my husband having a work night out an hour away!
I went to my mums house so I wasn’t alone just incase and my 3yr old could stay the night. I started getting a little uncomfortable about 7pm and had a bath, sat on my birth in ball and listened to the book, by 9pm I was calm and talking to my parents but asked my husband to come home and get me on the way. We arrived home at 11pm and I had a shower, contractions started and we decided to time them! 5mins apart 1min long. So we called the birthing centre who suggested having a bath as my waters hadn’t broken.
In the bath my contractions became intense and continuous so I got out and dressed to go in. By the time I got downstairs I needed to push! Yes really called my husband down as he was getting the hospital bags. Laid on the sofa we could feel her head and sac still intact so he called an ambulance which arrived 7 minutes later and my 6lb 12oz baby girl was born in her waters 6mins after they arrived!
I felt calm, in control and concentrated on my breathing and visualisations so managed without any pain relief in a rather quick and unplanned home birth . Baby Daisy is now 5 months old and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it this time. Even now when I hear Sophie’s voice I feel a sense of calm “
Encompassing eye-opening, penny-dropping birth education, simple and effective hypnobirthing techniques, local birth-setting and hospital protocol knowledge, and a “how to” navigate your way through it confidently section!
Whether you are first-time parents or not; whether you want a VBAC; whether you are a single-mum, an “old” mum, an IVF mum; whether you want your birth at home or hospital – whatever your circumstances or preferences, you will be pleased you did this workshop.
What better way to start heading towards your empowered birth, and to start growing your “village” with other like-minded people? As the old African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child.”
The full price of the workshop is £130. The deposit of £30 payable online when you book your space. The balance to be paid at least 7 days before the event.
Hannah attended one of our classes in early 2016 and here she shares the story of her daughter’s birth in March and how the mindful hypnobirthing techniques she learnt in class along with the mp3s helped her throughout her labour…
Hannah’s Story – the birth of Amelia Grace
I just want to say that I was told about hypno birthing by my sister in law who practised it for both of her children and they are both really good sleepers and so I thought if that could be the route to a peaceful nights sleep then I was willing to give it a go!
My husband and I attended the course probably just under half way through my pregnancy and I then tried to listen to the downloads about three or four times a week and more towards the end of the pregnancy as this really helped me to relax.
My labour started on Monday 14th March which was a week past my due date. My surges were coming on a regular basis for about five hours and I was listening to the tracks in the hospital room and really in my birth zone but then they slowed right down until we got to a point where they suggested I either went home or onto a ward. I didn’t want to be sat on a ward when I could go back home and relax in my own surroundings, so this is what we chose to do.
My surges then started on a more regular basis about 10pm and we called the hospital about midnight, only to find that not only was the hospital that I was meant to going back to was closed but so too was the other main hospital in the city which meant we had to go to a hospital that was 30 minute drive away! Whilst speaking to one of the coordinators she said that from speaking to me on the phone I seemed quite calm and she just didn’t think I was dealing with the pain very well and thought from speaking to me that I was only about 3cm dilated. My husband then spoke to her and said that I had been practising hypno birthing and that I was saying that I was ready to push so he would like to get me to a hospital all the same!
My husband put the tracks on in the car – much to me telling him not to but this really helped keep me in my zone and really calm and relaxed.
We were welcomed into the most calm and relaxing atmosphere and I was able to use their one and only pool room. They did ask to inspect me and I said at this stage I was happy for them to do so and I was fully dilated!
The midwife we had was amazing and knew all about hypno birthing and completely left my husband and I to it and literally sat at the back of the room and just checked on the babies heartbeat every now and again which I was happy for them to do. She had a junior doctor with her and she informed him of what the NICE guidelines were but what they were going to do differently because of us practising hypno birthing. Amelia Grace was born at 5.30am with me only having had 4 paracetamol and 2 codeine, a tens machine for when I was out of the water for my surges and then the water for the majority of the labour.
The hypno birthing practise that I did meant that I was fully in control of the birth that I wanted to have and made it a very calm and dare I say it, pleasant experience!
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to use this amazing technique to bring the best out in me and to have safely brought our daughter into the world- and best of all- so far, she is a great sleeper!!
This blog is written by Guinevere Webster, Clinical Psychologist and Mindful Mamma practitioner for Oxford. Image is by Sophie Fletcher
In one of my recent classes we were talking about the idea of surrender in labour and birth. Many pregnant women are fearful of losing control during birth, and we may feel uncomfortable with the idea of surrendering to the birth process. Surrender carries connotations of giving up, waving the white flag in hopeless resignation.
This kind of surrender in birth is described by Naomi Wolf in her book Misconceptions: an emergency caesarean left her feeling she had ‘almost no role’ in her baby’s birth, as if the epidural had numbed her will as well as her body. With this kind of loss of control, women are more likely to have a negative birth experience, and are at increased risk of emotional problems afterwards.
So it’s interesting that women who describe positive experiences of birth also talk about surrender: letting go, going with the flow, being carried on the waves of the contractions, letting the birth unfold.
These two birth stories from Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth describe this:
‘Things were happening quickly. I didn’t try to hold any of the contractions back. I just let them come as fast as they wanted to, knowing that would help the birth happen without delay. It all felt very natural. I just went with it.’
‘I fastened on a particular word and meaning: surrender. I began having contractions and feeling big waves of energy moving. I visualised my yoni as a big, open, cave beneath the surface of the ocean, with huge, surging currents sweeping in and out. As the wave of water rushed into my cave, my contraction would grow and swell and fill, reach a full peak, then ebb smoothly back out. I surrendered over and over to the great oceanic, engulfing waves.’
In Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering Sarah J. Buckley talks of her initial shock at going into labour with her first baby at 36 weeks:
‘I still had baby clothes to wash and sort, and hadn’t put the second coat of paint in the spare room… but here was our baby, eager to come.. Our task was to accept this time, this labor, in the present moment. With this surrender, labor really began for me… There was an oceanic feeling; I felt like I was riding the waves, challenged but exhilarated as I came down each time.’
Her second birth was demanding as her baby was posterior and slow to move down because of an anterior cervical lip:
‘Through this intense time, sound was a strong ally, helping me to express my body’s feelings and to find my surrender into the unknown.. She was born, face up with relief and only a few pushes.. I felt enormous surprise and pleasure, merging into ecstasy, as I held my warm, wet, soft, new baby.’
This kind of surrender in birth is more like giving into passion, losing ourselves in ecstasy, being carried on a tide of feeling. Surrendering in this way involves a positive choice to embrace the unknown – an opening of the heart that accepts and welcomes the events of labour and birth however they unfold. In order to let down our guard and surrender to the moment we need to feel safe – private and unselfconscious, uninhibited, accepted and loved. This allows us to trust in our bodies, our babies, and the birth process.
But does this mean losing control? Perhaps it’s a bit like captaining a ship in uncharted waters – we don’t know the exact route our journey will take, so we surrender to the voyage of discovery, but we are still in charge of the ship. In the same way, surrendering during the birth doesn’t remove the need to put thought, care and effort into preparation before the birth: the ship needs to be well maintained, stocked and ready for the voyage. By preparing we get ourselves in the best possible physical and mental condition to launch onto the seas of labour and birth. So releasing control, but not resigning control: choosing to release control and open to the unpredictable birth process is very different from feeling that control has been taken from us against our will, that we have been hijacked and can no longer steer our own course.
Mindfulness helps us to bring acceptance to the birth process, and events as they unfold – and also to ourselves: our feelings and reactions. Mindful acceptance is deliberate, intentional: noticing and embracing the way things are in each moment, without judging whether this is how they ‘should’ be. Acceptance is not about ‘put up and shut up’, but opening up. Perhaps the journey through labour and birth is very like how we imagined it – or perhaps it’s very different. Releasing control and accepting our real experience, just as it is in each moment, allows us to trust, relax and surrender.
Once our babies are born, we surrender all over again – to falling in love, and to the ups and downs of the postnatal weeks. Surrendering to a newborn’s needs and rhythms, we open our hearts to our babies.
I’m writing this article on hypnosis birth preparation when I should be doing the final edits on my book . But I’ve been reading a thread on hypnosis birth preparation on Facebook that has pressed a few buttons. It’s 7am and the children are STILL asleep, so I thought I’d use this small window of time to write about what hypnosis birth preparation is and isn’t.
Thankfully hypnosis birth preparation is becoming more mainstream, but at the same time its true potency as a tool to prepare for birth is in danger of being diluted by people who are jumping on the hypnosis birth preparation bandwagon.
Hypnosis is a serious therapy, I’ve been a hypnotherapist for 8 years, I’m a Fellow of the National Council for Hypnotherapy, and I’ve have always taught hypnosis birth preparation.
Hypnotherapists have used hypnosis for years as birth preparation, in fact I have a book sitting on my desk right now from the 1950’s which extolls the value of hypnosis birth preparation. My interest is in the psychological process of birth – what happens to us as women beneath the surface – and the impact of social cultural conditioning in how we automatically behave towards birth. I have a Masters in European Culture, specializing in symbolism and individuation (okay that’s a bit too academic for a blog) and am a slightly obsessed with how our bodies and minds respond automatically to external symbols at birth. Sheela Na Gigs – bring it on!
I’m really excited about my book “Mindful Hypnobirthing” being published by Random House, as the more I read, the more I realise that the real value of hypnosis birth preparation is forgotten or buried beneath hearsay. I really want to shout about it. Bringing people’s attention to the fact that it does work and is important, but also why it works and when it’s a good tool to use. At Mindful Mamma we work with the women who are frightened of losing control (I talk about the different guises of control in the book in detail), or just want some additional techniques to keep them focused during the birth, through to women who have been under psychiatric care for anxiety and women who are booked for a caesarean birth because they are too scared to have a normal birth.
Here are common myths about hypnosis birth preparation
Hypnosis Birth Preparation is the same as relaxation
No it’s not! When you are using hypnosis birth preparation you are entering into a brain state called an alpha (light hypnosis) or theta (deep hypnosis) state. It feels a bit like going to sleep. You choose to enter that state, usually with someone trained in hypnosis. Messages (positive suggestions) are sent to your limbic system in your brain. This is the old part of your brain that holds all your automatic responses, from making a cup of tea while chatting to your friend, to driving your car on a familiar journey while thinking about something else. We are conditioned to respond to the world around us through repetitive action. This is also where automatic responses we don’t like so much are stored. Have a phobia? Think it’s entirely irrational and feel an idiot when your body jumps up and down, screams, freezes and cries when you see a spider/beetle/get on a plane? That’s your limbic system saying “hey, we don’t like this, we saw your loving mum, the person that keeps you alive, run away from a spider when you were 6 months old, so it’s dangerous”. The limbic system overrides rational and logical thought when it’s about survival.
Many women are pre-conditioned to be frightened about birth by what they have heard and seen. Imagine your mind as the British Library, every experience you’ve ever had is stored there under its own reference section. So when your body needs to know how to respond it goes to your birth section; if your birth section is filled with negative stories, about trauma, pain and loss of control, your body doesn’t want to do it – it’s dangerous and the automatic response is similar to a phobia – flight, flight or freeze. Hypnosis changes that response by working with that part of your brain. I’ve seen people overcome severe phobias in as little as an hour or two hours.
Relaxation exercises are not the same. The SHIP trial on hypnosis for birth found they had more uptake when they described hypnosis as ‘deep relaxation’, which misinforms women and perpetuates the myth that deep relaxation is the same. If you learn relaxation for birth, it doesn’t stop that unconscious fear rearing up whenever your feel threatened or something unfamiliar happens during your birth and triggering fight or flight.
You are keeping your neo-cortex active when it should be shutting down
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Well you shouldn’t anyway. I do know some ways of teaching hypnosis birth preparation where women have so many techniques they haven’t had the time to condition them properly and, during the birth are actively thinking about which technique to use and when. This defeats the whole purpose of how I believe women should be using hypnosis birth preparation. I’m not saying my way is the right way, but my view is from teaching hundreds of women and being a doula.
The aim is to prepare a women using hypnosis, so when she goes into birth her reference section in her unconscious library is full of positive images/messages about birth and her body relaxes into it rather than fighting it and thinking it’s something she doesn’t want to do. Her neo-cortex should be resting; women naturally go into a theta or alpha state during birth when they are unconsciously accepting of the process. Hypnosis birth preparation should be about giving women the confidence to birth. When they are confident at deep level, then all they have to be is be mindfully aware. Following their breath and turning within.
It disassociates a woman from her birth
See above myth #2; good effective hypnosis birth preparation means the opposite. It helps a women become more aware and more accepting of what is happening during the birth. I’ve seen women who have used hypnosis birth preparation really turning within, using mindfulness techniques during the birth. It brings attention to the physical process but also the psychological process; women are more able to observe feelings that arise as part of the birth, such as fear of letting go or fear of death.
(I’ve heard the disassociation one often and it’s such a shame that some famous birth advocates still have this belief)
With hypnosis birth preparation you are calm and quiet
There are a lot of women I have on my classes because they want hypnosis to keep them calm, quiet and in control. For me this often tells me what her fear is; women are driven to hypnosis birth preparation because of the fear of losing control, a result of cultural conditioning. ‘It’s not socially acceptable to ‘lose it’ in front of strangers.’ In fact hypnosis birth preparation should give a woman the confidence to express herself, in any way she chooses, and for her support/partner to support her unconditionally in that. I’ve been at births where you couldn’t tell a mum was having a contraction, and I’ve been at births where mums have screamed “get me an epidural” at transition.
I’ve even heard midwives say when a woman had made a lot of noise, “that’s not proper hypnobirthing”. A woman shouldn’t have to suppress that natural expression during labour, it’s part of the process and sometimes it feels good.
The birth partners attending our class are taught to let go of their own judgment around pain and fear and to know that if she roars like a lion, it’s ok and you don’t have to offer her gas and air.
A hypnobirth is pain free
Now this is an interesting one. I talk a lot about sensations of birth and how our brain interprets them. A lot of our experience is perception, but also anxiety. Personally I feel that if a woman is birthing normally she can feel very strong sensations, but not label them as pain. Hypnosis can also change sensations and it can dampen them completely, based on the skill of the practitioner and the work the mother has done in her birth preparation. People have operations under hypnosis – need I say more.
The Mongan approach that women should not feel any pain if they are free of fear, I was unable to subscribe to, not because I don’t believe it’s possible, I understand the principles and the concept. The theory is sound, but I think that women are faced with too many challenges in some units and that also a woman’s own pathology and belief system contribute to their physical experience of birth. I get very upset by women feeling that they’ve ‘failed’ because it hurt.
BUT what is very interesting about this is whether women CHOOSE to have a pain free birth. (hypnosis is about choice – I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do). When working with couples privately I always say to mothers, on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the strongest and 0 being nothing, how do you want to experience birth? It always ends up at 4/5 – these women at some level want to embrace birth and see those sensations as important. Hypnosis allows them to be, just be with those sensations, and to be able to embrace and surrender to them.
Women who have done hypnobirthing would have had a great birth anyway
Maybe, maybe not. But to be honest 4 out of 5 women have anxiety about birth and are focusing on intervention and pain relief before the birth. If you can work with them and help then tap into their own coping mechanisms, reframe their belief around birth it creates a shift. Where focus goes, energy flows.
The women we work with are not always already converted to normal birth. As a doula I’ve been at births where I could see the trajectory of the birth if they weren’t using hypnosis for birth preparation.
And this brings me on to my next point…..
Hypnosis birth preparation is just for normal birth
This is the one that saddens me the most. I work with a lot of women who have medical complications, for some reason as a doula I seem to attract them. I have only had three homebirths, the rest in high risk obstetric units. I have had doctors with their jaws on the floor watching a mother contract on a syntocinon drip while she has a conversation with him in early stages, I’ve seen consultants thank me for ‘whatever I’ve done’ with women who have collapsed veins so they can get a cannula in first time. I even had one midwife at a home birth, disbelieving at first, ask me to do a hypnosis visualisation whenever she did my client’s blood pressure, as it stopped a transfer.
I have been at caesarean births, prepared women for them, and I know that hypnosis works amazingly at many different types of births by giving women the confidence to make a choice that is right for them. I don’t judge them, I don’t steer them, I allow them the space to find their own informed birth journey and it’s always amazing when they meet their baby – whatever birth they have they know that they made choices with a clear head and that they had their best birth.
The truth about hypnosis for birth is that hypnosis birth preparation is about a positive birth experience, not just a normal birth experience.
Those who know me know I am a little obsessed with oxytcocin. I love it, I think it’s an extraordinarily hormone, and I’m always testing it out in my daily life. Oxytocin makes me feel good and it makes those around me smile. It’s contagious, it’s warm, it’s empathetic and it’s compassionate. Oxytocin is also the key to a good birth, and why shouldn’t it be? It creates bonding, a sense of connection and euphoria; it also produces our body’s natural pain relievers by sending signals, from the hypothalamus in your brain, to several areas in your nervous system that relate to sensation of pain thereby diminishing sensations of pain.
It’s well known that undisturbed hormone exchanges during labour are vital in establishing a connection between mum and baby, but think of it in evolutionary terms. The euphoria we can experience at birth creates a longing to give birth again so that we thrive as a species. There are many women I know who would happily give birth again, and I’ve often heard women say “I could do it again next week, it was amazing”. That’s the effect of oxytocin.
As a woman goes into labour her oxytocin levels start to rise rapidly, then as labour progresses oxytocin continues to be released through what’s known as a positive feedback loop. This is when the release of a hormone causes an action that stimulates more of its own release until you feel the urge to push and bring your baby into the world. In birth this is sometimes referred to as the Ferguson reflex. I describe it in my classes a little like a conversation between the womb and the brain, each time receptors in the womb are stimulated by a contraction it sends a message to the brain saying” hey, give me more oxytocin please”, then the brain obliges triggering more oxytocin, which in turn increases contraction,s which then mean more oxytocin is released until baby is born and into the period when the mother feels that first rush of love for her baby. Anything added to the mix, such as anxiety, worry, interventions, even artificial oxytocin are like rude, brash interruptions and can disturb that happy, private, hushed conversation.
The joy of oxytocin is contagious. Some studies show that it is pheromonal and others say that it’s transmitted though very subtle facial gestures and body language that others pick up on unconsciously. This is because oxytocin also enhances our ability to pick on facial gestures and emotions, increasing our sense of empathy. In ‘The Power of Contagious Thinking’ David Hamilton talks of oxytocin as a “biological social glue..that played a vital role in our evolution, encouraging our ancestors to stick together, to care for their young to live in communities that offered greater protection against predators”. Recently during a birth I left the room for a little while, as I walked through the hospital every single person I walked past turned and smiled or even said something to me. It was so exaggerated that I noticed and clocked that I must be leaking oxytocin; in fact I was very relaxed, the atmosphere in the room had been wonderful and I must have been smiling as well. People felt a connection to me as I walked past them, clearly demonstrating the social contagion element of oxytocin.
Conversely because of its social element, oxytocin has also been shown to stimulate conformity which is very interesting. This is more commonly associated with adolescents as they often bow to peer pressure to fit in so they are accepted by their ‘community’. As childbearing women do we somehow conform to expectations of pain, trauma and not having the resources ourselves to cope with birth that we witness in the media and through stories we have been told? Do we conform to what we are being advised by our caregivers because birth is such an oxytocin rich environment?
Often I hear women say, why did I agree to that? Why did I tell my midwife I loved her whereas in hindsight she was a little annoying? If I don’t conform and agree to that intervention what will they think of me.? I’ve lost count of the number of women who are worried about telling the staff that they’ve done hypnobirthing and being laughed at. These reactions are all about conformity and can be a by-product of oxytocin. It can help to hire a doula or someone who can really advocate for you other than your birth partner, that way you know that your birth preferences are prioritised and that the only thing you will conform to are in line with your own values and beliefs.
Oxytocin during a birth is incredibly infectious and those that attend births be they midwives, doulas or husbands all experience that amazing rush after a birth. People often ask it I’m too tired to drive, but I’m always on what I call my ‘birth high’ for a couple of hours afterwards. However long I am with a couple, be it 4 or 14 hours I always feel the oxytocin effect wearing off and the tiredness creep in.
Lower pulse rate and blood pressure
It can reduce the sensation of pain in your body
It can dilate blood vessels and create warmth, especially in the breasts where baby is feeding so that the mother literally becomes her baby’s incubator. This is also why a woman in labour appears flushed.
Accelerate growth and healing of wounds.
Stimulates the release of prolactin for milk production
Support attachment between mother and baby
trigger positive responses in the father who experiences that rush of euphoria and therefore bonding with baby
But, and this is a big ‘but’. In order for oxytocin to flow we have to feel private, safe and unobserved as Sarah Buckley, an expert in this field, writes in her book. Oxytocin is also a trust hormone or a shy hormone. We should feel safe in a familiar environment surrounded by people we trust. We should be free of any worry or anxiety either consciously or unconsciously. If we don’t feel safe and respected, if we are frightened or anxious of anything at all or anyone, if we trust neither our own bodies nor our caregivers the flow of oxytocin is compromised and instead we trigger the release of catecholamines, a set of stress hormones including adrenaline. These can slow labour down and do the exact opposite to oxytocin.
Raise heart rate and blood pressure
It can increase the sensation of pain in your body
It can constrict blood vessels lowering the flow of oxygen to your uterine area
It can slow healing down
Restricts the release of other hormones such as prolactin
It can create anxiety in the room which may lead to more intervention and trauma for all involved.
So to allow the flow of oxytocin and to experience the love and euphoria we are genetically primed to experience as women, we need to recognise how extraordinary the hormone oxytocin is. Here are five steps to letting oxytocin loose at birth, so you can really experience how birth should be.
Trust your body, trust who is caring for you. Oxytocin is the trust hormone, so make sure you allow it to trust by creating a sense of trust around your birth. Look at hiring a doula who can help you and advocate for you.
Familiarise yourself with a safe space, whether that is at home or at hospital, but make sure that you birth where you feel safe and familiar.
Confidently prepare with a positive antenatal class looking at relaxation, hypnosis or yoga
Connect with those who have had good experiences, saturate yourself with positive birth experiences – there are hundreds online, I particularly like this site “tell me a good birth story“
Mindful Hypnobirthing is a bestselling book on hypnosis and mindfulness for birth. Written by Sophie Fletcher one of the UK's leading hypnotherapists for pregnancy and birth, it will help you to prepare your mind and your body for a positive experience of birth.
The downloads on this site are written and recorded by Sophie and are designed to be flexible. Whether you are doing hypnobirthing or wanting to try out some relaxation for pregnancy you will find something here for you.
If you have bought the book you can download the mp3s from the publishers website mindful-hypnobirthing.co.uk or by contacting us directly.
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