HYPNOBIRTHING: A SCEPTIC'S GUIDE

08:29 Hayley Brockie-Dunlop 0 Comments

...OR HOW TO HAVE A GOOD NAP DURING PREGNANCY

My hypnobirthing preparation (aka "nap") spot

During my NCT antenatal classes we were each asked to prepare some notes about the various forms of pain relief available to women during labour. I must admit that when I was allocated hypnobirthing for my "homework" I inwardly groaned, as it all sounded like nonsense to me (I also kind of resented having to do work as part of a course I'd paid through the nose for!). Anyway, when I researched it a bit more, my interest was piqued. Sure, it was unlikely to hit the spot like an epidural, but if it helped me to mentally prepare for childbirth in any way at all I was willing to give it a go.

I didn't splash out on a course (although I did also learn some breathing techniques at local pregnancy yoga classes), instead I ended up listening to a borrowed copy of the Natal Hypnotherapy CD a few times a week once my maternity leave began.

Now I can't say with any degree of authority that it worked, but it did enable me to have a good 40 minute nap every afternoon - something that wasn't necessarily easy to come by in the final weeks of my pregnancy - so at the very least I was grateful for that.

What did surprise me, however, was that - each and every time - I awoke up from my slumber at the precise moment I was instructed to do so by the silky-voiced woman on the CD (and it also sent my non-napping husband to sleep when he gave it a listen). And I can also genuinely say that I was really looking forward to going into labour and had next to no anxieties about it. So perhaps, subconsciously, I was absorbing the information.

The birth itself was straightforward, quick (seven hours all in), peaceful (if you don't count me screaming my husband's name at the start of each contraction) and I got through it with only gas and air (and a bit of time in the birthing pool).

Was hypnobirthing responsible for this positive experience? Who knows. But if you've got some spare time on your hands before giving birth and you fancy a nice afternoon nap every now and again, you've not really got anything to lose! And I absolutely believe that the relaxation techniques enabled me to face what happened to me after the birth of my son with at least some degree of control, rather than abject terror.

Below are the notes I prepared for my NCT class in case anyone else finds them helpful:

What is hypnobirthing?
Hypnotherapy during labour - also known as ‘hypnobirthing’ - functions on the premise that most labour-related pain is the result of fear and tension, which can be reduced with hypnotherapy. Hypnobirthing is thought to:
- Help women keep higher levels of oxygen in their body because of the deep breathing techniques
- Reduce the need for pain-relieving drugs, such as pethidine or an epidural
- Increase the chance of having a straightforward vaginal birth
- Reduce the need for drugs to speed up labour
- Put you in control of your own birth – rather than blindly turning your birthing experience over to your doctor or midwife (although sometimes, as in my case, medical intervention is required). How effective is it / does it really work?
Hypnobirthing is not without its critics, and some studies suggest that it is an ineffective way to reduce pain during labour and childbirth. Despite a lack of scientific evidence, however, anecdotal feedback from women who have used hypnosis during childbirth in their second or later birth - i.e. comparing a hypnobirth with a non-hypnobirth - indicates that they felt more in control, confident, relaxed and focused, and less fearful than during their other birthing experiences. Indeed, some women are even quite evangelical about it, despite being sceptical to begin with. So, in short, whilst its effectiveness as a form of pain relief is unclear, it certainly appears to have other benefits to women, helping them to have a calmer and more 'positive' birth. Note: The NHS launched its first full scientific study into the effectiveness of hypnobirthing in 2011 but it doesn’t look like the results have been published yet. At what stage of labour is it used?
It can be used during all stages of labour. How long do the effects last?
For as long as the techniques you learn are put into practice during labour and childbirth. Do you need to be taught the techniques by a practitioner or can you teach yourself?
Interesting question. The people at hypnobirthing.co.uk - who teach the “Mongan Method” - absolutely insist that the only way you can learn hypnobirthing techniques is through their own trained practitioners. However, there are numerous companies and individuals out there who offer courses and you can also buy audio CDs or download MP3s through which you can learn the techniques yourself at home. Further details at natalhypnotherapy.co.uk. If you want to take classes they are run privately and, according to babycentre.co.uk, fees can vary from £200 up to about £450. However, I found one practitioner in East Dulwich offering private sessions with couples for £950 (!). How much preparation / practice do you need to do before labour?
If you learn the techniques yourself at home through an audio CD, they recommend you listen to the hypnosis session at least 20 times prior to childbirth. Is there any way you can learn about hypnobirthing through the NHS?
Not as far as I can work out, although some NHS trusts are starting to offer classes (albeit paid-for) and an increasing number of midwives are becoming more familiar with the techniques (indeed, some NHS midwives teach hypnobirthing privately in their spare time). Do you need a specialist with you during labour?
No, you can just put into practice the techniques you’ve learnt either through hypnobirthing classes or through self-teaching. Some women opt to have a doula with them during the birth. If you give birth in a birth centre or labour ward where the emphasis is on active birthing with little intervention, you may even find that - as above - your midwife is familiar with the techniques. Are there any damaging effects? What if it goes wrong?
None reported, but the biggest risk is arguably going into labour with unrealistic expectations in terms of how effective hypnotherapy will be as a form of pain relief. Mums-to-be are warned that, whilst they are many benefits, hypnotherapy is not going to magically give them a higher pain threshold. Does it involve going into a trance?
Supporters of hypnotherapy insist that hypnosis is about gaining more control over one’s mind and body, rather than losing it. I’m not sure people who end up acting like animals on stage during hypnosis stage shows would agree but there you go. Practitioners don’t seem to like the word ‘trance’ and prefer phrases like ‘altered state of awareness’ or ‘relaxed concentration’. The thinking is that we all go in and out of different states of mind all the time without realising it - when we’re daydreaming or watching TV or reading a book, for example - and hypnosis is simply a method to enable us to deliberately transition from one state of mind to another, more relaxed one. What if you go too deep into hypnosis?
According to the pros, this wouldn’t happen. As stated on hypnobirthing.co.uk - “with HypnoBirthing (in fact, virtually all hypnosis), you are aware of what is going on around you but you can just 'tune out' the distractions.” Can you use hypnotherapy with other forms of pain relief?
Yes. Further reading and resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnotherapy_in_childbirth

Any other questions? Feel free to ask below!

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