The concept of giving birth ‘as nature intended’ is growing in popularity worldwide, with experts claiming that using certain techniques can decrease the pain and duration of labour, limit the need for medication or intervention and help mothers to enjoy, rather than dread, the birthing experience.
HypnoBirthing is a well-researched methodology developed by American hypnotherapist Marie Mongan and based on the work of British obstetrician and natural childbirth advocate Dr Grantly DickRead, who researched the fear-tension-pain syndrome associated with labour and birth. The birthing method uses hypnosis to decrease pain and fear during labour and birth.
Dr Dick-Read concluded that women who were calm and positive tended to experience less pain than fearful women since fear created muscle tension, which caused pain.
How it works
The HypnoBirthing South Africa association explains that a scared mother releases catecholamines, or stress hormones. As a result, most of her oxygenated blood moves to her arms and legs in a biological ‘fight or flight’ response. “Blood is directed away from the uterus and cervix, the muscles tense and constrict and the body experiences pain. This lack of blood flow to the uterus means that the muscles start to work against each other and can result in the baby’s head pushing against hard, unrelenting muscle. “Conversely, when the mother is completely relaxed and free from any fear, her body is able to work naturally to help her birth her baby. The two sets of uterine muscles are able to work together to open and draw back the neck of the cervix so that the baby has a smooth path down and out. “In this relaxed state, the body also secretes endorphins, a natural painkiller 200 times stronger than morphine.” Practising HypnoBirthing allows women to achieve a deep state of relaxation using self-hypnosis – something most of us do naturally when we’re reading, watching television or day dreaming.
Hesitant about hypnosis?
KwaZulu-Natal-based HypnoBirthing teacher and doula Callen Gerrits explains that the type of self-hypnosis expectant mothers are taught is “simply a state of relaxation; much like you would be in if you were driving a familiar route to work, doing yoga or watching TV.
“You will be relaxed, but absolutely awake and aware of what is going on around you.” There’s nothing ‘airy fairy’ or New Age about the technique either, she explains.
“It encourages the mindbody connection to make your labour and birth as calm and comfortable as possible. Just as a marathon runner or a CEO needs to prepare her mind before a big race or an important meeting, so too does a pregnant woman need to prepare.
“Visualisation, deep breathing and relaxation are scientifically proven techniques used in a wide variety of health and wellness applications. “Best of all, the techniques are absolutely applicable to the rest of life, outside birth.
I personally use a number of the tools on a daily basis and with my children. My six-year-old daughter has taken to saying: ‘Mom, I need you to just take a deep breath in’ when she sees me getting stressed!” Callen hasn’t encountered opposition from medical caregivers when it comes to patients implementing HypnoBirthing techniques, but says it’s a good idea to include the technique in your birth plan.
Alternative birthing methods
“There are many natural techniques that mothers can use to make labour and birth easier,” says Callen. “We encourage the use of mind-body relaxation techniques, massage, touch, a supportive partner and doula, an environment that is dark, quiet and private and, of course, the use of water during labour and birth – if the facilities are available and there are no complications.” Other nontraditional approaches include the Alexander Technique, a method for standing, sitting and moving around safely, easily and efficiently during labour; the Bradley Method, which emphasises natural birth without drugs and the importance of nutrition, exercise and relaxation; acupuncture, which involves pricking the skin with needles for pain relief and to treat various conditions; using a TENS machine to control pain and water births.
In addition to feeling relaxed, calm and in control, mothers may also experience the following:
- Better pre-natal bonding
- Improved sleep and health during pregnancy
- Shortened labour
- Reduced need for pain relief or intervention
- A calmer baby
- Faster recovery time
- Reduced chances of postnatal depression.