I vividly remember waddling into my hypnobirthing appointment. It was my first pregnancy, and despite lots of yoga and reading the ‘right’ books, I was very afraid of giving birth.
The pain of birth scared me. But then again, pain rarely makes anyone’s list of good times! Truly, I think the unknown is perhaps the scariest thing about birth, particularly your first one.
So hurrah for Meghan Markle, AKA the next royal mum-to-be, who is speculated to be using hypnobirthing techniques to overcome her own (speculated) fear of birth, before baby finally arrives, sometime in mid-April.
Or so ‘they’ say.
Read more about birth:
- Why do hospital staff say you’re NOT in labour – when you know you are?!
- 5 things you should definitely include in your birth plan
- Conquer the fear: What all pregnant women need to know about labour and birth
What is hypnobirthing, exactly?
If you haven’t heard of it before, hypnobirthing is a method of managing pain and anxiety during childbirth and involves various therapeutic relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and visualisation.
According to Nadine Richardson, a doula and founder of the She Births® program, hypnobirthing was originally created by hypnotherapist Marie Mongan and its primary teaching is to overcome the fear of birth.
Nadine says: “Hypnobirthing works with the mind, using visualisation to develop strategies for overcoming fear.”
A method for overcoming fear
Fear was exactly the reason I was drawn to hypnobirthing. The hypnotherapist I used was also a doula and a tarot reader, who I’d visited about 12 months before I fell pregnant. I felt safe with her, which is something I would highly recommend if you decide to follow through with this process (are you listening, Meghan?).
She told me that she couldn’t predict how my birth would unfold (and nobody could), but that hypnobirthing would help me feel like I was emotionally prepared. And that’s what I wanted, something to ease my increasing anxiety.
Did it work? Well, yes. And, no
This is what I wrote in my journal at the time*: (unfortunately I wasn’t thinking of future me, so the details are a bit sketchy!)
“I sat on her couch and she got me to close my eyes. We moved through the chakras in my body and she got me to visualise on the colour red. She ‘walked’ me through the stages of birth and talked a lot about the baby. She told me that I would need to make sure that I ‘understood all my options’ and to ‘trust in the process’. I feel better in a strange kind of way. I think she would have said if things were going to turn out badly and I felt like I connected with the baby. I really felt him there. It was lovely.”
Fast forward a couple of weeks (I was ten days overdue) and Harry’s arrival was anything but straightforward. I had a three-day marathon; induction, followed by failed forceps, followed by a c-section. Despite the drama, I did always feel the connection between Harry and me was intact.
What do the experts say?
Women’s health GP Dr Sneha Wadhwani considers hypnobirthing more of an “attitude to labour, rather than a method of labour.”
She said: “If a patient told me they were going ahead with a hypnobirthing session, my advice would largely be determined by the patient and her circumstances in the pregnancy. That is her previous obstetric history, her current pregnancy and any issues arising in this or from her previous pregnancy which may affect delivery this time around. I think it’s important to support informed choice, so advising a patient of the risks and benefits of any intervention. Hypnobirthing is no different in this regard.”
“By using positive affirmations and self-talk as a means of self-hypnosis, a relaxed state is achieved whereby the fear-pain connection is broken down, and the patient develops a method to cope with this more calmly through labour. So I have no issue with this at all. Attending a hypnobirthing session can be educational and informative, and should be explored alongside all the other options when it comes to delivery.”
Meditation and visualisation is just as powerful
Nadine Richardson also tried hypnobirthing as a pregnant mama but says she is cautious about recommending it as a stand-alone pregnancy tool.
“I personally don’t believe in hypnotherapy, because a person’s neocortex, the part of the brain that engages and questions what is going on, will always kick in,” says Nadine.
“I tell women all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, you are the one working and controlling the narrative in your mind. If you are lucky, the hormones of birth will take you into a trance-like state, but that is your hormones at work and they are driven by the woman. She is the one doing all the work.”
Visualisations are a key to Nadine’s She Births® course, and she says they are powerful because it encourages women to stay in their body, and you have to be present in your body to give birth.
“Meditation and visualisation are actually a much more powerful technique for pregnancy and birth preparation. And that’s because it evokes the parasympathetic nervous system, which means you fully relax the mind. And once you have better control of your mind, the birth process will unfold more smoothly,” says Nadine.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. If you feel anxious about giving birth, I think hypnobirthing will help you. BUT you must be someone who is comfortable with the idea of the mind-body connection. For example, people who meditate or do yoga regularly will be comfortable with the process and the language the hypnotherapist uses.
The only other thing I would say is to make more than one appointment – in fact, try and make them regular. This will get you used to the practice of going inward, and if only for that reason increase your chances of success.