Hypnobirthing is growing in popularity – with the Duchess of Cambridge reported to be just one of many high-profile fans of the birthing technique. Yet many women are still unaware of exactly what hypnobirthing involves and that it can be used for every type of birth, including a caesarean. Passionate to change that is Siobhan Miller, mum to three boys, hypnobirthing teacher, founder of The Positive Birth Company and author of Hypnobirthing: Practical ways to make your birth better. Here she explains what hypnobirthing involves and debunks the myth that it only for natural births.
First, let me assure you that hypnobirthing, despite what its name might suggest, does not involve being hypnotized. Essentially it is a form of antenatal education, an approach to birth that is both evidence-based and logical. On a hypnobirthing course you learn about the physiology of birth – by that I mean how your body works on a muscular and hormonal level when in labour – and, crucially, the practical skills necessary to work with your body (rather than unintentionally against it) to ensure the right hormones are produced during labour, making birth more efficient and comfortable.
So what are the practical skills that will enable you to access the state of deep relaxation that lies at the heart of hypnobirthing? It involves a combination of breathing techniques, visualisations, guided relaxation exercises, light-touch massage, positive affirmations and various other techniques. It also gives you the confidence and knowledge to make informed choices, so that you are in a position to navigate your birth – and any twists and turns – with confidence, armed with practical aids that ensure you feel calm and in control throughout.
This is why hypnobirthing is not for only one type of birth, just as it’s not for only one type of woman. Hypnobirthing is for every woman with a baby inside her uterus (you don’t need to subscribe to any particular school of thought) and for every type of birth (from a natural water birth without intervention or pain relief, through to an unplanned caesarean).
If you are worried that an unplanned caesarean will upset your hypnobirthing plans –or are planning a caesarean and think hypnobirthing may not be relevant to you – it’s important to realise that hypnobirthing educates and empowers so that irrespective of how your baby enters the world you will be equipped to make it as positive an experience as possible. Many women come to hypnobirthing wanting a vaginal birth, but I always say that actually the mechanics of how a baby enters the world matter little long term in comparison to how the mother felt during the experience, because it’s the feelings that last a lifetime.
This is why a positive birth experience is so important and offers lifelong benefits for mothers, babies and entire families. It is well known that a positive birth significantly reduces a woman’s risk of experiencing postnatal depression (PND) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Giving birth and becoming a mother to a small person is a monumental moment in a woman’s life, whether it’s the first time or the fourth time, which is why birth really does matter. As much as motherhood is about winging it, putting some time into preparing for a positive birth is always worth it.
So, what constitutes a positive birth? A positive birth is a birth experience that leaves a woman feeling empowered rather than traumatised – in which the mother’s wishes are respected, and she feels listened to, calm, confident and informed throughout. Water birth, home birth, induction, caesarean – it’s no particular type of birth. All births have the potential to be positive. Hypnobirthing is all about teaching women – and their birth partners – to create those positive experiences.
Using hypnobirthing in theatre
With a C-section – whether it is traditional or ‘gentle’ (where as many elements as possible of natural birth are replicated in theatre) – the calming breath and guided relaxation exercises taught in hypnobirthing are just as important as in any other type of birth. But there are also ways of enhancing your environment to promote a greater sense of calm:
You can request that the lights be turned off or down, and that the surgeon works with a spotlight, leaving the rest of the room in darkness. Battery operated tealights can then be used to add ambience.
You can use an essential oil rollerball, with your favourite relaxing scent.
Using your own pillow and blanket can be comforting as your sense of touch will be heightened and these are a familiar texture.
You can have your choice of music playing in theatre (anything that will deepen your relaxation). Or listening to guided relaxations or positive affirmations may be comforting, particularly those that are very familiar and that you instantly associate with being relaxed.