(5 minute read)

Hypnobirthing is not a ‘type’ of birth.

It is for any birth. All birth. How you feel about your birth is what is key. You could hear two very similar birth stories but, in the telling, you could become aware that both new Mum’s feel very differently about their experience. How can this be?
Hypnobirthing helps you to learn how to ask empowered questions of your caregivers and how to confidently establish two way communication with your caregivers. It will signpost you to where you can access good quality evidence-based information to inform your decision making as you prepare for birth. You will learn how to advocate for yourself (with the support of your birth partner) and how to navigate your birth with confidence and control, using this knowledge and a simple decision making framework to help you to achieve your best birth thus moving away from the idea of being a passive passenger on the conveyor belt of routine-based care practices.
Hypnobirthing is not a form of pain relief.
It does however give you the skills to be able to quickly and effectively relax, thus working with, rather than against, your body and mind. Birth is often compared to running a marathon, where physical and mental preparation, focus and determination and understanding and supporting what your body is achieving and how you can enhance this using your mindset is essential. Hypnobirthing has many similarities to sports psychology, which is known to be used by many top athletes to improve the strength of both body and mind. Runners understand that muscles may tire and that progress may involve purposeful pain as the finish line gets closer. Understanding these sensations as a natural consequence of hard working, powerful muscles in action, rather than as a result of suffering, gives runners the impetus to face the challenges ahead without fighting against them because they know this is what they’ve prepared for and have a strong will to achieve. Confidence in, and appreciation of your body’s ability to birth, can similarly reduce fear, helping you to both understand and work with the sensations of birth, thus helping you over the finish line to meet your baby.
Many do find, however, that hypnobirthing can make birth more comfortable and reduce or delay the need for more complex choices of pain relief during labour. You’re working with the natural physiology of your body rather than fighting against it, so it makes sense that the flow of endorphin producing oxytocin produced in the parasympathetic mode has a beneficial effect. Birth is powerful and intense – you may feel fierce and strong and roar like a lion, or calm and capable and in awe of what your body is achieving. There is no right or wrong. Hypnobirthing is a comprehensive preparation program for all birth regardless of what pain relief you choose on the day.
Hypnobirthing is not hippy dippy/airy fairy or wishy washy!
Hypnotherapy (the use of language to help you to reset/reframe your subconscious mind and release fears thus optimising your ability to achieve your goal) is logical, firmly rooted in science and has been successfully used over many years (in weight control, smoking cessation etc), being recommended by the NHS due to a strong and supportive evidence base. You don’t have to subscribe to a particular type of belief system to choose to prepare for an informed and empowered birth. You don’t even have to believe in hypnotherapy for it to work! It acts on the subconscious, using words and suggestions to change your mindset when you’re in a deeply relaxed state. Don’t worry if you’re feeling sceptical about this! Many don’t feel that hypnotherapy is working if their mind is elsewhere or they fall asleep during a relaxation. In fact, hypnotherapy does work best if you are in an altered state of consciousnes but this is not a ‘trance’ and is not stage induced hypnosis. (We all enter deep relaxation twice a day when we fall asleep or wake from sleep). Put simply, the conscious part of your mind is bypassed and the subconscious part of your mind (where behavioural responses and perceptions rule) is able to receive beneficial suggestions which with repetition and regular reinforcement can become instinctive.
At times we’ve all driven a regular route that we can almost navigate without thinking. You’re not consciously thinking of the directions but can still progress on your journey safe in the knowledge that, if required, you’re still (very fortunately) free and able to apply the brakes in the event of a cat running across the road! You’re relaxed but not absent.
Hypnobirthing cannot guarantee you a ‘perfect birth’ – whatever that is?
But it enables you to be an expert in your body and actively involved in your care thus increasing your feelings of satisfaction and control in a birth you have starred in rather than endured. Knowing your options, understanding those options and feeling confident to make choices that are right for you and your baby together with your supportive and informed partner are key in hypnobirthing.
Hypnobirthing is definitely not just for those wishing only for a non medicated home water birth.
And btw – you cannot fail at hypnobirthing!
Why? Because the word describes a comprehensive birth preparation program and does not refer to any specific type of birth.
It does not set you up to fail! No toxic positivity here.
Every birth is an achievement.
I believe hypnobirthing takes on an even greater level of significance if your birth circumstances change either during pregnancy or labour. You will never regret giving yourself the best chance to achieve your best birth, whatever that may look like, by preparing both your body and mindset and engaging with regular practice.
So hypnobirthing is just as relevant for induction, caesarean birth, assisted vaginal birth, straightforward vaginal birth, birth on a consultant led unit, on a midwife led unit, at home, in water, on dry land. All births have the potential to be a fulfilling experience.
Hypnobirthing is not just a bundle of breathing techniques.
Simply listening to a guided relaxation during labour and using breathing techniques may well help, but it is most definitely not the whole story. Hypnobirthing has many different facets, which all join together to stack the odds in your favour of achieving the right birth for you. It is a ‘practice’ and develops in effectiveness as you practice each day in preparation for your birth and welcoming your baby.
It is in the practice of hypnotherapy where I believe the fundamental change really happens. Gaining knowledge through the logic and science of a comprehensive birth education whilst increasing your sense of control by becoming a true partner in your care and taking responsibility for your choices are of course key. But when you add in the ability to harness your power and change your birth mindset by making the most of the undeniable mind/body connection, learning over time to release ingrained fears that are stored in your subconscious due to a lifetime of negative societal conditioning, and are able to approach birth in a capable and confident way whilst also using the more well known aspects of hypnobirthing to support the process (self/partner led relaxation, visualisation, positive affirmations, anchoring, breathing exercises, light touch massage, setting the environment) you are going to be ready for the birth you will ultimately have. The birth that is right for you.
To finish, there’s one thing that most agree is definitely NOT clear or well understood about hypnobirthing. And that is its name!
As you can tell from these last 2 blog posts that I’ve written in an attempt to encompass just some of the substance of what hypnobirthing actually is/is not, it’s certainly not easy to convey using just one word!
And this means often that it is misunderstood.
Jo (Mum, midwife, certified hypnobirthing teacher, experienced antenatal educator and founder of Your Birth Your Baby Complete Antenatal and Hypnobirthing course)