Hypnobirthing needs a rebrand. I think most, if not all, hypnobirthing teachers – as well as the Mums and Dads who attend courses – would agree.
The word ‘hypnobirthing’ conjures up images of swinging timepieces and grown adults clucking like chickens at the click of someone’s fingers, apparently unable to exert any self-control under the spell of hypnosis. In any case most people think it will involve doing something ‘weird’. In fact one Dad-to-be thought I was going to be communicating with his unborn child whilst in utero. I was sorry to disappoint!
The reality is Hypnobirthing is actually a really logical, evidence-based approach to giving birth. It is a fully-comprehensive, practical and an informative antenatal programme, designed to leave women and their birth partners feeling confident, empowered and excited for birth!
MYTH #1 – IT’S A LOAD OF ‘HIPPY NONSENSE’
Hypnobirthing is best described as the psychology of birth and you might be surprised to learn that most of the course content is based on research evidence and common sense; it’s more scientific than ‘fluffy’, more biology class than yoga.
On a course you will learn about the physiology of birth; about the uterus muscles and how they work and the hormones that both help and hinder the progress of labour. You will learn how important it is to be relaxed and produce oxytocin (the feel-good love hormone that drives the contractions) and why adrenaline (the hormone you release when anxious and frightened) slows and can even stall birth. It’s known that a natural labour which starts spontaneously will be quicker, more comfortable and less likely to need intervention compared to an induced labour (where artificial oxytocin – “syntocinon” – is administered).
MYTH #2 – IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO RELAX IN LABOUR
There are lots of ways of achieving relaxation and many simple things you can do to encourage the production of oxytocin. The environment has a huge role to play and as we read our environment through our senses, it’s so important to ensure that each one is met by something familiar and calming. For example, you may want to use fairy lights or battery operated tea lights so that what you see is an intimate candle lit space. You might want to put together a playlist of happy music so what you hear are songs that mean something to you. You might wish to use a lavender-scented room spray so what you smell is more spa-like than clinical. All of these things will help you feel more relaxed in the space you find yourself in.
On a hypnobirthing course you will also learn other ways to relax such as breathing techniques, light touch massage and guided meditations. Although this is probably the ‘fluffiest’ part of the course, once people understand how important it is to be relaxed, most commit to mastering these techniques and are unlikely to dismiss them.
MYTH #3 – YOU HAVE NO CONTROL WHEN IT COMES TO GIVING BIRTH
You will learn about your rights in labour during a hypnobirthing course. You will be empowered to make your own decisions knowing you have these rights and options. Medical professionals can offer advice and make recommendations but ultimately it is a woman’s choice what happens to her body and her baby. It’s important to remember this and not relinquish all responsibility over your birth as soon as you walk through the doors of a hospital. We are very much conditioned to respect authority but there’s a difference between respecting advice given by a professional and feeling forced or pressured into something you’re not happy with or don’t fully understand.
We equip people with tools they can use to navigate their births should they become more complicated, because it’s important that women feel in control and able to make their own decisions. Two women can have the same birth on paper but feel completely different about the experience postnatally. Having a positive experience carries lifelong benefits not least because it significantly reduces the risk of postnatal depression. I believe what’s key is women being able to make informed decisions that they believe are best for them and their baby. That way, no matter how birth pans out, a woman can feel it was the right birth for her and a positive experience because her preferences were met and she felt respected. If a woman feels the opposite, she is unlikely to feel it was a positive experience and can be left feeling traumatised.
MYTH #4 – IT’S ONLY FOR NATURAL DRUG-FREE BIRTHS
Hypnobirthing, contrary to popular opinion, is for all births and not just drug-free water births. Although of course the techniques will help hugely if that is the birth you want. But it’s worth knowing that even if you decide to have a cesarean section, the tools and techniques you will learn on a course, will prove invaluable. You will still want to meet your baby feeling calm, relaxed and confident. In fact there is no scenario I know of, where hypnobirthing would not help.
On a course everything is covered including induction and cesarean. I think it’s important women are fully informed and prepared for all eventualities and don’t go into labour with blinkers on. There are too many variables in pregnancy and labour to ever be able to guarantee a natural birth so I believe it’s best to know how you’d approach each scenario and still achieve a positive and empowering birth. For me, that’s what really matters, not how the baby made his/her entrance. Lots of women view cesareans very negatively. They are generally surprised when I talk them through what’s known as a ‘gentle cesarean’ where natural birth is emulated in theatre as far as possible. I show videos and women find it reassuring to see how calm, gentle and peaceful a birth in theatre can be. A lot of the time just understanding your options and the reality helps to dispel fear, as most of that fear is down to cultural conditioning that birth is something horrible. You only have to look at the portrayal of birth in popular culture to understand why women feel frightened and anxious.
Finally the various stages of labour are discussed in detail so women feel fully prepared for what lies ahead and confident they will know what to do at each stage. I talk about everything from the mucus plug, through to birth place choices and the benefits of delayed cord clamping and immediate skin to skin. I discuss physiological delivery of the placenta versus an actively managed one and the benefits of placenta encapsulation. Everyone tells me they learn so much more on a hypnobirthing course compared to NCT or any other antenatal course. It really is a very in-depth programme which puts the power into the hands of the woman. It’s unique in that women leave feeling really informed but confident and excited for their birth, not full of fear. We come from a very positive place.
Hence, why I called my company The Positive Birth Company. That was my attempt at rebranding! If I had to sum up what hypnobirthing was in one line, I’d say it was about preparing for a positive birth, because birth experience matters.