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Saturday, June 16, 2012


I have become a convert to hypnobirthing. When I was pregnant with my first son I was rather sceptical of natural birth, I was keen for any pain relief possible and any mention of a pain free orgasmic birth made me cringe. After a less than spectacular first birth experience which resulted in an intervention cascade and a painful traumatic 21 hrs (you can read about it here) I was willing to check out my options. Turns out that pain medication and a safe healthy birth aren’t always compatible.  So when a friend of mine started to talk about hypnobirthing I was ready to listen, and what she was saying made sense. She had used hypnobirthing for her first labour and was so convinced that she decided to become a hypnobirthing tutor, I feel super lucky that she did otherwise there is no way my second birth would have been anywhere as peaceful and as easy as it was.

When you go into labour stressed out, tense or fearful then your body does not function as it should. Based on our current societal conditioning we are programmed to think labour is painful and usually needs medical assistance. What happens when we hit the fear response is that the body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode taking blood and oxygen away from non essential organs such as your uterus and diverting it to essential organs such as the heart and lungs. This causes the muscles in the uterus to fatigue and not work as well as they normally would. We also release adrenaline - which blocks endorphins and tenses all of our muscles making it harder for the involuntary muscles responsible for labour to do their job. A fearful labour takes place in sympathetic system, this is 'the emergency room' of our body and is basically your flight or fight or freeze response. When we are in this mode we release adrenaline and block oxytocin which in turn makes labour slower and more painful. Hypnobirthing uses the body's natural hormonal processes to both enhance labour and remove pain, flooding the body with endorphins is the trick to a pain free labour. To do this we must activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Every principle and practice of hypnobirthing is about reaching a state of very deep relaxation so that the uterine contractions are as effective and as pain free as possible. Nothing is forced, in a proper hypnobirth, there is no purple pushing, there is no panting and screaming. It is quiet(ish), controlled and effective.

After my first birth experience anything that would give me the skills to birth more effectively sounded great. Talking to my husband we realized this would be a really effective way of being proactive about birth and address our fears effectively. We signed up.

The basics of hypnobirthing are broken into three main approaches

  •       Learning to achieve and maintain deep levels of relaxation through self-hypnosis & breathing techniques
  •       Positive repositioning of birth in our subconscious through various techniques such as visualisation, affirmations, fear release and self-hypnosis.
  •       Education about normal, healthy pregnancy, labour & birth, and practical physical approaches to birthing effectively.

These techniques together become a powerful birthing companion, they enable you to birth well as well as giving your birth partner really practical ways of assisting

Hypnobirthing is actually just a fancy name for what women have been able to do for centuries, at its simplest level it is essentially just deep relaxation free from fear. Many women ‘hypnobirth’ naturally as part of their labour coping mechanism. Hypnobirthing as a formal technique was developed by Marie Mongan as a response to what she saw as a social and medical undermining of women’s ability to safely birth without intervention. Many people think that hypnosis is the premise of stage shows and kooky 1970’s psychiatrists, I have to admit when I first heard the term, people quacking like a duck on stage passed through my mind. I couldn’t shake the Derren Brown associations. However hypnosis is simply a very powerful way of talking to your subconscious which is already used by high performance athletes, powerful business professionals and performers. We actually engage in self ‘hypnosis’ on a daily basis with our self talk, how often have you heard that using positive self talk will get positive results? Hypnobirthing is no different. We didn’t walk  into a room of swinging pendants or spiraling circles. We simply learned how to access deep relaxation and self hypnosis on our own!

Surge breathing during early labour.
A dark space helps promote melatonin which in turn helps to promote oxytocin

So what is hypnobirthing?

Aim: to give mum and birth partner tools and techniques to approach birth positively & confidently;  birth is calmer, safer, easier and more comfortable.

Philosophy: Birth is a natural, normal, healthy life event, and for a healthy mum, baby and pregnancy, it does not need to be over medicalised. Interventions are not necessary during a normal healthy pregnancy and birth, women’s bodies are not destined to malfunction, birthing with the body is achievable for up to 95% of all mothers.
This is about families at an incredibly special time having the best possible birth for them!

Goal: Gentle safe birth for mum & baby: Both mum and baby are healthy and happy. One is not at the expense of the other. Trust in birth!

Calm + relaxed = parasympathetic system = endorphins = effective, manageable contractions

Obstructions to a relaxed calm and safe birth: Anxiety, fear and tension

Fear, anxiety and tension triggers the sympathetic nervous system response which is FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE

-          Adrenalin no endorphins
-          Tension in birthing muscles
-          Less blood/oxygen to birthing muscles, the uterus is not a defence organ
-          Contractions less effective and more painful
-          Mind sends message to body that it’s not safe to birth
Fear + tension = sympathetic nervous system = longer more painful birth+ higher chance of intervention

Hypnobirthing classes are designed to give us the tools to keep mum and baby calm throughout labour and birth

They teach:

-          How to achieve and maintain very deep levels of relaxation
-          Breathing techniques
-          Self- hypnosis, positive imagery, visualisations, affirmations, fear release to change         negative beliefs/ideas (often held subconsciously)
-          Anchors: touch, smell, words to deepen relaxation
-          Light touch massage, acupressure
-          Education: physiology, nutrition, exercise, DVDs
A huge thanks to Carolyn for providing these hypnobirthing notes.
The whole focus of the classes was about giving us the skills to birth well, they gave me the skills to relax deeply enough and my husband the skills to actively assist in a meaningful and practical way. The classes themselves were really calming, they were my serene spot in the week. Since I stopped doing yoga re-learning to relax was difficult for me and the classes offered some effective tools to do this.  We spent a lot of the time doing deep relaxation and visualization exercises as well as learning about the physiology of labour. I couldn’t help compare these classes to what I learned in my antenatal class and there were
significant differences.  Traditional antenatal classes often tell you that being relaxed makes for a better labour but there is very little info on how this is actually done. Most antenatal classes seem to prepare you for the medical model of birth. Whereas hypnobirthing explains how your body works in labour and how to optimise that.  A relaxed body enables dilation to progress more smoothly and which exercises will allow this to happen.

We  were given a CD with relaxation tracks of hypnotic music and Marie Mongan (the creator of hypnobirthing) talking you through the relaxation process as well as birthing affirmations. For hypnobirthing to work effectively you really need to engage in the process, much of the work done is about re-writing your expectation of birth. Cultural stereotypes like women screaming  in hospitals in lithotomy with useless looking husbands being cursed at while authoritative surgeons did all the hard work are prolific. They sit deep within our psyche and build the expectation that birth is painful, traumatic and most of all – beyond us. This is simply not the case. There are a small percentage of women who are unable to have safe births without intervention. But for the majority of us, when we are given the correct information, tools and support, birth can be powerful, calm and effective. I knew that to have a birth like that I really needed to believe in my body 100% and as such threw myself into relaxation exercises completely. Every night I listened to my rainbow relaxation, at work when I was typing emails I had my birthing affirmations playing on loop. During the evenings my husband and I practiced light touch massage, acupressure, setting hypnotic anchors and deep relaxation. We did visualization exercises together and while he watched movies I listened to my tapes. Because my first birth had been so traumatising I had a lot of work to do to undo my subconscious fears. Our hypnobirthing tutor was amazing at leading us through exercises that helped us break down those expectations. I started to trust my body and was looking forwards to labour, which was completely unexpected. I literally felt like a veil had been lifted.

Relaxing in the shower an hour before birth

As our guess date drew nearer I felt more connected with our baby and the impending birth, I felt so much more prepared than I had for my first birth. My husband was a changed person, he had been anxious about birth and had even asked to not be there. After classes ended he was confident and so calm. When we first started classes we were settled on a hospital birth, without question, but as classes progressed and as we realized we were entirely capable of birthing this baby, we realised a home birth was what we wanted. I didn’t want to be offered drugs, given multiple vaginal exams or hooked up to sensors. I wanted the freedom to birth without an arbitrary timeline and without being bossed into interventions that were not necessary. I didn’t want to relive that feeling of helplessness and fear.  So we made the decision to switch to a homebirth and it was the best decision we made. How did it go?

You’ll have to check out my birth story which I’ll be posting up soon.

Our first feed out of the water.
With special thanks to Jorinde for these beautiful photos


  1. Fantastic to read this as it's something I'm opening my eyes to for baby no. 3 (who isn't even conceived yet but my other two births were both so medical and I want something different next time) - can't wait to read your birth story to see what happened for you!!

  2. Yay! The birth story has now been published here.