When thinking about hypnobirthing one would be forgiven for envisioning a Paul McKenna or Matt Lucas lookalike who will hypnotise you to have a five-minute natural birth.
“Look into my eyes, look into the eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don’t look around the eyes, look into my eyes. You’re under.”
The truth is hypnobirthing is about going into a hypnotic state, but not in the way that you think. The stigma attached to the word ‘hypnosis’ stems from people’s perceptions thanks to media and well-known hypnotists like Derren Brown where it looks as if the subject is under complete control of the hypnotist and can be made to do embarrassing and scary things against their will.
This is not the case at all.
Instead, you are in a completely natural state, but you are still aware of what is going on around you. You have drifted off into a relaxing and suggestive zone, but you’re not asleep or under the control of someone else. It just means that your mind is unconnected to the activity that you are doing.
But, it all still sounds like hypnosis, right?
Yes, well, think about it like this.
When you drive to work or your kids to school, do you actively think about sticking your key in the ignition, placing your foot on the gas pedal and driving from point A to point B? Or do you operate on autopilot?
Or when you’re making a cuppa, do you think about the process you go through while you are making your drink?
No, because you’ve done it so many times you go through the motions like a robot. This is being in a hypnotic state.
When you’re consciously trying to think of all the words to a song that you’ve heard many times, but you can’t remember them, and then, when the song comes on you find that you can sing all the words with ease. How are you doing that? You’re not actively remembering the words; you just seem to remember them when the song prompts you to dig out that memory.
One more example.
How about when you’re drifting off to sleep or you’re in the shower and you have the best idea for an article/project/song etc? But when you come out of the situation you were in you forget most of the vital bits of information because you forgot to write them down and now you’re trying to actively remember the details (I do this a lot, it’s so frustrating!)
In all the above situations, you were not asleep or under the control of someone else. Your mind drifted off to thoughts that were unconnected to the activity that you were doing.
You were in a hypnotic state.
So, how does hypnosis work?
Essentially, hypnosis revolves around the communication between your subconscious and your conscious mind, as well as the thoughts and actions that go along with them. The conscious part of your brain is the part which questions, analyses and rationalises things and situations. The subconscious part does everything else, i.e. stores the memories, emotions, physical functions, instincts, patterns of behaviour, language and beliefs. Note in the image below how small the conscious part of your brain is, yet it is so powerful.
There are two different types of hypnosis and the one we dip in and out of naturally is called:
When we’re driving our car on autopilot and brushing our teeth, we’re in a natural hypnotic state and if nature had its way we would live in a calm, non-pressurised society and be in a natural hypnotic state for approximately twenty minutes every hour and a half.
Intended hypnosis is where you quieten the conscious part of your brain so you can communicate more effectively with your brain’s subconscious and emotional part. You use this type of hypnosis for a specific purpose, i.e. relaxation, pain management or overcoming a phobia or addiction. Intended hypnosis allows you to access the part of your mind that is responsible for changing and reprogramming your brain to respond differently to a trigger (more on this later). It works when your subconscious mind is more open and receptive to relying on determination and will-power alone.
How and why does hypnosis work?
You can be taught to enter hypnosis because you are under your own control, and its positive effects are HUGE. Yet we have only begun to scratch the surface of how beneficial being in a hypnotic state can be. There is growing clinical evidence to show the efficacy of hypnosis where it has been scientifically proven to treat many medical and psychological conditions. Hypnosis works because:
- It teaches you to breathe deeply and relax
- It helps you to condition your body to focus
- It helps you to overcome your fears by re-programming your mind and changing your beliefs and patterns
- It practices reinforcement of suggestions and creates new neural pathways
Everything you do in life has a cause and an effect. For example, when the phone rings you pick it up, when you’re thirsty you reach for a drink when you’re angry you feel stressed, and when your baby cries you instinctively want to pick him/her up. A lot of your unwanted behaviour can also come from triggered responses that have been based on your past experiences. For example, when you feel stressed, you eat, when you’re bored you bite your nails etc. You may not even be sure as to why you have these triggered responses and, in many cases, you may feel it is nigh on impossible to change your reaction, which is why habits are generally hard to break. Hypnosis, unlike meditation, mindfulness or straight relaxation, can allow you to go beyond the relaxation session and create major changes via post-hypnotic suggestions.
While you are in a relaxed, hypnotic state, the subconscious mind can listen to suggestive words and translate them into new ways of thinking and responding. This way you can help to retrain or reprogram your mind to provide a better/different response to the trigger, so a new cause and effect are created. The hypnotic suggestions can be things related to what you’re doing during the hypnosis session, i.e. closing your eyes, imagining you are on a beach and relaxing your muscles etc. But, as real-life doesn’t allow you to close your eyes and relax as often as you hope, the post-hypnotic suggestions create the change and effect you need for when you are in those real-life situations.
And this is where the power of hypnobirthing comes in.
So, what is hypnobirthing and what has it got to do with helping you have a more positive labour and birth?
Notice that my title doesn’t say how hypnosis will increase your chances of having a natural birth because hypnobirthing, although it cannot guarantee that you will have a natural or an abdominal birth (I prefer MamaSerene’s word as caesarean sounds too clinical) it can increase your chances of having a positive birth. And this is not because hypnobirthing ‘hypnotises’ you to have a positive birth per se, but it does encourage you to focus less on the pain of childbirth and more on the actual physiology of labour and birth itself by the power of post-hypnotic suggestion. Intended Hypnosis allows you to do all the mental preparation for birth in advance so when you go into labour your body will automatically respond in the way you have instructed it to do, i.e. focusing on breathing and visualisation. And, as with anything, the more you practice, the more instinctive it becomes. The more you hear the post-hypnotic suggestions, the more your subconscious accepts them as reality and when you go into labour (the trigger) the desired response will be quick and instinctive.
And THIS, my friends, is why the power of hypnotic suggestion during labour and childbirth can help you to have a more positive labour and birth.
But first, you need to change your mindset so that you can start training your mind and body to work with you in labour and birth.
Mind over matter
My husband once suffered from terrible tooth pain and as it was a weekend, he was unable to have it fixed straight away. The temporary filling did nothing to ease the pain and by the end of the weekend, he had found a way to go into a hypnotic state to get through it, via relaxed breathing and talking to his subconscious. He did this naturally (he would do wonderfully in childbirth!) but it literally was mind over matter that helped him manage the pain. He said that if he hadn’t gone into a hypnotic state, he would have gone mad.
The mind if trained can affect the body significantly, and a simple change in thoughts and emotions can stimulate the release of different hormones. Think about the physical responses you experience when you find someone attractive or the feeling you get when you watch a scary film. Have you ever shuddered at a distant frightening memory? Even though these actions were not happening at the time, a suggestion was made to the mind and body that manifested that feeling instantly and physically.
The same goes for someone like me who had a very traumatic first birth (you can find Aron’s story here), especially when I coupled the scary thoughts with all the negative connotations of labouring in general, due to conflicting information on social media and the internet. I had a relatively peaceful second birth but it’s my first that sticks out in my mind, even though it happened almost nine years ago.
When you surround yourself with these negative images of labour and birth, it becomes part of your belief system which doesn’t come into fruition until you have babies of our own. Your thoughts begin to race without even realising it, so the emphasis has to be made on reprogramming the brain and retraining it to believe that birth is a positive experience.
MamaSerene’s Hypnobirthing Course
This is where MamaSerene’s Hypnobirthing course comes in, created and run by the wonderful Dani Diosi, an experienced antenatal and childbirth educator, hypnotherapist and Doula – as well as a mum to three girls. I received a lot of queries from pregnant women who wanted to learn more about whether hypnobirthing could offer them the birthing experience they wanted and were intrigued to find out whether I would be trying hypnobirthing in my 4th pregnancy to achieve my VBAC after two caesareans (I have one angel baby due to a late miscarriage). I jumped at the chance and Dani kindly offered me to try the one-day course to help me retrain my brain to remove the negative aspect of birth due to my previous experience and think more positively about my impending birth of my baby girl. If anything, I know that hypnobirthing teaches you life lessons, not just about how to experience more positive labour and birth. If you are aware of your negative thoughts in general then you can change your behaviours from “I can’t” to “I can”. Funnily enough, it’s something I’ve tried to implement with my boys with very positive results. For example, “No, you can’t do that” or “Don’t do this” to “We can do it later,” or “if you do x then y will happen.”
The hypnobirthing course was fantastic and so very informative! We were provided with an extensive PowerPoint slide presentation all about the history of childbirth, and the stigma attached to labour and birth, as well as how hypnosis works to retrain the brain to overcome negative thoughts and achieve a more positive birthing experience. We also practised some great techniques to help during labour and birth, like suggestive music, breathing exercises and massage that your birth partner can do during labour (in this case, hubby). And the great thing was that hubby got to learn so much more about the process of labour and birth and how he can help make it a more positive experience for me too. We were able to take a handout full of great notes away with us, along with a pen, notebook for notes and positive affirmations, which I’ll go into more detail in Part 2, Preparing for labour and birth, which you can find here.
If you have any comments or questions about the above, please share in the comments below.
*I was gifted a hypnobirthing course by the lovely Dani Diosi of MamaSerene. It was a fantastic and very informative session and I would strongly suggest considering hypnobirthing if you are pregnant and you would like to explore natural ways of encouraging positive labour and birth. All thoughts are 100% my own.