Mindfulness & Hypnobirthing

How to Prepare for Birth & Parenthood using Mindfulness & Hypnobirthing

26th Jun 2019

Taking the time to prepare for labour, birth and the first few months of parenthood (aka the ‘fourth trimester’) can turn an experience that is potentially full of fear, worry and self-doubt into one that empowers, filling both parent and baby with calmness and confidence in the self and each other.

‘Hypnobirthing’ or hypnosis for childbirth looks to release deeply set unconscious fears that have been mostly conditioned from societal expectations of what labour looks like (i.e. a medical emergency, hospital-based with a woman with her legs in stirrups) using a combination of guided scripts, antenatal education and cognitive-behavioural tools such as positive affirmations. Anxiety and worries about birth that are enforced from friends, family and the media are challenged and reframed with the help of positive birth stories, videos of gentle vaginal births and the statistical evidence that birth in for the majority is an incredibly safe event. The positive mindset is then reinforced with a daily practice of relaxation, positive affirmations and mindful body scans.

As a Hypnobirthing Practitioner, I bring together aspects of positive psychology, self-hypnosis and mindfulness to help couples become better informed and equipped with practical tools to lower stress and increase relaxation with specific breathing techniques, visualisations that encourage the cervix to open and the baby to descend. By accessing a deeply relaxed state, guided hypnosis scripts incorporate positive statements so that expectant parents can feel calm, confident and empowered[1]. When labour arrives, there is an understanding of what the body is trying to do and our aim is to reframe any pain as powerful steps towards an end goal which can be comforting to remember. The birth partner is encouraged to remind the birthing person of the emotional toolkit they have to hand as well as the practical elements of advocacy, keeping food and water close by, maintaining the birth environment to allow the person giving birth the space and serenity needed to encourage the body to labour as it was designed to do.

Mindfulness or “when we learn to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment, to things as they actually are”[2] attunes the mind to a person’s bodily sensations in the here and now. We know that regular mindfulness lowers anxiety, depression and irritability[3] and becomes an important skill in life as a new parent. Mental and physical stamina also improves[4] and by having an analgesic effect and lowering pain sensitivity[5] powerful labour contractions are more manageable.

The idea that releasing fear in pregnancy and labour reduces the tension held in the body and leads to a less painful birth was first described back in the 1920s by Dr Grantly Dick-Read. Accessing a whole body relaxation that quietens the conscious and the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight-freeze response). Stress and adrenaline can lead to a drop in oxytocin and as uterine muscles work in opposition (just like our biceps and triceps) so if they are both tense and contract then this inefficiency increases labour length and pain sensitivity[6]. Quieting the conscious, thinking mind and allowing the mammalian part of the brain to birth as it was designed to do, without distraction and in a safe environment enables the hormone Oxytocin to flow.

Once a person understands how their baby and their body are working in a dance together during birth, it is then far easier for them to use visualisations as a tool during labour and why relaxation techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, guided meditation scripts and comfort measures like birthing pools are so effective in encouraging oxytocin to flow. A calm pregnancy and entrance to the world also benefits the baby as more oxytocin at birth means the baby is likely to be alert and ready to latch onto mum successfully.

Knowing what to expect through the pathway of labour, and having simple coping mechanisms to hand to maintain the birthing bubble, can mean that a couple has a positive birth experience whether the birth is vaginal or abdominal. Couples need to know all the options available to them during labour, from where they birth to what interventions will be offered to them. Just being able to decline an intervention can be a revelation to some, and reminding people of their human rights during birth can move them towards feeling more autonomy and a sense of control over what is happening in their surroundings. Parents have as much expertise in their body and baby as their caregivers do but all too easily fall into playing the role of ‘patient’ once a medical professional becomes involved in their care. Giving parents an easy decision-making tool and feeling assertive enough to question the evidence behind their caregiver’s decisions ultimately makes parents feel supported rather than interventions are being done ‘to’ them.

It is my belief that there should be few surprises or the fourth trimester so we work through birth preferences rather than a set plan with couples, what they are aiming for in their birth but also look through all possible outcomes so that their expectations are not set in stone and they feel confident to follow their instinct if labour isn’t going the way they had envisaged. We also spend time looking at how we can create practical and emotional support around the couple when the baby arrives that can sadly be missed when family and friends are not close by. They say it takes a village to raise a child and the lack of support, even after a positive birth experience, can lead to feelings of isolation, lack of hope and a struggle to transition into their new identity of being a parent. Taking time to plan in time for their own needs before the baby arrives can help the family when they are in the midst of life with a newborn.

Birth is a normal life event that doesn’t have to be feared. Preparing for birth however you give birth, whether that be in a birth pool or in theatre, can make all the difference to avoiding birth being viewed as a negative, even traumatic event that clouds the start of your parenting journey. Using practical, evidence-based techniques like hypnobirthing and mindfulness in an antenatal course like Hey Mama means feeling like you can birth better.

This is a Guest Post by Rachel Clarke.

Rachel Clarke BSc(Hons)Psych DipHB(KGH) is a mama of one, hypnobirthing teacher and founder of Hey Mama Hypnobirthing Co. Hey Mama is a unique course that combines elements of mindfulness, hypnosis and traditional antenatal education (hypnobirthing) with a coaching approach to birth preparation. Her special interest is supporting couples with a second or subsequent birth with previous negative or traumatic birth experience or maternal mental health issues. Rachel is in private practice at Brighter Spaces Guildford

Source of reference:
[1] Finlayson et al. (2015) Unexpected consequences: women’s experiences of a self-hypnosis intervention to help with pain relief during labour. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 15:229. Accessed at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/81065485.pdf in June 2019.
[2]Williams, M., & Penman, D. (2011). Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus (p.35).
[3] Baer, R. A. et al. (2006) ‘Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness’, Assessment, 13, pp. 27-45.
[4] Jha, A. et al. (2007) Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention, Cognitive Affective and Behavioural Neuroscience, 7, pp. 109 – 99.
[5] Grant, J. A. & Rainville, P. (2009) Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in zen meditators: A cross-sectional study, Psychosomatic Medicine, 71(1), pp.106-14.
[6] Buckley S. J. (2015). Executive Summary of Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care. The Journal of perinatal education, 24(3), 145–153.