As a hypnotherapist who also teaches HypnoBirthing® to expectant mothers, I've often been asked, "Have you done this yourself?" (meaning, have you given birth using HypnoBirthing®). Until recently, my answer always had to be "No, but I trust the experiences of the women I have taught." When I became pregnant with my first child last year, that answer began to change to "No, but I will soon, and I'm glad I have such great examples from my clients. The questions changed, too. People began to ask, "Will you use hypnosis for your birth?" to which I replied "Of course!" That answer seemed to open the floodgates to many follow-up questions about just exactly what I would be doing when I gave birth. I thought perhaps it might be time to write briefly about that to give some idea of why a woman might choose hypnotically prepared childbirth, what she might do to prepare, and how that may benefit her in her birthing experience.
I encountered the idea of hypnosis for childbirth when I went through my initial certification training as a hypnotherapist. At the time, the idea was presented that if someone could have gallbladder surgery with hypnosis instead of anesthesia, then women could certainly give birth using hypnosis in lieu of an epidural. This idea intrigued me, so I went for my certification as a HypnoBirthing® practitioner.
HypnoBirthing® takes a slightly different perspective in that it is based on the conviction that normal unfoldment of birth, being a natural process of the body, does not have to be intensely painful, and for some women can even be pain-free. Many have scoffed at the idea that labor and birthing could be comfortable at all, but over the years, I have seen too many women enjoy a shorter, more comfortable birthing to be so dismissive of their experiences..
With these women's faces and stories in my mind, I knew I would choose to birth naturally, without drugs. My husband, having heard these stories for years now, was in complete agreement. Knowing I wanted to avoid creating an uncomfortable situation for my husband by being his teacher, I signed us up for a HypnoBirthing® class with my business partner, Beth. In doing so, I had the luxury of being a student, and my husband got to relax into the class a little bit. (Because I teach this method, he was still nervous about supporting me in labor with HypnoBirthing®, so we asked Beth to be at the birth to back him up if he needed it.)
In our HypnoBirthing® class, we learned (or rather, re-learned) about the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle and how to stay relaxed to keep pain out of the picture. When we become fearful, our bodies become tense. If that fear and tension goes unaddressed, the tension begins to cause pain. In our daily lives, this translates to sore shoulders from stress and the like. In childbirth, it translates to a slower progression of labor, and discomfort during uterine contractions.
By using hypnosis, releasing fear and relaxing the body, a woman can stay out of her own way, so to speak, and allow labor to unfold more easily, calmly, and comfortably. Not only did we learn hypnotic relaxation techniques and how to use breath to relax, we also learned visualizations and affirmations to help the body work more efficiently at the work of birthing a child. Most importantly, we did a powerful hypnotic exercise designed to release any lingering fears that might have kicked off the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. By keeping fear and tension at bay, we are able to keep the stress response, otherwise known as fight-or-flight from kicking in. This allows the body's natural endorphins to flow easily, increasing feelings of comfort and well-being.
Not all who teach hypnosis for childbirth come from the philosophical grounding that birth is a natural process that can be as comfortable as any other bodily function. However, all who teach hypnosis for childbirth know that hypnosis is a simple yet powerful tool that can be used to maximize the power of the mind to powerfully affect the body. Because we know that our perception of a sensation helps define it, we can use hypnosis to make labor sensations easier to manage.
It is important to note that nobody can predict the course of labor and birthing, and therefore, nobody can promise a totally pain-free birthing. Many factors influence how a woman experiences her labor and birthing. When a labor unfolds off the normal track it can be less comfortable, yet HypnoBirthing® still has much to offer by keeping relaxation and a calm, positive mindset in the forefront. These benefits manifested in my own birthing experience this past January.
I had a labor that was just a little bit off the normal track. My baby decided to come down a bit cockeyed (her head was a little tilted coming down, rather than in the optimal normal presentation.) This made the labor a lot longer and more intense from the start. My HypnoBirthing® preparation helped me to stay relaxed during surges (a nicer word for contractions) and to rest in between. This practice helped me to maintain my stamina so that I wasn't totally exhausted when it was finally time to birth my baby.
Anne right after giving birth.
The months of practicing with positive birthing affirmations also helped to keep my spirits us when it seemed like labor might go on forever! And, although most of the focus is on the birthing mother, HypnoBirthing® helped my husband to remain calm, focused and trusting of the process at times when a birthing companion who was less prepared would have been begging me to get some drugs so he could rest.
When I finally gave birth 24 hours after surges began, I still had plenty of energy to enjoy my new baby girl. She benefited from a less stressful birthing experience and adjusted to this weird new world quite well. Because her mother did not have drugs, she came into the world as fully aware as possible, which gave us both a good start for breastfeeding. The benefits have continued in the months that have followed. My ability to drop into deep relaxation quickly gives us both a much nicer nursing experience, and that certainly makes it easier for me to get back to sleep quickly after that midnight feeding (and the 2 am, and the 5 am)!
I joke around these days that I may not be the best poster child for HypnoBirthing® on the surface, but without it, I never would have had my baby without anesthesia, and probably not without a Cesarean. I know myself – I can be a big wimp! So, if hypnosis could work to better my birthing experience, it can benefit anyone.
Anne Shuman Urban, BA, CH, CPHI is co-owner of Delaware Hypnosis Partners, LLC, Wilmington, DE. In addition to teaching HypnoBirthing® Childbirth Education classes, she maintains a regular hypnotherapy practice and teaches hypnotherapist certification training intensives.