There are lots of assumptions about what hypnobirthing is and people can
feel quite confused about whether or not it’s for them. Can you explain to
us what hypnobirthing really involves, please?
To understand hypnobirthing it’s good to come from a place of understanding
how the body and brain work together during labour and birth. As you will
know as a doula and if you’ve had a birth doula, birth is something the body
does and anything that stimulates our neocortex (thinking brain) can cause
us to produce adrenaline which is the natural enemy of the hormone oxytocin.
Our body needs oxytocin to produce the contractions which allow birth to
happen. Adrenalin also stops us producing our own natural pain-relieving
endorphins. So we need to switch off our thinking brains to give birth the best opportunity to unfold without any assistance. This will help us to feel safe and let our bodies get on with the job.
Hypnobirth provides practical tools to really deeply relax and allow
our bodies to let birth happen. It’s not just ‘woo’ and it’s not just
putting on some relaxing music and hoping for the best. For hypnobirthing to
work as it should the relaxation exercises need to be practised consistently
through the pregnancy until your body relaxes without you having to think
about it when you use the prompts. It needs to become second nature.
Some people are concerned because they have an idea about stage hypnosis
appearing to show people being controlled by the hypnotist but not only is
hypnobirth nothing like that neither is stage hypnosis. When ‘hypnotised’ no
one is completely out of their own control. People may be open to suggestion
(like eat an onion or cluck like a chicken) but they still have the ability
to say no, I’m not doing that. No one can make you do something you’ve
already decided is dangerous or not for you by hypnotising you. Likewise,
when you use self-hypnosis as a relaxation tool for birth you are able to
take yourself to a relaxing place in your head and feel separate from what’s
going on around you but you’re equally able to switch back on to what’s
happening around you and interact with other people if you need or decide to
Some people compare the relaxation they experience in hypnobirthing to that feeling you get when you are between waking and sleeping. They say it’s like when you’re aware that your alarm is going off but you choose to keep on drowsing through. Others describe it as being like when you drive somewhere that’s very familiar and your body takes over and gets you there on auto-pilot and when you arrive you can’t really remember the journey but you’ve made it to the destination.
So if we practise the hypnobirthing relaxation we’re definitely going to
have a zen floaty birth and be completely serene and pain-free?
Maybe you will maybe you won’t. Hypnobirthing cannot promise you how your birth will go or how you will feel but what I can say is that by doing hypnobirthing you will maximise your chances for a straightforward birth if you acknowledge the conditions for enhancing your birth hormones. Hypnobirthing will reduce fear and stress and you will have the tools that will enable you to be calmer and therefore more comfortable no matter what path your birth takes.
Some people find they don’t experience labour as painful and some people labour silently. But not necessarily. Using hypnobirth tools won’t change who you are as a unique person and your birth journey will be unique to you. If you don’t feel zen or stay silent it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong and it doesn’t mean you’re not relaxing. Sometimes and for some people, the best way to relax and allow
your body to work hard at contractions is to let all the feelings go in a
vocal way. Sometimes, despite everything we do, things don’t go according to
our plan for our birth but the relaxation tools you learn in a hypnobirth
class can be incredibly useful even in these situations to help you keep calm and focused when your plans need to change. There is evidence to show that the more relaxed you are during surgery, the better your healing time is afterwards.
I always loved the mantra ‘failing to plan, is planning to fail’, although we can’t make any guarantees that things will go according to our plans for birth this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what’s in our power to increase our chances.
What practically speaking can people expect from your classes?
The classes are a complete antenatal preparation so you can expect to cover all the birth basics, what happens when things don’t go to plan, how dads can support the mums complemented by how hypnobirthing works, what tools and visualisations to use, breathing, positions and techniques for dads to physically support mums. I try to make the classes as interesting as possible so we mix things up and get everyone involved and try to avoid a typical death by powerpoint scenario.
There are 4 sessions that last 2.5 hours long and they can go away and practice something after each session and come back for more support at the next session setting them up to practice little and often up until the birth so that everything becomes second nature.
For the dad’s, I prepare a cheat sheet to help them prioritise the most important things on the day as on the day, mum needs to be able to relax and dad is charged with sorting things out which can be a lot of pressure.
Dad’s are my biggest cynics but funnily enough, they are often the biggest converts too. During the classes, the parents get the opportunity to bond with each other and
with their baby in a way that our busy lives often limit. They have the chance to really focus on each other, on their hopes and choices around the birth and on their feelings about becoming parents.
I am also a trained doula and have attended many births supporting mums and dads navigate the minefield of birth choices that are out there. I feel this helps me deliver my classes in a very informative manner always keeping the parent’s right to choice at the forefront of my teachings.
The relaxation tools can become tools for life not just for labour and birth. The principles can be useful in the early days, for example, if they want, there’s a script you can use for breastfeeding and the principles are relevant for later for any stressful and challenging situations we come across in life, both for mums and the dads.
The relaxation has positive health benefits for mum and also for baby.
There’s some evidence that mum being stressed during pregnancy can affect
baby’s brain development so that they will be more sensitive to stress. We
can’t control if stressful life events happen when we are pregnant so having
a tool to use to keep our bodies calm can not only benefit us but can even
have positive effects on baby’s development.
As someone who has experienced hypnobirth for their own birth what was it
like for you on the day?
I’ve watched the video of my third child’s birth and it does look like it
was a wonderful zen calm birth. In some ways it was but inside my head, it
still felt really intense and fast and I had to really focus on relaxing my
body. I’ve always been a mind over matter sort of person so for me the
hypnobirth tools were great because they allowed me to get quickly into that
When it came to the birth itself I felt really present in my body, really
aware of all the different sensations and what my body was doing as it
pushed out my baby. The breathing techniques were key in helping me to consciously work with my body slowly allowing my body time to stretch and not tear. I found being so relaxed through my labour had allowed my body to build up such a
great amount of oxytocin that the high of holding my baby for the first time
was amazing. The same oxytocin resulted in no blood loss at all, my midwife
was amazed and said she would have to write 100ml in my notes as no one
would believe her if she said none at all.
That said, I am very aware that every birth is different and we all have our own challenges to overcome and I try to be sensitive to that at all times and encourage a couple to find what works for them to empower them as they begin one of life’s greatest adventures.
You can get in touch with Wendy and Erika via their website https://www.wondrousbirthhypnobirthing.co.uk/
On the website, you can book a taster session or a whole course group class or private classes just for you.
The next taster session in Hampshire is Saturday 14th October at the Rebalance Pilates Studio in Hambledon 10.15-11.15am and the next full course starts November 11th.
You can also find Wondrous Birth on Facebook
All of our Hampshire Doulas will be happy to support you with hypnobirth if it is one of your chosen tools for birth. Find the right doula for you on our find a doula page.