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What is Hypnobirthing and how can it help in labour and birth?

Updated: Feb 19



Hypnobirthing is an approach to labour and birth that enables the birthing parent to access deep relaxation, allowing the unconscious mind to enter its natural state, in order to manage the discomfort and anxiety many people link with childbirth. It helps develop positive feelings and thoughts about birth, by reframing any negative thoughts and anchoring (linking familiar and comforting thoughts and feelings to a sound, smell, visual or other cue) those positive feelings.


Hypnobirthing also encourages flexibility to manage potential changes during the labour and birth journey, safe in the knowledge there are various strategies and techniques available that can be tailored to every situation and scenario. Parents are empowered to choose which techniques feel right for them and will work the best, in whichever situation they may find themselves in.


The ‘Fear, Tension, and Pain’ cycle also has a lot to do with how we perceive and process pain and anxiety around childbirth. Fear produces adrenaline which puts us into fight, fight and freeze mode - this spike in adrenaline then blocks oxytocin production (the hormone of love, and one which we need plenty of during labour to encourage productive contractions) and this means that birth can then slow down or even stop completely. Increased tension due to fear, will usually result in the birthing person tensing up, taking short sharp breaths and not relaxing the body. This is a natural response to fear as it enables the person to flee a dangerous situation in an emergency. However, this is not helpful in birth at all! Increased fear and tension, then leads to increased pain - it is a vicious cycle and things can spiral quickly. Using relaxation techniques, slow deep breathing, and distraction, which are all part of hypnobirthing, can release the fear and tension that can be felt, and in turn, drastically reduce the perception of pain.


Essentially, birth environments need to ideally be fear-free and safe, in order for birthing parents to birth freely and calmly. By understanding the process of birth better and using hypnobirthing techniques parents can keep fear levels lower which then gives them the confidence to feel more in control, and in turn lessen the chances of entering the fear, tension and pain cycle. This then should enable them to have a calm, manageable, and often even blissful birth!



Isn’t it all a bit ‘woo woo’?


Hypnobirthing is commonly misunderstood and people often think it is a form of hypnosis, in the more traditional sense. This isn’t the case at all, it is essentially just deep relaxation, controlled breathing and the learning of distraction techniques (and anchoring) to enable birthing parents to ‘stay in the zone’ and keep calm, relaxed and confident in the body's ability to birth naturally.


We know that there are different parts of the brain that control our various responses. The more modern part of the brain - the neocortex, is responsible for thinking, imagination, beliefs and language development. The limbic system controls and regulates emotions, fear and tension and is also where adrenaline is released from - which as we know, dampens oxytocin. Conversely, the oldest ‘reptilian’ part of the brain is the part that controls our parasympathetic nervous system which is what regulates our involuntary physiological processes - things that just ‘happen’ like breathing, heart rate, temperature and hormones. This is also the part of the brain that produces that magical hormone oxytocin, that helps us feel safe and loved, and is a key player in labour, birth and for bonding. Ultimately the ideal scenario is to quieten down the ‘over thinking’ neo cortex, and limbic system, and allow the reptilian brain to take over and do its job to allow the birthing parent to relax into birthing naturally and to stay calm and focused.


It is important to keep in mind that we do not really need to learn to give birth - it is an innate process. We are born knowing how to do it (after all, other mammals don’t go to birth preparation classes or attend the vets to give birth, they just do it innately!), but our neo cortex can take over and limit our beliefs which can then make us question ourselves. Ina May Gaskin, a prominent American midwife who advocates for natural, fearless birth has been quoted to say ‘we are the only species of mammal that doubts our ability to give birth’. The very fact we are so aware of what ‘could’ happen, is what causes us to doubt whether we are able to birth naturally and without complications. Of course, that's not to say that interventions aren’t sometimes necessary or imperative, and that a medically managed birth such as a caesarean or induced birth (should they be needed), is any less of a birth than a vaginal birth, however the majority of births can go very smoothly and successfully without the need for any interference.


Are there any other benefits of hypnobirthing?


There are multiple benefits to hypnobirthing, not just for the birthing parent but also for the birth partner and the baby too! Hypnobirthing helps both the birthing parent and their partner to feel empowered and in control of things, they both have roles to play - and the birth partner has a particularly important role to play in advocating for the birthing parent, and to help co regulate them and keep them calm and focused on their breathing and relaxation. The baby also benefits, as the increase in oxytocin floods through to the baby, assists them in birth and also helps them to feel the gentle calmness of birth that is possible with self hypnosis and deep relaxation.



What if things don’t go to plan and I end up needing a caesarean or other interventions?


That’s ok! Hypnobirthing is suitable for any birth and is all about preparing you for a positive experience of birth, and the ability to deeply relax yourself and birth your baby calmly and positively, however they arrive! The deep relaxation techniques of hypnobirthing are beneficial all the way through pregnancy as well as for the birth itself, no matter how that happens.


Birthing parents can still use the relaxation, breathing and anchoring techniques during any labour and delivery, including a caesarean to help to keep calm and positive, and lower anxiety in both parties (and the baby!). Birth can still be gentle and empowering, whether it is an induction, other interventions are needed, or it ends up in theatre, and learning hypnobirthing techniques will equip parents for all eventualities, however their birth goes in the end.


If you're interested in finding out more about booking a group Hypnobirthing course or 1:1 course with me, please email me on emily@everythingbirthbabysleep.co.uk or visit www.everythingbirthbabysleep.co.uk/book-online for more information or to book your place!

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