Breathe in, baby out: HypnoBirthing® in action
Is it really possible to control pain with positive thinking and breathing exercises? It seems like more and more women and their birth partners are turning to HypnoBirthing® to support them through their labour. For the birth of our second child, I decided to explore why.
The birth of natural labour methods
HypnoBirthing® was inspired by the work of obstetrician Dr Grantly Dick-Reed, more commonly known for being the co-founder of the Natural Childbirth Trust (NCT) in the UK. He hypothesised that the fear of childbirth diverts blood and oxygen away from vital organs during labour, including the uterus, which affects functionality and induces labour pains. The theory that women can eliminate this pain during labour was met with some criticism at the time but by the 60s and 70s childbirth experts such as Lamaze and Bradley were developing their own techniques. Methods to control this fear for pain-free labour using self-hypnosis were developed most notably by Michelle Leclaire O’Neill and Marie Mongan. The latter developed a programme so popular, hypnotherapists and medical professionals alike came to her and asked to be trained after seeing the results in their patients.
I spoke to Sonia Griffiths from Brighton-based Sussex Natural Childbirth to find out more about the practice. Her and colleague, Steve, offer programmes using the Mongan Method to women and their birth ‘companions’ (as they like to refer to the birth partner) in the Brighton and Sussex area. Steve, was one of the first practitioners in the UK who is still active plus one of only three faculty trainers certified to teach HypnoBirthing® techniques in the UK. Sonia lectures midwives and healthcare professionals on the method at hospitals and universities.
Preparation during pregnancy
Ideally, you should aim to start soon after your 20 week scan, the more you can practice the exercises the better plus they can also help relaxation during pregnancy. In my case, I started around 34 weeks but still managed to reap the benefits. The focus on my instruction was around a series of breathing exercises, hypnosis scripts much like meditations and establishment of positive affirmations around labour and birth. For anyone who is familiar with yoga, the breathing patterns won’t be difficult to grasp. The exercises encourage you to learn how to truly relax and get comfortable, letting go of all bodily tension while giving you techniques to stay calm through contractions. The scripted sessions focus on your mind and how it is key in controlling your fear. Positive affirmations are the last tool in the box. You are urged to write your own but they provide you with strong statements such ‘I can have a positive birth experience’ and ‘I trust my body knows what to do during labour’ which you can recant daily.
It’s a high end spend at around £250 for a course which is almost double the price of an NCT course but HypnoBirthing® is ratified by the Federation of Ante-natal Educators, so you won’t need to attend any other ante-natal classes for your birth preparation. The groups are quite small, which means you may not develop a network of support with other couples the way you do at NCT. Depending on your budget, you may find it tough choosing between the two, however, you cannot underestimate what a brilliant start to parenthood a positive birth experience can give. Establishing breastfeeding can be easier plus you reduce the risks tremendously of developing post-natal depression, although it must be said that engaging with other parents with newborns can have the same affect.
Adapting HypnoBirthing® to your labour: my experience
I consider I did a very good ante-natal course with my first. We learned what we would need to do ourselves to facilitate our labour but looking back I’m not entirely convinced I realise what I was capable of. It’s a little difficult to compare with your second birth. You are naturally more confident as you have already experienced labour and delivery. However, I still had hangups from my less than perfect birth and hoped HypnoBirthing® could give me a set of coping mechanisms. Especially as we had opted for a home birth. My fear of being on the post-natal ward, far outweighed my fear of having an equally long and complicated experience second time around. With a lot of research with home birth advisors, midwives, natural birth specialists such as Sonia and parents who had already had home births using HypnoBirthing®, I was ready to trust in my body. The results were remarkable and blew away any scepticism I previously held.
I became a bit of cliché the morning of my labour, all the best laid plans and I found myself hastily formulating a plan B. I was experiencing ‘coupling’ where you have two contractions in four minutes. Despite being fairly well read on birth and labour for a lay person, I had never heard of this phenomenon. I squeezed in the wonderful HypnoBirthing® breathing I had diligently practised over the last weeks where I could but started to panic when I realised what was going on. This is where the positive affirmations were invaluable. I will admit to being fairly sceptical about these, it just seems too simple just reciting phrases over and over again to build or maintain a positive frame of mind. But at that point in time, with my mind truly scrambled by the unexpected rhythm of my labour, they just popped into my mind, getting me back on track. When the midwife told me I was 8cm dilated on my first measurement, my mind exploded with confidence, ‘I AM going to do this’ I told myself. I can honestly say I sailed through the remainder of my short labour, ending up high on the euphoria and pride of having pushed out my own child. The midwife told me afterwards the birth was all my doing, she just monitored us both, staged the delivery and after care. I knew I could not have done it without those HypnoBirthing® tools.
Where can I get more information?
The HypnoBirthing® Institute provide a list of certified practitioners in your area on their website. Some practitioners offer free introductory sessions or consultations so you can see if HypnoBirthing® is for you.
Sonia Griffiths is giving a free talk courtesy of Parentskool at the Hanover Community Centre, Brighton, Thursday 22nd September, 8pm.