Last year I gave a lecture with my colleague Susan to a group of midwives and student midwives at Leicester Uni. At one point during the lecture I asked everyone to raise their hands who thought that hypnobirthing was for low risk births, a calm waterbirth at home or in a birth centre. Almost everyone put their hands up. This wasn’t a surprise, I asked the question to demonstrate how prevalent this thinking is.
Hypnobirthing is not what it used to be
This stereotype of hypnobirthing for low risk has stuck around for a long time, yet during the time is has taken for hypnobirthing to become more mainstream, it’s changed a lot. It’s much more progressive and embraces all types of birth. It is much more adaptable – as hypnosis should be. As practitioners, we are finding that it can make a profound difference to the experience of couples – whatever type of birth they have.
When I first started out in 2004 hypnobirthing was very much focused on normal birth, and pain free birth. It seemed that there was an all or nothing approach – and this has been a failing of a lot of the research. I still hear women say things like “I didn’t get around to the techniques, so I didn’t hypnobirth” or “I made loads of noise so I didn’t hypnobirth’ or “I had to have a caesarean so I didn’t hypnobirth – but yes it was an amazing experience”.
It’s more than the name suggests
I heard these hypnobirthing reflections so often I thought about moving away from the name hypnobirthing, but I think this is the wrong approach. Just because hypnobirthing is misunderstood shouldn’t mean we have to change its name, instead we need to raise awareness of what it really is. The focus has often been on just epidural rates rather than the experience itself, this needs to change and the real breadth of hypnobirthing needs to be recognised. The big question shouldn’t be what does a hypnobirth look like, it should be, “How does that women who has prepared with hypnobirthing feel after the birth”. Nor should a woman think she’s failed at hypnobirthing because she’s made an informed choice to have an epidural.
There are so many different approaches out there. Not all hypnobirthing is the same just as not all hypnotherapists work the same way. I’m weary of hearing, “original and best” – a bold claim when hypnosis for birth has been documented as early as the 19th Century, continuing to evolve constantly as a therapy – taught by so many fantastic teachers out there teaching it in different ways with similar results.
First, it isn’t just about pain management. True, hypnosis is an incredible way to manage pain; I’ve seen people with severe chronic pain leave my general clinic free of discomfort, saying it’s better than morphine. BUT, it’s also about resilience, stress reduction, confidence, being in the right headspace to make an informed choice – it’s about knowing that whatever journey the birth takes that you can do it. It’s also about experience and making that experience as positive as it can be. Pain relief is often associated with hypnobirthing; this is because very often pain is what women are most fearful of, and ultimately hypnobirthing is about addressing fears, as it’s fear that hinders birth – just as it hinders so much else in our lives. Hypnosis is brilliant at getting under the surface and discovering what sits beneath a fear, changing our response to it and helping us to fulfill our potential.
And what about me? I’m high risk.
If you are higher risk (and more and more women are) you may be losing out to the low risk hypnobirthing belief. I’ve been a doula at some births that have been classed as high risk, but mothers have gone on to have births with very low levels of intervention, if any. I’ve been at a homebirth after a caesarean, a baby born with cysts on their lungs (CCAM), both of whom were born without any intervention at all – both with thorough birth plans and great support from their midwifery teams. I would have thought if a birth is higher risk and potentially more stressful, that to learn techniques which reduce that stress on the you, your baby and your partner is a no brainer.
It also encourages you to do your research, often it takes on average 17 years for research to trickle down into working culture, so we often have to take it upon ourselves to ensure we have all the most up to date evidence. Hypnobirthing was suggesting delayed cord clamping as an option to parents over 20 years ago! Only in the last few years hospitals have introduced a two minute wait policy, but there is still an evidenced based campaign ongoing to “wait for white”, to wait until the cord has stopped pulsing.
A caesarean birth? Of course you can use hypnosis and mindfulness with a caesarean birth. We actually have a private workshop set up for this and have done for a long time, we even have an mp3 set. Hypnosis and mindfulness in pregnancy reduce anxiety, helping you manage day to day stress – benefitting baby as well. Shortly before being called to theatre a simple mindfulness exercise or body and baby scan can connect you with your baby and your body in a very positive way, and in turn change the experience of birth to something very positive and woman centred. You are birthing your baby, not having your baby delivered by a caesarean section. Hypnotherapy is a therapy of language and when a birth is higher risk then this can make an enormous difference to your choices, your ownership of your baby’s birth. It’s great for helping you if you have needle phobias, fear of sickness, hospitals or blood – or any other specific fears that may be part of a caesarean birth.
Postnatally it can help with healing, though there is no specific research for hypnosis post caesarean, there is for other types of surgery where hypnosis speeds up the time it takes to come out of anaesthesia and to heal. Personally, I use hypnosis all the time, and had amazing results when I broke my elbow. Perhaps coincidental, but the consultant said he’d never seen one heal so fast and with full extension in the arm….who knows!
A hypnotherapist will be able to work more deeply with phobias, so I would recommend seeing a hypnotherapist who specialises in birth if you have any very specific issues like fear of sickness, needles, blood and so on. However, on the whole simple hypnobirthing techniques can be adapted to any situation.
However, you choose birth, hypnobirthing practice in pregnancy can have a positive impact on stress reduction and baby’s development in utero.
So go out there and help spread the message, that hypnobirthing is not just about pain relief its about taking ownership of your birth, being in control and feeling as if you are able to make the best choices for your and your baby.
- It creates resilience and a deep sense of knowing you can do it
- It prepares the birth partner to be more than practical support
- It gives tools and techniques that can help in any situation, including higher risk births
- Most hypnobirthing is done during pregnancy, if you are practicing – because of this some find they don’t need techniques or don’t have time to use them. If this is you, you’ve still hypnobirthed!
- A hypnobirther can be noisy or quiet. A good teacher will teach that it’s about being relaxed enough to express yourself the way you feel you need to in any given moment
- You can use mindful hypnobirthing to prepare for a caesarean birth
- It’s about experience not epidural rates.
- It’s all about helping you make the right choices for you and your baby
- A good experience can help you get onto stronger footing in those challenging early days of motherhood
- Mindful Hypnobirthing techniques can also be applied after birth in those early days. Click here to see our 4th trimester pack, for those early weeks and months of becoming a new mum.