A Comprehensive Guide To Hypnobirthing
The practice of hypnobirthing is gaining traction as a natural way to have a calm, safe, and positive birth. In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of the technique. What exactly is hypnobirthing? What are the benefits (and drawbacks)? And why is it becoming increasingly popular?
What is hypnobirthing?
Created by award-winning hypnotherapist, Marie Mongan, M.Ed., M.Hy., hypnobirthing is a birthing method grounded in the idea that the bodies of both the mom and baby are designed to make it through the birthing process harmoniously.
Hypnobirthing is a mind-over-matter approach to childbirth, relying on the power of specific relaxation techniques to help laboring mothers manage their fear and their pain.
“Hypnobirthing is the study and practice of using hypnotic techniques to prepare the expectant mother,” says Eli Bliliuos, certified hypnotist and founder of the NYC Hypnosis Center, “These hypnotic techniques help to manage anxiety, stress, pain, and fear.”
“The techniques that the mother and her partner learn help to relax the muscles in the uterus and have the hormones work with the mother during childbirth,” Bliliuos adds. “They also help to break the fear-pain cycle that leads to pain which in turns leads to more fear.”
Hypnobirthing is completely safe and is usually offered in a class setting in the months leading up to the expected delivery date where both the mother-to-be and partner learn and practice the techniques.
“Mothers are guided into hypnosis, and suggestions are given to replace stress and fear with confidence and relaxation,” says Bliliuos “Guided imagery helps the mother to relax and manage discomfort confidently. Contrary to popular belief, the mother does not relinquish control and is aware and awake.”
Hypnobirthing isn’t limited to home births; the process is equally helpful in a hospital and even for cesarean sections and medicated births.
While achieving a zen-like state in the controlled chaos of the delivery room may seem counterintuitive, there are specific techniques that women can use to achieve a relaxed state while they are laboring. Hypnobirthing techniques include deep breathing, visualization prompts from partners, neuro-linguistic programming, and other comfort measures.
Deep controlled breathing
Hypnobirthing teaches mothers to practice calm, controlled breathing during their contractions. These breathing techniques are crucial to the process; not only do they help the laboring mother conserve her energy and relax during contractions, but deep, controlled breathing also maximizes the amount of oxygen to both the mother and the baby.
With hypnobirthing, mothers are encouraged to picture relaxing, gentle imagery similar to what they’re experiencing with their bodies. For example, the imagery of a flower opening its bud is almost a perfect simulation (or metaphor) for what is actually happening. Soothing music and meditation are also encouraged to promote relaxation.
Hypnobirthing requires laboring mothers, doulas, and anyone else present in the delivery room to essentially change their lens and their vocabulary for the duration. Their focus should be on positive thoughts, words, and phrases. Instead of using harsh and intense words like “contractions” or “rupture,” the language in the delivery room should be switched to “surge,” “waves,” or “release.”
Benefits of Hypnobirthing
Melissa Cruz, a birth and postpartum doula with The Fayetteville Doulas, shares,
“Benefits for the mom would include a more enjoyable birth experience, the ability to avoid pharmaceutical pain management, and perhaps an easier time bonding with the baby immediately after the birth.”
Here’s a closer look at some of the benefits of hypnobirthing.
Research has shown that hypnosis during birth may help shorten the first stage of labor. During this stage, the cervix begins to thin and open; contractions become closer together, and they begin to intensify and last longer.
Reduces the likelihood of medical intervention
Studies have shown that hypnobirthing increases the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth. Moreover, they also show that laboring mothers who use hypnosis are less likely to require augmentation (the process of stimulating the uterus to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of contractions) with oxytocin or Pitocin. And finally, research also shows that mothers who practice hypnobirthing have a lower rate of cesarean sections compared to those who didn’t.
Naturally manages pain
Hypnobirthing is becoming increasingly popular largely because it offers a way for laboring mothers to manage their pain without drugs.
An Australian study published in 2013 showed that 51% of hypnobirthing women passed up any type of pain medication altogether. Moreover, when asked to rate their pain and discomfort on a scale from 1 -10, 46 out of the 81 participants indicated that their pain level remained somewhere around 5.8 for the duration, and two participants even recorded their discomfort level at zero.
While misconceptions about hypnobirthing prevail, the truth is that the laboring mother is awake and relaxed throughout the process. In fact, hypnobirthing allows the mother to be more present (instead of being under the influence or in a fog of anesthesia) and gives laboring mothers more control over the process, making them feel more empowered.
Multiple studies have shown that mothers who use hypnobirthing techniques instead of pharmacological intervention tend to have babies with higher Apgar scores. The Apgar test, as you may know, is a test commonly given to newborns. This test looks at specific criteria such as the baby’s heart rate, respiration, and muscle tone to assess their overall health. It also determines if any further medical or emergency care is needed. A normal Apgar score is between 7 -10, meaning the baby is in good to excellent health.
Drawbacks of hypnobirthing
While hypnobirthing has plenty of benefits for mother and child, there are some drawbacks to the process that expectant families should be mindful of.
There’s no guarantee of a pain-free birth
While hypnobirthing may sound like all sorts of wonderful, expectant mothers should be aware that there is no guarantee of pain-free labor — nothing, and no one can guarantee that.
Hypnobirthing doesn’t fully prepare mothers for the unexpected
Another drawback to hypnobirthing is the fact that it doesn’t necessarily prepare laboring mothers for births that don’t go according to plan. Typically most hypnobirthing courses focus on techniques to help relax the body. If hypnobirthing classes don’t walk mothers through the specifics of epidurals and medical interventions that may be necessary, the laboring mother may feel ill-prepared should the delivery not go smoothly.
Self-hypnosis can be difficult to master
At its core, hypnobirthing requires mothers to get into a deep state of relaxation on their own.
“It takes practice and dedication in order to utilize it effectively while in labor,” says Cruz. “Training your mind and body to relax when you hear verbal cues, relaxing music, or touch cues, takes practice and ideally will be perfected over the course of the pregnancy.”
So, there are very few “tangibles,” if you will. Some women may find self-hypnosis to be a difficult concept to master, even with plenty of practice.
Moreover, at the first sign of real pain, some women may have to deal with feeling like a failure, on top of the flurry of activity and the overwhelming swirl of emotions that come with labor and delivery.