The practice of using self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques during birth is gaining wider acceptance, writes Joanna Kiernan.
The practice of using hypnosis to ease the pain of childbirth was once reserved for only the trendiest of new-age mums.
However, hypnobirthing, which uses a variety of self-hypnosis techniques, including affirmations and visualisation, has become much more mainstream in recent years.
Midwives across the UK’s NHS hospitals are now being trained in the practice, which some claim can result in pain-free labour. The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton was even reported to have prepared for both royal births using hypnobirthing CDs.
Medical student Louise Halpenny (33) used hypnobirthing during the birth of her first child Matthew three years ago at Portlaoise Hospital and plans to do the same on baby number two, now that she is expecting again.
“My cousin did the hypnobirthing course before having her third baby and absolutely plagued me to try it,” Louise laughs.
“I was extremely sceptical about it right up until Matthew was born. I did the course when I was six months pregnant and began to listen to my CDs every day to prepare.
“I was so relaxed that on my way to the hospital I fell fast asleep and I never felt a moment of pain throughout my entire labour, but I wouldn’t have believed that if I had heard it beforehand,” Louise adds.
“During the birth, I breathed the baby down and I felt pressure, but never anything I could describe as pain. At crowning, I remember that pressure intensifying for a split second, then the baby’s head was out. Then we waited patiently for the next contraction, which swept the baby’s body out into the midwife’s arms.”
Louise’s story is the holy grail for many women facing childbirth, but she is conscious that her experience may not be the norm, even within hypnobirthing circles.
“The reason I think it worked for me is that throughout the whole process I never doubted that it would work; from the very first class I believed in it,” Louise explains.
“I saw all of these videos of women giving birth using hypnobirthing and I just thought ‘They can’t all be faking it!’. I knew it could work, but my job then was to figure out how I could get it to work for me.”
Louise, who is originally from Tipperary, but lives in Offaly, attended a nearby hypnobirthing course led by Brenda O’Toole (www.aleanbh-antenatal.ie) a qualified midwife with over 20 years experience.
“People now are looking for a more physiological approach to birth; they want to see birth as a life event and not a medical event,” Brenda O’Toole says. “When mums are more confident they trust their bodies more and they let go and surrender to the process and that is the key.
“We are taught from a very young age that birth has to be painful, but pain is brought about by tension and fear. Hypnobirthing changes that perception; it has the same premise as sports psychology; we are planting positive seeds in the subconscious because the most important organ in the birthing process is your brain, not your uterus,” Brenda adds.
“Hynobirthing is a series of effective ante-natal classes using hypnotherapy, self-hypnosis and a number of other positive learning techniques - like visualisations and education regarding the physiology of birth and how everything works — to aid that approach and help women to trust their bodies.”
Sanderke Grond (26) relied on hypnobirthing throughout the birth of her daughter Chloe a year ago.
“I wasn’t very anxious about the birth. I am from the Netherlands originally and I think the view on birth there is very different to the way it is in Ireland and on top of that my mam is an osteopath, so growing up I would have heard and would have been told about the body and how everything works and how natural everything is. So I was actually looking forward to the birth,” Sanderke explains.
Sanderke chose to have a homebirth. “We had been practising our hypnobirthing together every evening for the two months leading up to the birth and doing that together really helped us to connect about the birth and it helped me let my partner know what my needs were,” Sanderke says.
“I think a lot of people are quite anxious about birth and that is why they get the epidural, but when you do get an epidural it’s much harder to feel and be in touch with your body,” Sanderke adds.
“I found being able to feel quite relaxing. I knew what to expect because of the hypnobirthing. You cannot be totally relaxed, obviously, because you are having a baby,” Sanderke laughs, “but it does help to calm you down and loosen those muscles.”
Like Louise, Sanderke was relaxed enough to fall back asleep during her labour, which began during the night. However, Sanderke admits that is was a more painful experience than she had expected.
“The hypnobirthing was brilliant for me in between the contractions. The pain never really went away, but I was able to relax and breathe properly and properly and centre myself and prepare for the next one and that’s when I really felt it was so helpful.”
“At 4pm, I remember I went downstairs to tell my mam, who had come over from the Netherlands for the birth, to ring my midwife and from then on everything went really quickly because I had my baby at 7.15pm. Between 5pm and 7.15pm it was pretty tough going,” Sanderke adds.
“The hypnobirthing was really was helpful then because I had back contractions, so it was actually a little bit tougher than I expected, but it was a lovely experience and because we had done the course together, my partner knew exactly when to help me, how to help me and when to just back off.”
Overall, Sanderke remembers Chloe’s birth as a very relaxed and comfortable experience.
“The birth was so relaxed, my baby never cried or anything, she just had her eyes wide open staring out at the world,” Sanderke smiles. “It was just the most amazing experience of my life; that sounds like such a cliché, but it really was.”
Claire Brett from Cork is a hypnotherapist and mindset coach, who specialises fertility, pregnancy and childbirth hypnosis techniques.
“Hypnobirthing has become more and more popular here in Ireland,” Claire explains. “The levels of fear around birth keep escalating and women want to take a bit more control over how they respond to birth physically and emotionally.
"Through hypnobirthing they gain a deep understanding of how the mind has a direct impact on the birthing hormones and how they can impact the physiology by shifting fear, tension and tightness in the body.
“I used the techniques myself, but not in the traditional sense. I needed to have a caesarean section because my baby girl was breech. I struggled with this hugely as a hypnobirthing teacher, but it was in fact a great lesson in learning that hypnobirthing births come in all shapes and sizes.”
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