Last week I touched on today’s topic of Hypnobirthing. I was lucky enough to share with you Suzanne’s very positive birthing story where she talked about how using the techniques of hypnobirthing really helped her have a calm, relaxed and enjoyable birth. I have been studying hypnobirthing and feel very privileged to have my own hypnobirthing teacher and expert of many years Chris Ojari on the blog today to tell you everything you wanted to know.
So far I have been incredibly impressed with the whole process. Hypnobirthing has taught me so much more than antenatalclass of NCT class could have done and has prepared me for the birth of my son, like nothing I ever imagined. I am no longer scared of the birth but am actually looking forward to it. Women have been giving birth for thousands of years, so why does our society put such a dark edge on what should be such a beautiful experience. By choosing to look at the birth in a positive light, I no longer fear the unknown, instead I am embracing what I am hoping will be an amazing experience between myself, Nik and our baby boy!
So today I am over the moon to have Chris answer some question’s about Hypnobirthing. I hope if you are reading this and considering a hypnobith you decide to either take up a class, buy a CD or read a book, so far it is one of the best things I have done during my pregnancy and has fully equuiped me for what si to come in 5 weeks time!
I have also added a hypnobirthing video onto the end of the post so you can see for your self just how effective it can be!
I’ll pass you over to Chris………..
Can you tell us what Hypnobirthing Is?
Well Hypnobirthing is basically the name now given to the preparation for labour, by learning techniques to keep you (and your partner) calm, so that birth can play out as nature intended, smoothly and easily. Watch any nature and lambing programmes to see that actually birth should be straightforward and smooth, with little or no distress. It is being interfered with that usually causes problems. Ask any vet!
Hypnobirthing can be used in hospital or out, with or without other pain relief (though’ most hypnobirthing women just don’t feel the need for much, if any, pain relief) It ‘works’ by helping the mother (and usually her partner too) to firstly, acknowledge and understand the physiological connection between the mind and body and how far we in our modern societies have unfortunately veered away from our natural birthing instincts, and secondly by using that knowledge to learn how to allow your body to give birth as nature intended, naturally and undisturbed…..especially by fear. Using breathing techniques to switch off fear responses (adrenaline) and turn on your natural endorphins (oxytocin and others) by understanding what relaxes and calms you, has the effect of minimising the negative effects caused by our sophisticated, intellectual ‘thinking’ brain – our highly developed neocortex. This makes human birth far more likely to be like other mammals birth…calm, gentle and straightforward.
How long have you been teaching Hypnobirthing and why did you start?
I got into hypnobirthing way back in the 1980s when I was a Midwife and pregnant with my first child. I had always been very interested in natural birth and watched with amazement anything alternative…like the strange way of giving birth in water, used by obstetrician Michel Odent in Pithiviers….all very wacky, crazy stuff in those days! However I wanted a home birth…again much frowned upon for first babies in those days, but I became a little nervous, thinking, ‘what if’….I was working on the labour ward at Nether Edge hospital at the time and it was rather like being in the middle of One Born Every Minute, every day, on every shift…so I knew I needed something a little different to help me keep calm during my birth and erase the negative associations.
I was so fortunate because my lovely community midwife had a friend who was a GP, Ian Robinson, who was interested in using hypnosis for pain relief. He wanted a ‘guinea pig’ to see if it worked for labour…so I duly went along and learnt self-hypnosis. These ‘classes’ were just for me, not my husband, and I had no CDs or books or DVDs to watch to ‘prove’ how it can work. In fact at the time, we all thought it would work by blocking pain signals, rather than simply returning my body to a calm, natural birthing state. Anyway I was so blown away by how well it worked…(and perhaps importantly what happened when I wasn’t relaxing and I let my ‘thinking’ brain take over with worry thoughts), that I went on to teach friends and use some of the techniques informally with my ladies in the labour ward.
Obviously, I didn’t hypnotise them as such, I simply said ‘would you like me to help you relax?’ and then showed the mother and/or partner how to talk her through some relaxation. It worked so well, that I decided I would become a hypnotherapist and teach people antenatally and ‘properly’.
I worked in the 80’s and 90’s in private practice teaching hypnosis for birth to couples, as well as working as a Midwife, and having lots of my own babies… I used self-hypnosis for all of my five babies births, and had them all at home with only a whiff or two of gas and air, with the first one. I am not at all brave…ask my hubby, but knowing how to relax made the births memorable for all the right reasons. Then, I gave up NHS Midwifery and hypnotherapy for a while to bring up my kids. I went back to Midwifery in the NHS, in 2003, and then left again in 2007, deciding to concentrate on hypnobirthing and preparing people really well for birth.
By then I had done further study into hypnosis for birth and specialised by doing the American course in Hypnobirthing and I understood so much more about how and why it really worked. I also introduced the ‘fear release’ meditation, which has very powerful effects and is a big part of the current hypnobirthing programmes that you see around. I have since also qualified with the RCM (Royal College of Midwives) accredited KG Hypnobirthing Diploma and the Higher Diploma, so, as well as antenatal couples, I can teach Teachers of Hypnobirthing. So, I am really pleased that word is spreading now about how effective hypnobirthing really is.
I suppose. All those years ago, going to see Ian Robinson as a guinea pig, was a pivotal point in my life really.
I think the most satisfying part of my job now is knowing I have been a catalyst for people to build their own confidence in their bodies and trust their instincts. Oh and meeting all these lovely babies at my coffee meets.
What type of couple do you find practice hypnobirthing?
I have found over the years the ‘type of couple’ who come to hypnobirth classes has changed alto. It was all considered very weird about 10 years ago and only for ‘hippies’ whatever they are!
Now I get people from all walks of life, a lot of older mothers, who have had time to think about how they will give birth and research carefully what is the best way forward for them, but also more and more younger mothers who just realise, sometimes quite late on in their pregnancy, that they don’t feel adequately prepared and are fearful.
Also there seems to be quite a lot of second time mums who had less than happy, sometimes quite traumatic, first births. They look around when they are pregnant and when they find hypnobirthing they are delighted to think that there may be another way to give birth. Some of my most impressive testimonials have been from these ladies, who say things like ‘I said after my first I won’t be having any more’, but after my second, I couldn’t wait to do it all over again’
I offer concessional places in my group classes, because I am so passionate about everyone being able to access the courses. Sadly at present NHS funded courses are patchy, throughout the UK, but things are changing fast and I am hopeful that before too long hypnobirthing classes will be available widely on the NHS. To me it should be a no-brainer as it will save the NHS SO much money, by avoiding high caesarean rates.
What benefits do you think it has for the baby?
I find that parents often say that their baby was quiet and calm at birth and is calm and more relaxed, than perhaps another sibling, and although this information is anecdotal and difficult to prove anyway, to me it makes perfect sense.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the mother’s hormones pass through the placenta and go to the baby. It stands to reason therefore, that if a mother has a stressful anxious time throughout her pregnancy and birth, the baby will be exposed to more stress hormones that if she has been actively learning how to relax and have a calm birth. When I was pregnant back in 1984, everyone left work in the NHS and other occupations, by 28 weeks. People are now shocked to hear that, but I do feel we have taken a backward step as far as having a relaxing pregnancy is concerned. I think it is a sad fact of modern life that everyone works up to the end of their pregnancy and often there isn’t much that can be done about that, for financial reasons. So, having a CD and knowing techniques that will ‘switch on’ your relaxation hormones of calm and loving feeling (oxytocin – which is released when you are relaxed), even if it is only for a little while every day, has got to be beneficial.
What sort for benefits do you think it has for the couple ?
Reducing the incidence of Caesarean sections has got to be helpful for mothers. Keeping things on a normal track and empowering them to make choices wisely and calmly, and regain their relaxation whatever is happening, has got to be beneficial. It has been shown that mothers who have a difficult birth are more likely to have problems bonding, breast feeding and are more susceptible to postnatal depression. I know from my own observations over the years that this does tend to be true. More importantly, it seems to be their EXPERIENCE of birth that needs to be positive, which is different from what actually happens during the birth. If mothers feel calm about making decisions, and feel supported in their wishes, then even in the case of things veering widely from their ‘plan’ most women say they still had a good experience. I recently visited a lady in the labour ward as she went into premature labour before finishing the course. Her blood pressure was high and there was concern about that. After a session relaxing, I left her with a normal blood pressure and the tools for her and her partner to keep it normal throughout the rest of the labour. The staff were amazed, but I know this works and if you do a little bit of research you find that hormones play a huge part in your blood pressure regulation…. there are physiological reasons for it to work.
Hypnobirthing, in no way replaces the need for midwifery support, or occasionally, medical intervention, but statistics show that use of hypnobirthing techniques do reduce the incidence of intervention dramatically. – Caesarean section rate is reduced by 2/3rds. (Stats quoted by Royal Wolverhampton Hospital Trust – see pie chart above)
Dads have a vital role to play in the birth. I am so saddened by the dads one sees on one born every Minute….Without good preparation, they often feel useless and helpless, without any clue how to help. When a father’s instinct is to be the protector of their partner and baby, they can feel that there is nothing they can do to help if their partner gets distressed. Hypnobirthing teaches them to tune into those natural instincts, to stay close loving and supportive with their partner, but also to understand if and when she want to be on her own, or if she needs a gentle massage or help with breathing correctly. Hypnobirthing also empowers dads to be the advocate, by educating them about how to clearly make decisions about every aspect of their care. I often find Dads are my biggest advocate of how wonderful hypnobirthing is, as they see their partner change from a sometimes quite anxious and fearful pregnant lady to an empowered mother.
So for the couple it has huge benefits, encouraging them to work together to bring their baby into the world. Many people have said how hypnobirthing brought them closer as a couple, having something so special to do together and to practice, away from their lives. it is brilliant to be a strong loving unit as you bring your baby into the world, however single or unsupported mothers have said they felt stronger and more empowered in other areas of their lives too, so hypnobirthing is for anyone, whether you have a partner or not. Also birth supporter, be they mother, sister, or friend, are welcome on the course, in place of the baby’s dad or of course (hope it goes without saying…) in the case of same sex couples, their other mum.
Can anyone have a hypnobirth?
Yes anyone can ‘do’ hypnobirthing. All my ladies who come to classes find they can ‘do’ it and practice makes it easier and easier. It is really up to each individual to practice as sometimes it can take a few practice sessions to ‘get it’, and really understand what you are doing, especially if you are usually really tense. ‘Doing’ is the wrong word though, it is really about ‘not doing’, just relaxing and letting go, but If you can fall asleep you can be hypnotised or self-hypnotise. Once you understand that hypnosis is a natural state of the mind, that we all go through as we fall asleep and as we wake up, when we daydream and when we are immersed in a good book or film, then it all becomes clear and well, simple really.
Are you finding that Hypnobirthing is becoming more popular?
Yes definitely it is becoming more popular. I am so delighted having been bashing my head against, what sometimes felt like, a brick wall for decades. I think now, as society now moves more into understanding about the mind body connection more people will sit up and take notice. We know now that normal mammalian birth has been honed by millennia of evolution to being, generally, smooth and easy. In addition we have superb medical back up if things deviate at all, so women can be calm, confident and fearless about birth.
Science has now explained why and how, that by releasing the hormones that deep relaxation releases, the body works better during birth. In fact the hormone oxytocin is the hormone that is released when deeply relaxed, it is the hormone of love and relaxation, and is also the hormone that stimulates contractions during birth. Yep! Nature sorted that one out well, as you really only want to give birth to your young in a safe place, don’t you… Not when you are fired up with adrenaline because of danger. (And medical science knows this, as artificial oxytocin is what is used during induction of labour – sadly without the beneficial pain relieving effects of natural oxytocin)
See www.sarahbuckley.com for more information about all this and a free downloadable ebook about nature’s blueprint for calm, gentle birth. Sarah Buckley is a doctor so all her information is very well researched and backed up.
So I think , yes it is and will become more and more popular now.
Proper controlled trials and studies are few and far between and actually quite difficult to run, as everyone is different and will practice more or less, produce more or less oxytocin, depending on a myriad of other factors, and be more or less anxious to start with. There is an NHS funded study which has been happening in University of Central Lancashire for the last few years, which is about to be published soon. So hopefully that will ‘prove’ hypnobirthing works to the scientific community. I however need no proof and neither do my hundreds of satisfied parents, not to mention the many thousands around the world who have used these techniques now.
What are the common misconceptions of hypnobirthing?
The most common misconception is with the use of the word ‘hypno‘. Unfortunately it has negative connotations from the media. People can think that hypnosis itself is something weird, or that someone will be ‘hypnotising‘ you and therefore you are under someone else s control. Nothing can be further from the truth, as at all times when you are relaxed you can decide ‘Hmmm my nose is itching, I will scratch it’ or ‘well I need a wee, so I am going to wake up….’ or whatever. All hypno birthing is doing is teaching you about your own body and mind and although in the classes we do practice hypnosis, you are just relaxed, and always in control. It is as if you were in that stage when you are about to drift off to sleep. you know….snuggled down and beginning to let the cares of the day go, not asleep, but not ‘thinking, thinking, thinking (and if you can’t switch off the ‘thinking’ then you have difficulty falling asleep) When you are in that relaxed state, you are in (self) hypnosis. In fact, all hypnosis is actually self-hypnosis, because no one can be hypnotised against their will…regardless of what you might have seen in stage hypnotists.
Relaxing deeply has hugely beneficial effects on a woman’s labouring body, and the partner is taught about how to create a safe, calm tranquil place for her (in hospital or home) and the couple learn how to communicate in simple ways, so that she can stay undisturbed, so everyone is very respectful of keeping her calm, but she is always aware of what it happening and can open her eyes and ‘come out of it’ at any time she chooses. It is just that she probably won’t want to when the labour is in full flow. It feels so nice!
Once people understand this they are on their way.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give any women approaching labour?
I would say, if you are intrigued by all this, give it a go. Either get the CDs which are widely available or seek out a class, again widely available. Find a teacher who you like the sound of, or the look of, and go with your instinct. I think you have absolutely nothing to lose and loads to gain (I have NEVER had anyone say it wasn’t worth the money – quite the reverse). Ask for contributions from family and friends to help pay for the course, or see if you can find a concessional place, if money is a real hindrance, or use the CDs, and the books, but definitely explore it all.
- If you are in Sheffield, we have several teachers trained with KG Hypnobirthing, see www.hypnobirthingassociation.com for their listings. They have classes running constantly.
- Or look at my website www.peacefulandcalmbirth.com and email me or come to a coffee morning (three run every month in Sheffield and Derbyshire) to chat to other mums (and dads) about their births or their classes.
- www.hypnobirthingassociation.com for your local qualified teachers. www.thehypnobirthingcentre.co.uk for cds and Katharine Graves hypnobirthing book, which is a good self study guide too. Go with your instinct and build your confidence in your amazing body. Your body has done the ‘difficult’ bit, by the time you are 9 months pregnant… by growing a perfect baby from a tiny fertilised egg, the last bit is really simple if we let it be. Trust that your body can ‘get your baby out’ as smoothly and efficiently, as long as you relax and let it happen. Have a lovely birth.
Hypnobirthing – Katharine Graves
Hypnobirthing – Marie Mongan
Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering – Dr Sarah Buckley