How hypnotherapy can help labour

Clinical hypnotherapist Maggie Howell explains how self-hypnosis can support women before, during and after childbirth

For many women, when thinking about giving birth, words like ‘painful, scary, and traumatic’ will likely spring to mind. It has become the norm in our culture to regard labour as something to be fearful and anxious about. However, if women feel like this leading up to the birth, their mind and body will be in a high-alert state, fuelled by the ‘danger’ hormone, adrenaline. This will then trigger the body’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, tensing the muscles, diverting blood away from the uterus, increasing the heart rate and preparing the mother for battle, or to run like hell – neither of which is particularly conducive to birthing a baby. If this continues during labour, it can lead to an exhausted mother, an exhausted baby and often ‘failure to progress’ – the most common reason for an emergency caesarean.

How to cope with labour
As any midwife will tell you, the secret to coping with labour is to relax and breathe
– however, that’s a lot easier said than done. Unlike other mammals we have incredibly intelligent and active brains which have been filled with enormous amounts of information leading us to make certain assumptions about giving birth. Fuelled by the negative-birth culture of today, it is these assumptions which often stop our bodies from being able to simply relax and go with the flow.

How can you be more relaxed?
Listening to natal-hypnotherapy tracks can be one of the easiest ways to learn how to relax and breathe effectively during labour. The use of hypnosis is now recognised in the NHS as an effective tool to help women prepare for birth. The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital runs natal hypnotherapy workshops and the NHS recently funded a large trial into the use of hypnosis in birth (the Self Hypnosis Intrapartum trial), which was shown to significantly reduce anxiety and fear in women.

What is natal hypnotherapy?
Natal hypnotherapy is a set of tools and techniques that women learn and practise through listening to hypnotherapy downloads, reading the Effective Birth Preparation book or attending a two-day class. The method teaches you how to overcome any fear or anxiety; how to enter into deep relaxation at will; how to use your breathing effectively; how to get back in control of your thoughts; and how to tune into your instincts and trust your body. It is essentially a tool box of coping strategies that you can use for the big day.

So what exactly is hypnosis?
A lot of people worry about the concept of hypnosis – that they’ll be left singing like Elvis Presley or clucking like a chicken. However, although you may not be aware of it, hypnosis is actually quite common and you may find you go into a hypnotic state several times a day. It is a time when your conscious mind (the analytical, rational mind), takes a step back and your subconscious (your feelings, memories, emotions and instincts) come more to the forefront. For example, when you are daydreaming or driving on a long journey and don’t remember anything about the journey.

How does hypnotherapy work?
With intended hypnosis, you purposefully take yourself into a daydream-like state using music, soothing images and guided visualisation. You can do this yourself by just imagining being on a beach or beautiful garden and then indulging yourself in imagining your perfect birth scenario, or by listening to one of the Natal Hypnotherapy downloads. Once the critical and analytical part of your mind switches off, you become more receptive to positive suggestions and images, and therefore the more you listen to the tracks, the more likely these positive feelings will take hold. So by listening to the downloads, you will start to form confident, positive feelings towards the birth, learn effective triggers to help you relax and to cope with pain, and most importantly, learn how to turn fear into confidence. By practising natal hypnotherapy over and over you are laying all the groundwork before going into labour, so when labour actually begins, your mind and body instinctively know how to respond to contractions – by relaxing deeply, breathing effectively and just going with the sensations – just like your midwife would tell you to.

How to get started
Start by listening to one of the downloads. The full range takes you through your pregnancy to six weeks postnatal. They are half an hour long and all you have to do is close your eyes, listen and relax. The next step is to read the book. It is very practical with lots of exercises and techniques for you and your birthing partner. The third step is to attend a class to take your skills and practical learning to another level. The classes are especially good for birthing partners, to show them effective ways to help you stay calm.
Finally, it is important to note that natal hypnotherapy is not just for those planning a drug-free birth. The tools can be used for any labour scenario including those wanting to have an epidural, needing an induction or caesarean section. The ultimate goal of natal hypnotherapy is to help you feel more positive, more in control and more confident about working with your body’s natural instincts, no matter what kind of birth you are planning.