As you may have gathered by now, neither Tim or I hold particularly hippie views. Yes, we may live within walking distance of at least 6 organic stores/vegetarian restaurants, we don’t own a car (preferring to walk, bike or use public transport) and we eat quinoa, brown rice and home-grown veg, but that’s about the extent of it.
So when I tell people that we did a Hypnobirth course during my pregnancy, the most common reaction is raised eyebrows. The word evokes swinging timepieces and people unknowingly clucking like chickens on stage, but in fact it is a method of relaxed, natural childbirth education. That is, giving birth without drugs and using only breathing, visualisation and self-hypnosis techniques to get you through.
I first became aware of Hypnobirth after a very practical, non-hippie, lawyer friend put me onto it. She said that the strategies she learnt during the course (two Sunday mornings of 4 hours each) helped her remain calm and relaxed during pregnancy, labour and early motherhood. Her husband was also a little freaked out after the clinical, medically-based hospital prenatal classes and the Hypnobirth classes made him feel more confident about the whole process and especially his role as a support person.
Let me clarify right now that I am not judging any woman who chooses to use pain relief of any sort when going through labour. In fact, there were moments during my 12 hours of labour where I wondered whether I was abstaining from pain relief for any good reason.
So why give birth without drugs? According to the Hypnobirth book (pictured), it’s supposed to create a better physical experience for mother and child, encourage mother-child bonding and ease of attachment post-birth.
Tim and I both attended the course and put aside our cynical preconceptions. Some of it made a lot of sense – a person who is feeling fearful or anxious will naturally tense up their muscles too – which is the opposite of what you want your uterus to be doing when you’re in labour. Learning to take long, deep breaths is more conducive to creating a sense of calm rather than short, panicked breaths. Visualisation techniques, such as those used by athletes for peak performance, help with creating a positive approach to birthing and encourage associated physical reactions.
Other techniques were a bit more left-field. We practised relaxation scripts where I could feel myself falling into a state of deep relaxation but not sleep or where we numbed our hand and transferred that numbness to other parts of the body (a technique I never mastered).
The most impressive part of the course were the videos of real-life women using Hypnobirth techniques during labour. My perception of labour had been cultivated by TV and the movies – red faced screaming, crying and swearing. These women barely looked like they worked up a sweat – they would close their eyes as a contraction started, breath slowly and deeply and basically remain silent for most of the time. Their babies didn’t come out squalling and kicking, but slipped out in the most serene manner. It was so inspiring to see another way to give birth that didn’t involve high stress and extreme pain.
I highly recommend attending a Hypnobirth, even if in the end medical intervention is necessary or desired. I found the relaxation techniques and scripts really invaluable for remaining calm and focused during my relatively long labour. Unlike some other Hypnobirth mums, I can’t say I’d describe the contractions as painless or just ‘intense pressure’ and in the end I chose to birth NKOTB with a suction cap….but I am crediting my current non-anxious state and NKOTB’s calmness and general ease with attachment to having had a drug-free birth. Also, NKOTB was quite a large baby at 3.7kg and considering my size 8 frame, I was really frightened that I’d need an episiotomy but again I think the muscle relaxation helped that from happening (I had three small internal stitches only).
Both the midwife and obstetrician told me that they were impressed by how well I handled the labour using only the breathing techniques, even though I didn’t feel like I did a great job myself and felt somewhat traumatised by the pain I endured (the memory of which is slowly waning, as promised by all mothers).
The benefits of the Hypnobirth techniques extend beyond birth. I am still listening to the relaxation tapes every day to help me get to sleep at odd hours. Whenever I feel my anxiety levels rising I draw on the breathing techniques to calm down. Tim also uses light touch massage on me to help with muscle tension caused by stress.
So whether you choose to use drugs or not, I highly recommend that all mothers and their support people attend a Hypnobirth course to create a feeling of calmness and confidence during pregnancy, at the birth and in their role as a new parent.
Posted: 25th February 2011