Hypnobirthing techniques for a more positive labour and birth – Part 2
In Part 1, I introduced hypnobirthing and MamaSerene’s hypnobirthing course and discussed the effects of hypnobirthing on labour and birth. In this article, I will go through the hypnobirthing techniques that we learned at the hypnobirthing course to practice with your birth partner as early as possible and every day before labour kicks in, so you can apply these techniques to achieve a more positive birthing experience.
“A positive birth is the best gift you can give your baby… and yourself.” MamaSerene
At the beginning of the one-day course (from 9.30am to 5.30pm, with a few breaks in between), hubby and I were asked to write down three things that we were anxious about before our baby girl’s birth. These were:
- The baby’s heart rate dipping and oxygen not flowing to the brain
- Having a Caesarean
- The long labour causing damage to the baby in some way
During MamaSerene SereneBirth’s Hypnobirthing Course, Dani Diosi gave us a set of tools and techniques that you and your partner can use during labour and birth.
Before the course, which was attended in private at Dani Diosi’s beautiful home in Bushey we filled out an extensive questionnaire so Dani could get an idea of our birth history, where we were at during the pregnancy and how we felt about labour and birth in general. I naturally wrote an essay, so I was very impressed that she managed to retain all that information and apply it specifically to the course.
We started with Dani telling us the history of childbirth, which was fascinating and we were advised to read Ina May Gaskin’s, Guide to Childbirth to learn of its birth and progression throughout the years. We then talked about hypnobirthing and how it could help you have a more positive labour and birth, details of which you can find in Part 1 of this article series. So, let’s dig in to find out what you need to do to prepare for a hypnobirthing.
Introduction to labour and birth
Nature intends for us to procreate and even though reproduction isn’t for everyone, it is why we are all here in this world – to mate and continue our species like every other animal (even the asexual types who reproduce by themselves.) In the natural world, the male and female are drawn together sexually, and the act of making love initiates the procreation. During that act, there is no input from anyone else; the bodies know what to do and how to release the eggs and sperm, which then go on to fertilise the egg and begin the road to pregnancy. During pregnancy, the body instinctively knows how to grow the baby as long as mum keeps her body as healthy as possible or an unfortunate event such as a miscarriage/stillbirth occurs. Then, when the time is right, her uterus, pelvis and release of hormones are designed for her to birth her baby.
So, why does nature appear to fail us at the point of labour and birth?
Why do we experience excruciating pain, unplanned caesareans and various birth complications?
And, why doesn’t this happen to other mammals?
Mammals are incredibly good at giving birth. If you’ve ever seen a cat give birth, the mother instinctively goes to find somewhere dark and quiet, and away from predatory danger. She appears to be relaxed and serene, and she moans quietly and rhythmically until she births her baby.
We are all mammals – humans are more intelligent and sophisticated – and, our bodies haven’t changed physiologically in the last millions of years. The way our babies are born and our primal needs are the same as other mammals. So why are our births so different?
The main difference is that we have developed much larger and more complex brains. We still have our primary/limbic part of the brain, but our neocortex, the part which is responsible for intelligence, analysis, language, irrational fears and inhibitions are more developed, which means the neocortex ‘interferes’ with the ability for us to let go and allow our body to take control of the birthing process.
In my article about anxiety, I talked about how our brains cannot distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat, i.e. a tiger in front of us versus speaking in front of many people. In each case, adrenaline is still produced, which kicks off the fight or flight response, and the triggers aim to get you out of danger. However, you are not in danger when you are speaking in front of people, but your brain cannot distinguish between the two. So, if a woman goes into birth feeling tense, her system will produce adrenaline and respond accordingly.
Well, let’s list out what adrenaline does to a woman in labour:
- Oxygenated blood rushes away from the centre of her body which means flowing away from the uterus and baby
- The uterus doesn’t receive fresh blood, so can’t remove the lactic acid effectively
- The muscle ends up hurting and becoming tighter
- The baby is not receiving pure oxygen through the mother’s blood and so over a long period can become distressed
- The muscles will tense up in preparation for the fight or flight response, which will affect her breathing and cause a lack of oxygen to the baby
- Her body will think she is in a ‘dangerous situation’, and so her cervix will close, and labour will not progress
All of the above are incredibly useful if there is true danger ahead, but many women who experience this adrenaline coursing through their bodies are not actually in danger. So, as a result, complications can occur, and the woman ends up with a negative birth experience.
If this birth situation continues for a while, then her baby can become distressed, and the cervix stops opening. The doctors and midwives may start to use terms like ‘not dilating fast enough’, ‘failure to progress’ and ‘baby in distress’, which causes more adrenaline and all sorts of intervention happens to speed things up.
The care provider then gives the woman artificial hormones or chemical drugs, and her body stops producing the right amount of natural hormones. The anxiety, medical intervention, the embarrassment and the hostile environment all work together to cause adrenaline during labour. As a result, her body continues to pause labour because of the perceived danger and the rate of caesarean increases due to not being able to progress the birth.
Birth hasn’t just become like this. The stigma attached has happened over centuries and stems really from when religion came into being. Check out the image below from Dance of Life Midwifery, which shows the comparison between the Technocratic and Wholistic Models of Birth.
Understanding the physiology of labour and birth
To be able to feel more in control of your labour and birth, you need to understand how the physiology works, i.e. the process that you will encounter during labour and birth. During the hypnobirthing course, my husband and I laid out a timeline from the first contraction to holding your baby to see whether we had an idea of how the process worked.
It turned out that even though we’ve done this process twice before, we both still got it quite wrong!
We were provided with a lovely Path to Birth flowchart in our pack, which was designed by Kicki Hansard, and displays the stages of labour to birth beautifully:
Women should understand that birth is a process that unfolds slowly and the woman’s body responds according to the environment and support she has around her. Oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’ is usually released at high levels when there are people around you who love and care for you. There are no clocks, no pharmaceutical pain management and no regular timings of contractions. So it is important to start from a place of personal power and be made to feel in control of your labour and birth.
Understanding the risks to make more informed choices
They say knowledge is power.
So, having more knowledge of the obstetrical risks can provide you with that control you need to birth in the way that you want to, whether that be a home birth or a caesarean. For example, when talking about risk your birth provider might tell you the following:
“Remaining pregnant beyond 42 weeks more than doubles your risk of stillbirth.”
While the relative risk of stillbirth does more than double between 40 and 43 weeks, the absolute rate remains small – rare in fact.
The table above shows that 37 weeks would appear to be the safest week to induce labour to prevent most stillbirths. But the questions you need to consider – and ask – are:
- What are the current known risks to the baby of inducing labour before it begins on its own
- How is induced labour different from spontaneous labour?
- Why do so many care providers recommend induction of labour at or near 41 weeks instead of at the end of 42 weeks?
And what exactly does ‘risk’ mean?
For example, there is a 1:1 risk or it is 100% likely that death and taxes will happen in our lives and there is a 1:1,000,000 or 0.0001% risk of dying in a fatal air crash. So if you look at the table above and we refer to the rate of stillbirth beyond 42 weeks again, you can see that even though the rate of stillbirth does double, the actual rate of stillbirth is 2.13:1000, which is 0.213%! It doesn’t have quite the same buzz to it as ‘your risk doubles’, does it?
But, what matters to you?
That is the real question. If the benefits of the medical intervention outweigh the risks then opting for that intervention may be necessary.
But if the benefits and risks are unclear, then consider the following:
- Are you ok now? Is baby ok now? Then consider waiting a little longer before you act
- Is this medical intervention a routine procedure that the care provider offers everyone or is there something unique about your situation? If it’s routine, then consider waiting a little longer
- Who benefits from this medical intervention now? Is it mum and baby? Or the care provider? If it’s the care provider then consider waiting a little longer
Asking these questions ensures that you arm yourself with the right information before making a decision, and a great way to make sure you are asking the right questions is to use a process called BRAINS:
- What are the Benefits of medical intervention?
- What are the Risks if I agree to the medical intervention?
- Are there Alternatives that I can consider?
- What is my Intuition saying?
- What happens if I do Nothing?
For example, if the care provider has recommended using artificial hormones like Oxytocin, to start labour artificially or to speed up labour, then note that this intervention does tend to interfere with the messaging system between the uterus and the brain and forces the uterus to do something it isn’t ready to do. And, because the brain is not getting the required information the body stops producing the natural oxytocin and endorphins, resulting in more pain relief, which increases the risk of complications.
Of course, if it’s an emergency, then you need to let the medically trained professionals get on with it. However, if you (or your partner) ask whether you or the baby is in danger and they reply with ‘no’ or ‘we are not particularly happy with…’, then consider waiting a little longer. Use BRAINS!
Remember that all women and their cervix are different, so it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of every decision you make about birth.
MamaSerene provides an in-depth handout at the hypnobirthing course which goes into greater detail about each risk related to birth and is a great read for anyone who has been wondering about how to calculate risk.
So, now that you have more knowledge about the risks of labour and birth and the importance of relaxing through the process, below are some techniques you can practice at home to help you regain that control wherever and however you choose to give birth.
Breathing and relaxation
Breathing and relaxation is your biggest tool in the box because by nature if you are breathing properly and in a relaxed way, you are not stressed or tense, and you are not initiating the fight or flight response. Breathing is going to make your contractions much more manageable, and encourage the hormones to do the job they need to do, which is to enable you to have a much calmer birth. Again, it is important to note that hypnobirthing doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a natural birth – albeit it does increase the chances, but it will help you to have a more positive birth – even if you end up with a caesarean.
“If a birthing woman doesn’t look like a goddess – someone ain’t treating her right.” Ina May Gaskin
Hypnobirthing audio and music tracks
A great way to practice your breathing so that it feels more natural to go into a relaxed state during labour and birth is to listen to the hypnobirthing audio and music tracks, which are provided by MamaSerene in the hypnobirthing classes. The tracks are designed to help you stay relaxed by using post-hypnotic suggestions like “breathe, release and let go”, and when you hear these words, you are suggested to breathe deeply and let the tension go. You get three tracks, one which is all about Letting Go, which helps you to relax if you are feeling particularly anxious about anything. It is also very helpful to listen to the Letting Go track when you are in early labour to make sure you are not holding onto anything emotionally.
The other track is a Labour Track which you listen to when you are in the established/serious phase of labour. It helps you to focus on relaxing when contractions can get tough.
You are also provided with a track without the post-hypnotic suggestions so that if you don’t want to listen to the words you can focus on the music. Dani Diosi also provides a track for those who are scheduled for a caesarean birth.
The MamaSerene vocal tracks are designed to provide those post-hypnotic suggestions to help you go into a very deep state of relaxation during labour and birth. Obviously the more you practice, the easier it will be to go into this hypnotic state. MamaSerene advises that you listen to the tracks 2 to 3 times a week building up to every day in the last couple of weeks of your pregnancy. Avoid listening at a time when you would normally be going to sleep and remember that you may feel as though you are falling asleep during the relaxation session. But if you wake up at five (as MamaSerene counts from 1 to 5 to wake you up from the hypnosis state), then you are simply in a very deep state of relaxation. If you do sleep, you are just giving your body what it needs. You can listen to any of the tracks during labour to help you stay relaxed and progress the birth naturally.
Practising breathing techniques with your partner
You can practice other great hypnobirthing breathing techniques with your birth partner as s/he will be your mouthpiece during the process of birth, which is why your birth partner should attend the hypnobirthing session with you so they learn what they would need to do to help you stay relaxed.
MamaSerene provides you with a handout containing two breathing exercises, one which is called Individual Breathing, where you sit together leaning against your birth partner. With your birth partner’s hands on your tummy, you begin by both relaxing and breathing gently. The exercise aims to notice the pace of your breathing. Did it differ from each other? Did you naturally breathe in sync with each other or were your breaths very different?
The second exercise is matching and pacing breathing where you sit together with your birth partner and this time your birth partner needs to pay attention to your breathing and match it in pace and breath. After a short while, you change to a more quickened breathing and your birth partner needs to exaggerate their breathing to encourage you to go back to breathing more deeply. Matching and pacing breathing are great for established labour when you may lose focus, and your breathing will quicken. You want to stay away from adrenaline causing anxiety and focus on breathing deeply to encourage a more relaxed state, and you do this by matching your birth partner’s slow and deep breathing as much as possible.
Breathe, release, let go
Another way of encouraging the words, “Breathe, release and let go” to help you stay relaxed is to get your partner to say them when your breathing has quickened, and anxiety has set in during labour. If you have been listening to your hypnosis tracks, you should be able to use the post-hypnotic suggestions when the triggers words are said to go back into a deep state of relaxation.
You may love a good massage during labour, or you may not want to be touched. But some techniques like a vigorous rub down your back, bottom and legs can relieve tension and release adrenaline when you are in the height of a contraction. MamaSerene has a great handout which shows how your birth partner can massage your back effectively to release tension. Your birth partner can massage the shoulders, back and buttocks, upper back and sacrum during or in between contractions.
MamaSerene showed hubby how to perform the ‘Pressure Wave’ which helps to release tension in between contractions. Your birth partner starts by gently sweeping across the eyebrows, then moving onto the temples. Then they move down the body to the shoulders, tops of arms, forearms, thighs, calves and top of feet before they sweep off.
Positive birth affirmations
At the hypnobirthing course hubby was asked to stand up, raise his left arm and repeat ten times:
“My arm is weak.”
After the repeated chant, Dani Diosi pushed his arm down, and it fell against the weight quite quickly
He was then asked to repeat ten times:
“My arm is strong and powerful.”
And when she pushed down again, she found it a lot more difficult to move his arm.
Hubby didn’t even chant the words with force or intention. It was enough to repeat the words for the psychology to work. Positive affirmations work in the same way – the more you repeat the words, the more your mind will believe it.
Positive birth affirmations are specific to birth, and Dani Diosi provided us with some flashcards to take home with us and practice reading out loud. My favourite affirmations are:
- I trust in my ability to give birth
- I am confident in my ability to give birth naturally
- My body will give birth in its own time
- I allow my body’s natural anaesthesia to flow through my body
- The power intensity of my contractions cannot be stronger than me because it is me.
- I am ready and prepared for childbirth
- I relax so my baby can relax
- I trust my instincts to do what is best for my baby
- I am a strong and capable woman
- Babies are born when they are ready, not when doctors, midwives or anyone else decides
Creating a nest safe enough to give birth
It is so important that we note how different a hospital environment is to our natural home environment and how important it is to create a nest to feel safe enough to give birth. Having your pillow, T-shirt or favourite smells can induce the feeling of safety and make the environment intimate and private.
The nest can be reproduced in a hospital if you’re not giving birth at home. The essence of a positive birth is to mimic a private, intimate, dark nest coupled with the deep relaxation and mindset to make childbirth much calmer and more positive – think of how cats do it! Some ideas on how to build your nest are in the image below.
Putting it all together when labour and birth starts
There are three main phases during labour, and your birth partner should know the phase you are in so that s/he can help you accordingly.
Phase 1 – Excited Mama
This first phase is where your birth partner encourages you to stay at home and sets the atmosphere by notifying others that the process has started. Your birth partner can also fix you a good meal to keep your energy levels up and entertain you until you head to the next phase. Contractions can last between 30 and 45 seconds, every 15 minutes. It is important at this stage that your birth partner matches your mood here.
Phase 2 – Focused Mama
You can still stay at home for this phase, but your birth partner’s aim is to now offer things without you asking for them, as well as counting through your contractions and putting some of the positive affirmations, triggers and suggestions that you have prepared before labour and birth into practice now. Your birth partner can use the massage techniques learned during the hypnobirthing course and other mental distraction techniques such as visualising your special place to encourage a relaxed state. But your birth partner should be led by you at this stage.
Phase 3 – Doubtful Mama
This phase is all about your birth partner encouraging and praising you that you are so close to the end now. Words like “You are doing so well,” “Your breathing is so effective,” etc will help to motivate you to carry on. Get your birth partner to use one-word hypnobirthing visualisation techniques like a holiday or a happy memory and get him/her to count with you through the contractions.
Phase 4 – Getting the baby out
Here it is important to breathe the baby down rather than push the baby out. Breathing into the bottom can be more effective so your birth partner needs to encourage you to breathe if s/he can see that you’re holding your breath and pushing
Phase 5 – Delivering the placenta
Get your birth partner to encourage the support staff around to keep the place warm, quiet, and undisturbed, as well as leaving the cord until it has stopped pulsating before cutting it. Your birth partner is your mouthpiece so make sure s/he knows your birth plan inside out.
Other ways to help relax during labour and birth
Breathing, listening to relaxing music, building your nest and getting your birth partner to help are key ways to relax during labour. Below are some other ways to prepare for a more positive experience
Moving around in labour
Lying on your back for any length of time defies gravity and can work against the natural labour process, so moving around will help your baby get in a good position. For some other great techniques, visit www.spinningbabies.com.
Being in warm water during labour can feel enjoyable and relaxing. Opt for a shower, bath or birthing pool to help relieve tension and encourage relaxation.
Focusing on sounds such as music, the voice of your birthing partner, or environmental sounds can help you to ‘vocalise’ the contractions through hums, moans and groans. It can be a really powerful way to release the tension and relax the body.
In the handout pack, we received a mindfulness colouring book containing pictures related to labour and birth. I took about 30 minutes after a stressful day to colour in one of the images, and it relaxed my mind. Colouring can take your mind off the pain and focus on the beautiful colours and patterns which can take you to your happy place.
Dani Diosi is a fantastically enthusiastic and very clued up professional, who knows more than most about the physiology of positive labour and birth. She is patient, understanding and personable with a mountain of knowledge on how to encourage you to have a more positive labour and birth. We finished off the course watching a lovely video of the hypnobirthing experience in real life (which you can watch here) – I can’t wait to have my own hypnobirthing experience in just a few weeks!
For more comfort measures during labour and birth and information on what I have discussed above, please visit www.mamaserene.co.uk and book your hypnobirthing course with Dani Diosi now. (07855 478 175 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
*We were gifted MamaSerene’s Hypnobirthing Course in return for our honest review and I can say, hand on heart, it was one of the most informative and eye-opening courses I have ever attended. I would thoroughly recommend you do book a course with Dani Diosi so you can learn how to have a more positive labour and birthing experience. You will not be disappointed!*