We are delighted to publish this article written by Avani Fernandes-Niriella. Avani is the founder of The Birth Mindset. She is based in Reading, UK. She enjoys imparting wisdom and teaching methods towards calm birth preparedness, believing that every woman should have a happy and stress-free pregnancy, labour and early parenting experience.
What is Hypnobirthing?
It traces its beginnings in the ground-breaking work and timeless book by Dr Grantly Dick Read, Childbirth Without Fear, published in 1942.
Hypnobirthing is the term coined by early followers of his philosophy including Marie Mongan who founded her own pioneering brand ‘The Mongan Method’ along with other early adopters in America in the late 1980s.
It stands for the use of hypnosis for childbirth.
This holistic antenatal education teaches practical childbirth preparation knowledge and techniques to expectant couples.
It intends to help an expectant mother have the most natural childbirth possible, using easily-learned self-hypnosis (akin to guided meditation) and breathing techniques.
Hypnobirthing employs the systematic use of various tools for positive thinking, reinforcing self-belief through visualisation, relaxation and birth affirmations to remove fear and anxiety, alleviate any pain and make her confident in her own abilities by ensuring the vitality of mind, body and spirit for labour and in the perinatal period.
Whatever kind of birth a couple/ expectant mother is planning whether a homebirth, hospital, birthing centre or wherever else – Hypnobirthing claims it can help.
Marie Mongan brought the movement to the UK in early 2000 and while its popularity grew rapidly just by word of mouth, in more recent years it has had celebrities and Royals like Kate Middleton and now Megan Markle endorse it making it grow exponentially.
Avani’s own story:
I like to think of Hypnobirthing as a remedy or a form of ‘preventative medicine’.
Just as one would eat healthy food for longevity, one might undertake to prepare for their baby’s birth and parenthood to assure peace of mind, priming of the body and vitality of spirit.
In order to do so, we have to look at exactly what it might be a cure for.
Having found and used it successfully for my two births in 2016 and 2018 I can only profusely recommend that every woman use it for childbirth preparation.
Aiming for a water birth, I used water immersion (sitting in a birth pool) until the onset of active labour along with hypnobirthing techniques and it was immensely beneficial to me.
For my second birth, I had a complete intervention and drug-free home birth, described in some detail on The Birthmindset website.
Hypnobirthing and depression:
Yes, the two are related.
Hypnobirthing is all about acquiring skills to have a positive state of mind and body, so it will come as no surprise that it can and will combat the effects of pre- and postnatal depression.
Making a habit to replace negative feelings with positivity comes with practice. Likewise, remembering to take deep and mindful breaths helps with feelings of anxiety.
Visualising desirable outcomes in your daily life and repeating affirmations are ways to manifest things you wish to see happen and help combat hopelessness.
What can Hypnobirthing help with?
There is a close relationship between fear, childbirth and the mind.
Hypnobirthing can help alleviate mentally debilitating fears and phobias, overcome feelings of despair and hopelessness and recondition the mind to make the most of your pregnancy period with little to no fear of the event itself and positivity replacing it.
Post birth Hypnobirthing can help promote bonding with your new-born and also with establishing breastfeeding.
It can also help strengthen the bond between birth partner, mother and baby, thus ensuring the vitality and resilience of the family unit needed in early parenthood.
Fear and anxiety of childbirth:
Pre-natal depression, stresses, previous childbirth trauma and loss are some of the common reasons a woman might feel anxiety and need to opt for such alternative methods.
Let’s elaborate on why and how fear and anxiety are so prevalent even when the arrival of a new baby should be seen as a happy occasion.
The transition from womanhood to motherhood:
Finding out you are pregnant is a major life event – especially for first-time mothers, with no reference, suddenly affecting not just your body but also your psyche and your social life.
There is no turning back from the hard-hitting truth that life as you’ve known it is about to change.
You may witness a vast number of emotions, primarily positive but there are exceptions, which are more of the unwelcome kind.
Couples might be daunted with the concerns of what a new baby might spell for their finances, responsibilities and their relationship.
You might think excessively about your abilities all around.
About birth anxiety:
It’s not uncommon to experience fear of something in some form.
When we are afraid whether it is while watching a scary movie or say we are inexplicably frightened of a perceived threat such as a spider – symptoms such as dizziness and trembling, shivering or breaking a sweat can arise.
We are naturally equipped to deal with the ‘threat’ with the body’s natural defence mechanism kicking in to combat it – fight, flight or freeze response.
However, the problem worsens in extreme examples.
Some people can possess an excessive and uncontrollable fear for events like pregnancy itself.
Such people might even avoid getting pregnant for this reason, a term called ‘Primary tokophobia’.
This refers to the clinically diagnosable fears of a first-time mum.
‘Secondary Tokophobia’ is the severe anxiety following a traumatic obstetric birth experience previously. Men too can be affected by it.
Common pregnancy fears:
Miscarriage, eating or drinking something that could affect the baby, weight gain, early labour onset, morning sickness, birth defects and the effects of stress on the baby are all very valid fears that can manifest in varying degrees.
Fear and the mind:
We are conditioned from very early in life – to be worried about childbirth.
The subconscious mind assimilates negative messages portrayed by popular media and ‘horror stories’ of difficult childbirth shared by others.
As we grow we might challenge these views if we come across positive stories which challenge our world view.
But the subconscious mind is primarily concerned with our survival and overrides the conscious reasoning of the mind thinking it is doing it for the best.
This is the reason why even if we know that the fear might be irrational and that indeed some women do have very positive birth experiences it might be difficult to override these negative and fearful thoughts without proper practice and a conscious desire for change.
Fear and the body:
Fear is an emotion that is triggered by a perceived threat.
It is a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to danger with a fight or flight response.
Our prehistoric ancestors would have sued this system when faced with real predators.
Nerve endings take the message from the brain across the parasympathetic nervous system causing increased heart rate, respiration, perspiration and pulse rate as blood is pumped away from the heart and non-essential body parts (such as the uterus) to the limbs in preparation to fight off the threat.
This essentially is the mind-body connection and is fundamental to the workings of the body and mind during pregnancy.
How being calm/ fearless promotes natural labour progression?
By ensuring that the mind is without fear, the body will remain relaxed, allowing the muscles of the uterus to work as they were designed to.
This, in turn, ensures a smooth progression of labour through all phases, reduces fatigue and sensations of pain.
Hormones involved in the system above are adrenalin, endorphins and oxytocin. Adrenalin is heightened during the fight, flight or freeze response.
This has an adverse effect on the ‘feel-good’ endorphins which are the body’s natural pain relief released during labour and this, in turn, regulates the levels of the ‘love’ hormone Oxytocin.
The foundations of Hypnosis:
Hypnosis is very much a state of mind that we in fact unknowingly tap into several times a day.
Every time you give your focussed attention to something you are in this relaxed state called ‘trance’.
Examples include daydreaming – being lost in one’s own thoughts, driving without thinking too much of the route – yet getting to your destination whilst talking to a passenger in your car, being engrossed in a good book or movie so that you don’t notice your surrounds too much.
The earliest references to the use of hypnosis as a form of therapy go back to an age when medicine men and ‘witch’ doctors found remedies to common ailments using hypnosis.
It became more mainstream in modern 18th and 19th century by Western Doctors who saw varying degrees of success in treating people’s ailments.
Online magazine ‘Psychology Today’ states that Hypnotherapy can be used to treat anxiety, phobias, and substance abuse including tobacco, sexual dysfunction, undesirable spontaneous behaviours, and bad habits.
It can be used to help improve sleep, learning disorders, communication, and relationship issues. The British Institute of Hypnotherapy among other recognised institutions has established accreditation and regulatory practices.
Hypnosis for childbirth:
As described earlier Hypnosis for childbirth employs the techniques of hypnotherapy and mindfulness to facilitate a smooth onset, progression and outcome of labour and subsequently support childbirth by alleviating fears and pains related to the birth process.
Here I delve into the techniques themselves in some detail.
Affirmations are positive statements directed at yourself that can help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts.
When you repeat them often and believe in them, you can start to make positive changes.
Birth affirmations help to give confidence to women during pregnancy, labour and on the transformational journey of mothering.
Examples of birth affirmations are:
‘I trust my body to birth my baby’
‘I inhale and exhale with calm and confidence’
‘I am strong’
‘Each surge is bringing me closer to my baby’
‘My body and baby know what to do’
Positive thoughts or positive thinking is a mental attitude in which you expect good and favourable results.
In other words, positive thinking is the process of creating thoughts that create and transform energy into reality.
A positive mind waits for happiness, health and a happy ending in any situation.
Applied to childbirth a mother could choose to distance herself from horrific birth stories being narrated to her, not subscribing in any way to negative ideas, ‘old wives tales’ or myths revolving birth in preparation for her own labour experience.
This essentials cloaks or protects her from the views of others.
This is the trading name for a form of light massage therapy taught by ‘The Wise Hippo Birthing Program’.
It involves the use of the palms or fingertips run across the back of a birthing mother to stimulate the release of endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good hormones and take away her attention from any discomfort during labour and thus alleviate pain.
Guided imagery (sometimes called guided meditation, visualization, mental rehearsal and guided self-hypnosis) is a gentle but powerful technique that focuses the imagination in proactive, positive ways.
In the context of birth – a mother can listen to guided audio tracks that make her imagine her own birth journey within a calm and peaceful setting, to promote progressive relaxation of her body and quiet enjoyment.
The aim is to make her feel prepared for a calm birth that goes well and without stress or anxiety on the day.
Aromatherapy is the use of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils for healing and cosmetic purposes.
The oils smell pleasant, but they also contain therapeutic chemicals.
In the context of birth according to Babycentre UK ‘Scientists don’t know for sure how aromatherapy works.
Essential oils may send chemical messages to the part of your brain that affects your mood and how you’re feeling.
This happens either when you breathe in the scent of the oil or when your skin absorbs the oil during a massage or bath.’
Anything that heightens relaxation and triggers the body’s natural relaxation response will ensure the progression of labour as it was intended.
The act of breathing (inhaling and exhaling air) is as natural as it is the definition of life itself.
‘Patterned breathing’ refers to the act of breathing at any number of possible rates and depths.
Employing controlled breathing techniques for birth d up to labour.
Some women prefer breathing deeply, using their diaphragm to fill their abdomen with air.
Other women prefer light breathing, inhaling just enough to fill their chest.
The goal is to find breathing patterns that have a calming and relaxing effect.
A labouring woman’s breathing should be at a comfortable rate and should not cause her to feel short of breath or light-headed.
Specific breathing techniques can be employed for each phase of labour.
They are often clubbed with visualisations and imagery attributing relaxing feelings to body parts.
This creates a suggestion and thus allows deeper relaxation of the body.
Can anyone use hypnobirthing?
Yes, it is absolutely safe to employ these techniques.
It is just recommended to not listen to your hypnobirthing tracks while driving or operating heavy machinery as the tracks are designed to relax you which can make one less alert.
Is Hypnobirthing safe?
Yes, it is.
There is no reason that is not. Hypnobirthing is a series of therapeutic techniques designed specifically for fear release and heightened confidence.
It, therefore, is unobstructed, free from interventions, instruments and invasive procedures.
Is it a spell or sleep and I lose control?
While it is not uncommon to feel sleepy but even if you have dozed off to hypnobirthing tracks, you are still listening and aware so that you never really lose control.
You will either take or not take the suggestions under a state of hypnotic trance unless they feel right to you consciously.
Arguably, hypnobirthing allows you to be even more in control. In any case, during a hypnobirthing course, the mother is not hypnotised before the birth, and will not cluck like a chicken when she hears the word “contraction” for example!
Are there any reasons why I should not use Hypnobirthing techniques?
There is no reason you should not do it. Hypnobirthing might not culminate in a natural pain-free birth with no effort, but it will definitely help promote calm, choices, confidence, comfort and control!
You can always check with your medical practitioner if there are any concerns but I am confident there should be no concern.
So go ahead, start to imagine, believe and have a birth that leaves you eternally beaming and create some lasting memories of your baby’s birthing day.
Does Hypnobirthing go against the hospital and doctors advice?
It is advisable to work as a team towards your birth wishes.
Hypnobirthing teaches a birth family to learn about all their options for birth, form a strong support team and work alongside medical practitioners who are aware of their preferences.
By working as a team, the aim is to reduce unnecessary interventions, only addressing alternative measures should complications arise.
You too CAN do it, Mama.
1. Griffiths D., Cianfini T., 2013, The Wise Hippo Birthing Programme, London, The Wise Hippo Ltd.
3. Psychology Today, American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, www.psychologytoday.com, 2018, 24/02/2019.
6. Mindtools, https://www.mindtools.com/pages, 02/09/2018, 24/02/2019, article.
7. Cogan C., https://www.clarecogan.com, 06/2017, 24/02/2019, https://www.clarecogan.com/five-things-need-consider-booking-hypnobirthing-course/
8. British Institute of Hypnotherapy, 25/02/2019, http://www.britishinstituteofhypnotherapy-nlp.com/