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Hypnobirthing - A complete introduction

Updated on April 15, 2015

Hypnobirthing is, for those who believe in the practice, a natural alternative to medical pain relief. Through the power of the mind and through the practice of meditation exercises, mental preparation and relaxation and breathing exercises it is argued that women can feel little to no pain during labour and can instead have a complete feeling of calm.

Hypnobirthing - Labour pain relief

As I prepare for a home birth I, like all other expectant mothers, research the various pain relief possibilities. As hospitals increasingly turn to what are sometimes deemed as unnecessary medical interventions, such as C-Sections or forcep aided delivery, and with more and more women actually pre-planning for a C-Section through choice, it seems that the labour experience can be anything but natural or positive.

For these reasons I wanted to research some alternatives to the traditional labour plan, and during my searching I discovered a practice that is seeing significant gains in interest. Known as hypnobirthing, this practice can be thought of as self hypnosis. Beyond this basic definition however advocates state that hypnobirthing can additionally:

  • Overcome labour pain.

  • Address the various fears and anxieties that are associated with giving birth and in particular overcoming any previous issues that are associated with past traumatic births.

  • Provide a medium to discover labour as a positive experience, as opposed to the overall traumatic, painful and negative experience that many others report it as.

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What is hypnobirthing and what does it involve?

Whilst some report hypnobirthing to act as a mere helping hand throughout labour, others report it to provide an almost hypnotic state. Despite the conflicting statements as to what it can achieve however one thing should be established at this point, and that is that hypnobirthing is built upon solid techniques and strategies, rather than being an airy fairy new age medicine form of practice.

If you're facing your first labour, how frightened are you of the birthing experience?

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How hypnobirthing works

Whilst hypnobirthing is loosely based upon some of the premises that hypnotism is, it is nevertheless subject to some pretty solid science. Here’s that science broken down into an easy to understand explanation...

The science behind hypnobirthing

Today’s society seems set upon promoting labour as the most painful and negative experience a woman can go through. From the almost horror like scenes of labour in the movies, through to the stories recounted from others of the potential for breach birth and other outcomes.

This, it is argued, has led to a flight or flight mechanism, that is triggered when the body goes into labour, which creates stress hormones known officially as catecholamines, which in turn speed the heart up, forcing blood into the limbs and thereby depleting the uterus of the essential blood flow required to aid a relatively painless and smooth birth.

Hypnobirthing experts argue that it is physically impossible to be within either the flight or fight mode whilst also relaxed, and so hypnobirthing focuses upon techniques to replace this societal created fear with relaxation.

Hypnobirthing - Does it work?

Now that I’ve outlined what hypnobirthing is and isn’t, it’s time to try to address whether hypnobirthing really works. This is a difficult answer to establish to any scientific degree. Most certainly there are plenty of women out there who proclaim that hypnobirthing has worked wonders for them, and on a personal note I do strongly believe in the power of the mind and all that it can achieve.

In short, my advice in order to answer this question to each reader’s satisfaction is to undertake your own research. Check out mother and baby forums and find out what women are saying about their experiences.

In addition to the general question as to whether hypnobirthing works, it’s relevant to be more specific and ask whether it works for everyone. Experts believe that just as hypnosis doesn’t work on all, particularly those who aren’t open to the potential of such a practice, hypnobirthing is similarly susceptible to both a person’s scepticism and negativity.

Getting started with hypnobirthing

The more that I learn about hypnobirthing the more I feel that it is a practice that most certainly benefits from the helping hand of a professional. That said however I’ve also found a rich number of sources on the internet, with many inspiring and informing videos to be found on YouTube. Here I’ve covered the three main subjects of hypnobirthing: relaxation techniques, breathing techniques and a solid understanding of the labour process. As well as providing an introductory video by hypnobirthing expert Katharine Graves and a final video of a testimonial from a couple who have experienced hypnobirthing. For this last video I’ve deliberately chosen a video that doesn't proclaim to have had a lady under complete hypnosis for hours on end, but instead shows hypnobirthing for what I believe it to be: a useful tool for pain management throughout labour.

Relaxation techniques

Breathing techniques

Understanding the labour process

An introduction to hypnobirthing from Katharine Graves

A testimonial from a couple who have experienced hypnobirthing

The Delicate Matter of Stitching

I’d like to finish on what may be a bit of an obscure point, but one that I feel is relevant nevertheless. One comment that I have come across within a handful of videos is that of ladies saying that they required no stitches following labour led by hypnobirthing. This led me to wonder whether this could indeed be a scientifically provable feature of hypnobirthing. After all it seems to me that if our bodies are naturally so skilled with the complexities of labour that such an injury may arguably seem unusual. Could this then be down to modern deliveries? Or perhaps it may go to prove our newly innate fear of labour and the negative effects that result. Moreover however can hypnobirthing really overcome this?

Well in answer to this we must consider that hypnobirthing aims to increase blood flow to the uterus, and that any strain or fear on the woman’s behalf has been scientifically proven to restrict this blood flow. This does indeed point to the possibility of a woman then becoming tense, which produces physical symptoms.

Nevertheless however it must equally be pointed out that some ladies may well be naturally less physically inclined to giving birth, and so stitches in such instances seems logically unavoidable.

Beyond hypnobirthing: Tips to avoid stitches during childbirth

Whether you choose to practice hypnobirthing or you are opting for medically managed pain relief the following tips can arguably lessen the chances of you requiring stitches.

  1. Believe in your body’s ability to give birth and relax in as far as possible.

  2. Move around as you wish, don’t restrict yourself to a bed or other area.

  3. Talk through your pain relief options well in advance. There are many options that provide solutions that won’t restrict your ability to push.

  4. Practice the Islamic ‘sujid’ position in the last trimester of your pregnancy. For those who may not know this is where you lie in the Islamic praying position with your head placed on the floor, with your knees, toes and hands also placed flat on the floor.

  5. Drink raspberry leaf tea throughout the last trimester. This, it is thought, will make you more subtle.

Hypnobirthing, Yoga and Mindfulness

If you’d like to find out more about alternative pain relief methods for labour management then check out my other hubs that focus upon mindfulness and yoga and the easy ways that you can get started with them. I myself am a beginner upon all fronts, and so will feedback and update the hubs come the time I can finally put them into practice!

If you’ve practised any of these in preparation for or during labour then I'd love to hear about your experiences.

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