Are you preparing for a natural birth but feeling uneasy about managing the pain and process? If so, you may be looking for an article on hypnobirthing explained. Well, look no further.
Hypnobirthing is a great meditation birthing method that you can practise beforehand to help you better cope with labour.
My first childbirth experience was so disappointing and wildly different from my original birth plan that I believe it impacted my relationship with my son on an emotional and psychological level. I was unable to form a deep connection with him for the first few years of his life and I had baby blues in the first month postpartum.
Determined to birth with calmness and without any medical intervention (including the use of drugs), I took an online course for hypnobirthing and used it for my last two births with great success. There are many common myths and misgivings about hypnobirthing, but here I’d like to explain what it actually is.
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What is the Hypnobirthing Method?
Hypnobirthing is a natural method of coping with labour pain with the aim of achieving a calm and positive childbirth.
The underlying theory of hypnobirthing is that our mind is more powerful than our body. Therefore, we can train or wire our mind to evoke calmness and release oxytocin* in our body on demand.
*Oxytocin is our body’s natural “happy hormone” which naturally progresses labour and causes our cervix to dilate. This is why chemically induced labour make use of syntocinon or pitocin – a synthetic hormone to mimic oxytocin – to induce labour.
Hypnobirthing is founded on sensory association – training our minds to associate with certain sounds, smells, touch, etc to induce (or “hypnotise”) oneself into a state of familiarity and relaxation. This article will delve further into three such techniques that you can adapt and apply to your own labour, regardless of a vaginal or C-section birth.
Remember, the aim of hypnobirthing is to achieve a positive childbirth. To make it an experience that you feel content and happy with. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to result in a natural birth**. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, medical intervention might be highly critical to the survival of yourself or the baby.
** There are many reasons for needing a C-section, but note that a breech baby is NOT by default one of those reasons! I have researched and written an in-depth article about vaginal birth with a breech baby.
What are the Benefits of Hypnobirthing?
Speaking from my personal experience, my two hypnobirths had several advantages over my first childbirth:
- Labour quicker to progress – My first labour took six hours during the established stage (going from 6 to 10cm) and that was even after being chemically induced. My second labour took just two hours, and my last labour was less than an hour. You may argue that generally subsequent labours are quicker and easier than the first time. But I have friends who had easier first births and harder subsequent ones.
- Drug-free birthing – With my first birth, I had to have syntocinon and an epidural; my hypnobirths were completely drug-free and I did not even need to use gas or water births.
- Better start to breastfeeding – Studies have shown that hypno babies are more settled and can establish good breastfeeding much earlier. My first baby was very quiet when he was born but I suspect that was because of the epidural. He couldn’t latch on properly and I had a difficult start to breastfeeding. My next two babies latched on within half an hour after birth and were feeding right off the bat without much assistance from me.
- Less screaming, shouting, & pain – I was a mad woman during my first labour. I paced around and scream-counted 1 to 20 in a futile attempt to get through each contraction. During my hypnobirths, I was so quiet right up till delivery that my midwives thought I’d fallen asleep several times. The overall calmness of the room meant my husband and myself were both in a quiet, expectant state when the baby arrived, instead of being drowned in weariness, panic, tension and pressure.
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3 Hypobirthing Techniques You Can Use
The below three techniques are all grounded in the hypnobirthing theory that we can condition our minds to perceive labour pain positively.
Does hypnobirthing guarantee a pain-free labour? No, but it does help to achieve an easier and happier birth. Some methods work better for others, and you may find a connection with only one or two of these techniques.
1. Hypnobirthing Breathing Technique
This is one of the most important techniques of hypnobirthing and works best when paired with the next technique (visualisation). There are several schools of hypnobirthing that teach the breathing technique slightly differently, but the idea is the same.
The ‘Breathing Up’, or the ‘Surge Breathing’
This is for the first stage of labour when you are anywhere from 1 to 10 cm dilated. In hypnobirthing, contractions are called ‘surges’ (like the surging of waves out at sea). This forms a positive association with it as the word ‘contractions’ automatically bring to mind negative connotations like pain and fear.
For this breathing, the aim is to relax your facial and pelvic muscles as much as possible to help your body release oxytocin that will naturally aid labour.
Research has shown that there is a connection between your jaw muscles and pelvic floor muscles. When you tense your facial muscles (i.e. screaming, shouting, frowning etc during labour), this creates tension in your pelvis as well, which means your uterus and cervix are unable to work efficiently, thus leading to stalled labour
The breathing itself is simple. Draw in a breathe for as long as possible through your nose into your diaphragm. Then, breathe out also through your nose. It is important that you do not breathe out through your mouth at this stage, because this is the easiest thing to do when in pain and it can lead to panting or huffing.
Breathing out through the mouth sends brain signals to our body that we are not in a calm, neutral state. This creates a series of bodily effects that work against labour.
Think of the effect on your body when you pant during exercise, or when you are shallow breathing. Your heart rate increases, you break into sweat, and your body temperature rises – all these bodily changes inhibit the release of oxytoxin during labour.
To check if you’re breathing correctly into your diaphragm (as opposed to breathing into your chest), rest your hand on the top of your belly, just under your rib cage. You should feel your belly rising if you are breathing in correctly.
The ‘Breathing Down’ or ‘Bearing Down’
The second part of the breathing is used during active labour, when you feel the baby coming or the overwhelming urge to push. It is a shorter breathe in, and a longer breathe out.
Some practitioners recommend still only breathing out through your nose. Personally I found it easier to keep my jaw relaxed while I breathed out from my mouth while saying, “Haaaaa…” You will feel some resonance at the back of your nose regardless of what you choose to do.
The consensus with all hypnobirthing practitioners is that the active labour stage should not involve “pushing” the baby out like we see in movies. Instead, they call it ‘bearing down’, or literally breathing the baby out. When you are breathing correctly during the delivery stage, you are working with your body and will find very little resistance to the baby’s delivery, so pushing is hardly required.
The best illustration and form of exercise for this breathing technique is doing a huge poo (like during a constipation) – you want to work with your body to gently ease it out, not strain yourself till you’re blue in the face and force it out. This will undoubtedly cause more tearing and pain than necessary.
2. Hypnobirthing Visualisation Technique
If you are a visual person, you will find these visualisations very useful during your labour. They create a positive picture in your mind when you are breathing to further deepen the association with happy and calm feelings.
Visualisations for ‘Breathing Up’:
- Slowly filling up a balloon inside you and then deflating it
- Gently riding a wave up to its peak, and then slowly coming back down
- Breathing in golden air and breathing out dark air
Visualisations for ‘Breathing Down’:
- Your favourite flower blossoming / opening up slowly
- Gently blowing a bubble
- Imagine meeting your baby or holding her in your arm
The possibilities with visualisations are endless, they could be as surreal or realistic as you like. As I’m a very rational person, I found it easier to visualise the physical mechanics of my cervix dilating and vaginal muscles working to squeeze my baby out.
3. Hypnobirthing Affirmations
Hypnobirthing affirmations is essentially meditating on positive thoughts associated with childbirth. You should build on the belief that our body is perfectly designed for labour and we can trust it to deliver our baby safely on its own time.
Every hypnobirthing school has their own set of affirmations and you can even find affirmation cards online. But I found it most useful to reflect upon myself and write my affirmations in my own words, for instance:
“I can get through this, one surge at a time.”
“If I can get through this one, I can get through the next one.”
“I am stronger than what I feel.”
Some people might feel a deeper connection with affirmations written in second person – “you” – so it’s almost like you’re talking to yourself. To deepen the positive association with your affirmations, hypnobirthing classes also recommend using music and aromatherapy to further draw you into that safe, happy place.
Although there are specific hypnobirthing soundtracks, you can compile your own playlist with songs that speak to you. For me, because I am a Christian, I chose worship songs that often moved me to tears. The lyrics themselves became my birth affirmations. I included a wide selection too – slow, melodious ones for when I want to keep calm and relax; strong, dramatic ones for when I’m nearing the active stage and getting ready to deliver.
As for aromatherapy, what it really means is to have an artifact or something with you during the labour process that will trigger positive feelings in you. This could be your favourite candle, your partner’s shirt, your mother’s perfume. Really anything that brings up strong, warm feelings in you.
This technique works best for those who have strong memories associated with certain smells.
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Final words – The Importance of Your Birth Partner
A great birth partner completely understands your hypnobirthing plans and can act on cue, or almost instinctively. It helps greatly to have someone who can coordinate and switch the music for you according to your needs. Your birth partner is also the best person to give you affirmation and visualisation prompts.
When I was birthing my third baby, there were times when I nearly lost myself to thoughts of “I can’t do this!”. Having my husband by my side telling me, “You’re almost there, just get through this one,” helped anchor me back into a positive state of mind.
Practise makes perfect, the key to hypnobirthing success is consistent practise prior to labour. You can start practicing your preferred hypnobirthing technique anytime, from as early as 20 weeks right up till labour. The longer you have prepared for it, the better equipped you will be and the higher the chances of you being able to enter a state of calmness at anytime during labour.
Now, go forth and birth with confidence. And remember, childbirth is only scary if you believe it to be.
This article was written by Jenny, creator of Blissful Maternity. This Australian mom created her blog to help fellow Aussie mums make educated and informed household decisions. She writes articles that are independently researched on subjects ranging from pregnancy to other aspects of family life.