As you’ll know if you read my recent post, if you’d told me that I’d be attempting any type of hypnotherapy 6 months ago, I would have laughed in your face. Having watched one too many stage hypnotists, I have a massive fear of being out of control. However, when I read about Clemmie’s experience on Gas & Air and then heard several people mention how it transformed their births, I figured it had to be worth a go.
I set about researching somebody credible in the local area and came across Deborah from Riverside Hypnobirthing which is part of The Wise Hippo network. Having completed her course, my thoughts and expectations of birth have completely changed. It’s now something that I’m excited for rather than scared of.
I asked Deborah if she’d mind answering a few of my questions, to help dispel the myths.
What is The Wise Hippo?
An awesome, fun and informative antenatal education programme that incorporates hypnobirthing techniques. It’s a contemporary UK version of hypnobirthing that fits really well with NHS practices and the focus is on #TheRightBirthOnTheDay – meaning that women and their birth partners have tools and techniques they can use whatever happens.
It’s a course that’s suitable for anyone worried or scared about giving birth, whether you’re planning a hospital birth, midwife-led unit birth, or a home birth, and whether you’re high risk or not.
But more than that. It’s about empowering couples to feel confident, calm and in control during pregnancy and birth.
How did you get into Hypnobirthing?
So, I used to be terrified of giving birth – seriously. I used to cross my legs and tense up whenever anyone spoke about birth/giving birth/even being pregnant. Plus, as someone who’s petite I’d randomly had friends and family say over the years: ‘you’re so tiny, how would you ever have a baby.’
So when I got pregnant for the first time (I’m pregnant now with number two) I was freaking out.
Luckily for me I’d heard about hypnobirthing from a GP who’d had a traumatic first birth, then done some research, found out about hypnobirthing and gone on to have a completely different second birth. She said that hypnobirthing changed how she felt about birth and she went from scared to excited about giving birth!
And this is what happened to me. I honestly went from scared, to after the four weeks and doing my practice (listening to relaxing mp3s, working on visualization and breathing exercises – such hard work, I know!) just looking forward to meeting our daughter.
“I honestly went from scared, to after the four weeks and doing my practice just looking forward to meeting our daughter”
We went onto have the perfect birth for us: a natural home-birth in a pool in our kitchen: http://www.riversidehypnobirthing.co.uk/what-i-know-about-hypnobirthing/
It was such a special day with lovely memories and it changed my life.
As someone who’s a complete wimp I shocked my friends and family by staying at home and doing it drug free. I also surprised myself and felt that if The Wise Hippo hypnobirthing could help me so much, it could help anyone, so I retrained.
I’ve taught loads of couples who’ve gone onto have positive and empowered births: http://www.riversidehypnobirthing.co.uk/birth-stories/ no matter what’s happened on the day. It’s the best job ever!
How would you explain Hypnobirthing to somebody who had never heard of it before?
So, the word can put people off, as they tend to think of Paul McKenna and pendulums and chickens. But hypnosis is a bit misrepresented and misunderstood. In actuality, we all go in and out of hypnosis (a very relaxed state) many times a day: when we daydream (we’re in a meeting but our mind’s on a beach, when we drive a route we know well (and we use our muscle memory/go on autopilot and think ‘I don’t remember part of that journey’) or when we watch a sad film and get so taken in by the story that we actually cry (we have a physical response to something that’s happening to someone else).
“Hypnobirthing is working with your thoughts and changing how you think and feel about giving birth, so you would do this through relaxation, breathing, visualization and mindfulness exercises”
Essentially hypnobirthing is treating a fear of birth and giving you practical tools that you can use to calm yourself down, these tools are tools for life. They’re ways of dealing with stress and fear in any situation.
What are the main principles of Hypnobirthing?
So I’m going to dive straight in to the physiological stuff.
The uterus is a bag of muscles and these muscles are involuntary – we can’t control them. Instead they work together (contract) through the presence of the hormone oxytocin. Now, we produce oxytocin when we’re relaxed, when we feel safe and loved.
But, when we’re scared we release adrenaline (fight, flight or freeze instinctual response to any stressful situation). Adrenaline slows, stalls or stops the process of labour by decreasing our oxcytocin levels. Adrenaline is also produced under bright lights. This is why our birthing environment: http://www.riversidehypnobirthing.co.uk/ideal-birth-environment/ can make a big difference too.
So, in essence we need to feel safe, calm and loved when we’re in labour. So hypnobirthing uses techniques that will get you in to that calm state, so your body can get on and do what it’s capable of.
A big part of hypnobirthing is becoming aware of and controlling your thoughts to shift the focus onto the positive. You see, our thoughts are so powerful and our subconscious can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined event – it’s why nightmares can make us feel terrified, scary films can feel mega-scary and the thought of a job interview weeks ahead makes us sweat.
Changing our thoughts changes the way we feel and that changes everything – particularly in relation to birth. I’ve been working with many midwives at The Royal Berkshire Hospital and they’ll say that often you can’t tell a hypnobirthing mum is in labour, because they are so calm and relaxed and different to how we generally see laboring women portrayed. That’s becuase they don’t feel scared of labour and so don’t panic when it all starts.
Another principle of hypnobirthing is to trust our own instincts. Our bodies grow our babies without us thinking about it – our minds are not involved. Also, women in comas have given birth vaginally! Our bodies know what to do; we just need to get our minds out of the way, which is what we focus on in hypnobirthing.
“Our bodies know what to do; we just need to get our minds out of the way”
How can it help mums?
In so many ways – it helps you enjoy being pregnant more; it helps you sleep better too. Then it allows you to cope with every day stress and to bond with your baby and your partner. It’s definitely not just for mums – in fact the dads (who sometimes come along grudgingly) often love it just as much, and fall asleep first during the relaxation sessions.
The birth partner takes on a lot of the responsibility during labour – timing surges, calling triage, being in control of the birth environment, so that the mum can concentrate on relaxing.
Hypnobirthing helps mums massively during labour, to feel in control of their birth experience, to stay calm, to experience a more positive birth. It also helps with life with a newborn – all the techniques and skills people learn, trusting their instincts, being able to relax and stay calm definitely come in handy then!
Does hypnobirthing guarantee a pain-free birth?
Pain is such an unhelpful word, it’s not descriptive and it just makes people think aaaah! But no, it doesn’t guarantee you won’t feel discomfort. But, it’s very subjective and influenced by lots of things.
Say you have a horrid headache and you’re in a boring meeting it’s hard to distract yourself from the pain. Then imagine you have friends round for dinner and you have such fun, the evening flies and at the end of the night you think ‘oh my headache went’. Two things happened here – one you weren’t focusing on the pain, you were distracted. 2 – you were laughing and having fun producing endorphins (our body’s feel good hormone and pain relief if you like) so you were distanced from the pain.
So line up your favourite comedy shows for early labour – Friends is the number one choice with my clients!
How long before birth would you suggest parents start learning/practicing hypnobirthing?
Between 20 -32 weeks is the ideal time to start so you have plenty of time to practice. It’s personal choice completely though, and I have taught a couple of couples who started at 35 weeks and just managed to complete the four week course (and went on to have amazing births).
Some people like to come later once they’re on mat leave or when the birth seems more real. The practice is so relaxing and enjoyable though, that it’s nice to make the most of it.
Deborah Pryn is a hypnobirthing instructor and hypnobirthing mum. She blogs at www.riversidehypnobirthing.co.uk , for The Huffington Post Parenting section: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/deborah-pryn/ And at Selfish Mother: http://www.selfishmother.com