A Natural Birth Technique That Aims to Help Women Master Labor Pain
Hypnobirthing — sounds like something for hippies with dreadlocks singing Kumbaya on the beach in Goa. But it’s not. So, what is hypnobirthing? It’s as much a philosophy as it is a technique for giving birth with as little medical intervention as safely possible. And it has nothing to do with someone swinging a pendulum in front of your eyes until you feel ‘verrrry sleeepy.’
What is hypnobirthing?
Hypnobirthing was developed in the United States in 1989 by master hypnotherapist Marie Mongan, who based her work largely on the teachings of the 20th century obstetrician Dr. Grantly Dick-Reid. The premise of hypnobirthing is that fear creates tension, and tension leads to the pain that women experience during labor. The goal is to eliminate the fear, and thus, the tension and pain.
Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis does not have to involve a stage performer swinging a pendulum before a group of volunteers. Hypnosis is actually just a very deep state of relaxation, which most people experience at some point every day: when they are daydreaming, driving on auto-pilot, or in the moments just before falling asleep. Hypnobirthing teaches mothers to enter this state of meditation and focused concentration, as and when they desire, including during labor and birth. It is this state that allows women to overcome the fear they may associate with childbirth.
Related: Is a Natural Birth Right for You?
It is also understanding that allows women to avoid the fear. Hypnobirthing also focuses on educating women about childbirth, so they fully understand what is happening to their body during labor, and educating women’s partners, so they feel confident and empowered to assist.
It is well known that labor contractions can be painful, but few people understand the physiology behind them. The uterus is made up of three layers of muscle, which work in unison to open the cervix and allow the passage of the baby. With each contraction, or surge, the outer vertical muscle fibers gently pull upwards on the inner circular muscles, which hold the neck of the cervix firmly closed. Slowly but surely, the circular fibers, like tightly wound ribbons, are completely unraveled and the cervix is dilated. By using slow surge breathing, and keeping the body’s completely relaxed, mothers can maximize the effectiveness of each contraction and shorten the time it takes to reach full dilation.
In most conventional settings, fully dilated mothers are coached to repeatedly take deep breaths and push their babies out. This process can be lengthy and exhausting and the pushing places much strain on the perineum and pelvic floor. Hypnobirthing techniques instead take advantage of the body’s natural expulsive reflex. Physiologically, the human body will move to expel any matter it regards as foreign; we experience this with vomiting, or when having a bowel movement. In the same way, when an unmedicated mother is calm and relaxed, the body will naturally commence a series of involuntary, rhythmic uterine pulsations, which gently nudge the baby to crowning. The mother assists by breathing firmly downwards, only during these uterine waves. The absence of forced pushing results in a much lower risk of damage to the pelvic floor and, as the baby emerges gently to the body’s own rhythm, episiotomy is rarely needed.
What does the hypnobirthing technique do?
Hypnobirthing techniques have been linked to lower C-section rates, shorter labors, fewer episiotomies, lower rates of chemical inductions, and a reduced need for drugs and other interventions. Women report greater levels of confidence going into their births and greater levels of satisfaction with the experience with lower rates of post-natal depression. And of course, calm and happy mothers, mean calm and happy babies.
Hypnobirthing goes hand-in-hand with care from a doctor and a hospital delivery, or care from a midwife and an at-home birth. It aims to foster mutual respect between the birthing family and their health-care provider. Doctors and families are regarded as a team, with the common goal of creating not only healthy mothers and babies, but also happy families.