Hypnobirth - How it made my labour a calm one and a interview with Bumps n Babies

When I was pregnant with Wilf I was always pretty confident with the idea of childbirth. Having grown up with a midwife for a mum and having all my younger siblings born at home it was something I felt pretty at ease with. Somewhere around half way through my pregnancy though my neighbour mentioned she had studied at a hypnobirthing class with her second child and was very enthusiastic about its methods. After she had had a fairly traumatic first birth she knew she wanted the second to be completely different, after taking a class was happy to report a joyful birth experience at home using hypnobirthing methods. She was kind enough to lend me her book and CD and after reading it (it was the Marie Mongan book btw) it seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

I didn't actually end up taking a class with Wilf but would listen to the CD before bed every night from around 30 weeks onwards. I was actually dubious that any of it would go in because I would be asleep within minutes of putting the CD on but it actually must have been drifting into my subconscious all along. I had the CD then playing during my labour and I think it really helped to remind me of that calm state and kept me feeling completely relaxed throughout, in-fact (and I know this may raise some eyebrows) I would go as far as saying I had a completely pain free labour and just felt really chilled throughout. That being said the 'ring of fire' was true to it's name but only last seconds ;)

This time round I generally feel just as positive about labour as I did with Wilf's (especially having the experience of his going so well - you can read his birth story here if you fancy it) but I was curious as to what a hypnobirth class would actually entail, given that previously I had only read the book by myself rather than have someone go though the ideas behind it with me. So when Katheryn from Bumps n Babies offered Tom and I a session in our home I was really eager to take her up on the offer.

You might say that really Katheryn was preaching to the converted when it comes to how positivity can help during labour but actually I was surprised at how little time I had spent thinking about this pregnancy and birth in comparison to my first. I think when it's your first time round you have so much time and everything is so new that your pregnancy and birth is something you think about and prepare for a lot. This pregnancy has whizzed by so fast and I'm often so distracted with Wilf or work that I've barely had time to think or visualise this baby, (sorry baby!). It was so nice to have two hours to chat to someone like Katheryn and for Tom and I to really sit down and chat about the birth. It was also such a breath of fresh air to hear someone talk so positively about labour. Usually the only birth stories we hear are ones that are dramatised for TV or people you meet along the way who are eager to share horror stories. I tend to shy away from speaking positively about my own birth experience because of the fear of coming across as smug or self righteous. Which is a shame really.

The session was spent talking about the ideas behind hypnobirth, visualisation, positive thinking and the linking of associations (for example smell is a big trigger when it comes to letting your brain remember something). We also covered breathing methods and watched a beautiful birthing video where the woman labouring pretty much looked asleep and then breathed the baby out in a paddling pool! I have to admit that despite my labour being very pain free the actual pushing bit for me was more about lots of hard pushing and a memorable burn for a couple of seconds.

Before our session ended we both laid down on a sofa each whilst Katheryn played some of the hynobirthing music and read from the hypnobirthing scripts to send us into relaxation whilst we closed our eyes. I realised afterwards that although I'm fairly used to doing this in my previous pregnancy (by listening to the CD's) and a little in pregnancy yoga, this was the first time Tom had tried these visualisation techniques. I actually wondered if he might be sceptical about it but he really got into it and I think it was brilliant to be able to share that kind of experience with your birth partner. I would probably say that's one thing that, had I been doing my first pregnancy again, I would have tried a class over doing it myself as I really didn't include Tom in it much at all. When actually it's so important for your birth partner to be on your level and a calming presence in labour.

I thought it might be interesting to ask Katheryn some questions about the practise of hypnobirth for anyone reading who might be interested in trying it out. Of course if you're Bristol based I'd also really recommend you go try one of their classes too! ;)

You’re a trained midwife, when did you decide to become a hypnbobirthing practitioner? 

After using Hypnobirthing for the birth of my son, Louie in 2011. As a pregnant midwife I had way too much knowledge and was really anxious. I wanted a home birth but never thought I would cope, believing I had a low pain threshold. A midwife friend Sharon offered to teach me HypnoBirthing.  I thought it sounded a bit wacky and alternative.  But at the first session, as Sharon explained the physiology of how fear affects labour it made perfect sense. I loved the relaxations and started to enjoy my pregnancy much more but I didn't believe that it would really work for me.

Five days after my due date, my husband, in no way medical, insisted we call the midwives out as I was having regular 'surges' (hypnobirthing term for contractions). I would not believe that I was in labour as it wasn't painful at all. Turns out he was right as I was 8 cm and almost ready to push when the midwives arrived!  

My son, Louie, almost 9lb, was born at home in our bathroom and I felt like queen of the world after.  That high I had, the feeling that I could achieve anything now, honestly changed me life and my view of myself.  It made me want to spread the word.  I want other women to feel like that too and not be scared of giving birth. 

Do you think having hypnobirthing knowledge has changed the way you help women in labour

It has helped me to trust women's bodies amazing abilities to give birth.  As midwives we often want to do 'stuff' but often the less we do the better.  
For me, personally, a good birth was an unmedicated home birth, but that would be some women's idea of hell!  Some women want an early epidural, or an elective cesarean, and I would fully support them in their choices, as that would be empowering for them. 

It sounds like hypnosis which scares me and puts me off, is that what it is?’ (this question from Rachel at The Littlest Pip)

I think the name 'hypnobirthing' or the the idea of 'hypnosis' can really put people off. 
A better way of describing it is deep relaxation and this is all it is, just being deeply relaxed.  A bit like day dreaming, you are in the room but your focus is just in another place. It is all self hypnosis, no one is doing it to you. You are totally in control and aware of what is going on around you.  It actually feels really nice and is the state we are in as we start to fall to sleep, watch TV or loose ourselves in a good book so is nothing new.

When is the best time to start classes? Will it still be effective if you are late in your pregnancy
and have less time to prepare?

You can start any time after your 20 week anomaly scan.  Some women like to start early, if they are particularly anxious.  Sometimes doing it a bit later, around 30 weeks is good as you closer to the birth and the practical tips for labour are fresher in your mind.  We have taught women who are 38 or 39 weeks pregnant who have done really well so it is never too late!

Are hypnobirthing methods useful in all types of births, from a home birth to a C-section? 
Yes!  Hypnobirthing is not just about the actual birth. Regular relaxation throughout your pregnancy has many health benefits for mothers and babies and really helps you to enjoy your pregnancy more.  You learn to go with the flow, which helps you however you give birth, and when you are a parent that is a super useful skill.   

Who do you find usually comes to your classes? Is it mainly first time parents or do you get a

Usually first time parents, but we also teach parents who have had a previous awful birth experience and want things to be better this time.  
We teach a lot of midwives! All of the pregnant midwives at work come to us.  There is a lot of anxiety for a pregnant midwife, as I said, and midwives have seen first hand just how brilliant hypnobirthing is.  

A lot of the couples do NCT as well, and we felt that was an unnecessary expense, as Hypnobirthing is a complete antenatal course.  We now offer baby care and breast feeding classes so they can get a complete package.  

Do you think views on birth are changing? Have you noticed as a midwife and as a hypnobirth
practitioner that women are leaning towards natural birth methods again? 

There is fashion in birth as in everything, and hypnobirthing is definately very popular right now.  The news has spread by word of mouth as just like me, women are so impressed and want others to have a good experience.  But the techniques it teaches;using relaxation, breathing, visualisation in labour are as old as time.There seems to be an increase in positivity around birth, with the Positive Birth Movement, which is brilliant.We are so lucky in the UK and especially in Bristol, that women have a choice now, so they can choose a home birth, a midwife led birth centre,  or a hospital with all the pain relief and assistance they want.

(this question from Gill at A Baby on Board) Do you think it's more effective in slower labours where there's a longer build-up? I had such a quick labour where it was go from the off that I'm not sure anything could have helped. Is there a difference? 

This describes my second birth- an hour and a half from start to finish.  As a hypnobirthing practitioner I wanted to be completely calm and in the zone but it was just so fast and intense that I shouted and swore.  A lot.  I still had a great birth.
I think this raises a really important point.  Women can't 'fail' or not 'do hynobirthing properly'.  There are all kinds of ways to give birth.  Not all women using hypnobirthing have a complete silent. dream like birth at home, surrounded by candles, like the films you may see.  Some women do (about 10% feel no pain whatsover and can stay totally in the 'zone'.)  Other women do feel pain, or end up with a cesarean or whatever, they haven't failed. The main thing that hypnobirthing teaches is to restore your faith in your body's ability to give birth.  You can do it!  Women's bodies are amazing. 

Is there a particular type of hypnobirthing method you recommend over others?

We teach the Marie Mongan method, which a complete system and is one of the oldest and most established programmes, but they all share a similar philosophy.  More than the method I would say that if you are doing a course I think it is very important to find a practitioner that you like and feel relaxed with.  I feel that as midwives teaching it, myself and my colleagues, Sharon and Jade, provide a balanced perspective.  We are quite pragmatic and realistic when teaching the methods.  We have seen first hand what works as well for couples in labour.

It is really helpful for the partners to attend a course, as if the partners are tense, it affects the labouring woman, no matter how relaxed she is.  We teach the partners lots of practical techniques; massage etc.

If people can't afford a course then I would really recommend listening to some hypnobirthing CDs or tracks instead.  

How often should you practice hypnobirthing before the birth, for it to be effective? (from
You definitely need to put the practice in for it to be effective. Listen to the relaxation tracks and
affirmations daily if possible.  It is really nice and relaxing and so good for you and the baby, not
really hard work at all.  I think of it as enforced relaxation 

Even if you and/or your birth partner don’t 100% believe in it, could it still be useful? (this
question is from Adele at Circus Queen who wrote about her hypnobirth experience here)

Definitely!  I would use myself as a good example.  Some of the best success stories we've had are women who really didn't think it would work.  A very recent client told me she was physically incapable of relaxing and had never been relaxed her entire life. In her labour everyone thought she was just asleep and then they could see the baby's head!

We love it because after the first session the often cynical men are completely converted as we explain the science behind it; how fear affects labour and the mind/body link.  It really isn't just a lot of hippy nonsense.  It works; we've seen it time after time.

For more positive birth stories check out the ones on the Bumps N Babies site here. You can also follow along with their collaborative blog here or Katheryn's blog here

Thanks again Katheryn for your time and support and for answering these questions too! If you have any questions about hypno-birth or an experience you'd like to share then do pop them in the comments section below!

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