What is hypnobirthing?
There are lots of misconceptions about hypnobirthing. Here, Siobhan Miller, founder of The Positive Birth Company, tells us what it involves.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘hypnobirthing’ thrown around quite a bit recently, but perhaps you’re not completely sure what it involves. There’s no doubt the word ‘hypno’ creates misconceptions about what hypnobirthing actually is. Let me assure you that hypnobirthing, despite what its name might suggest, does not involve being hypnotized – nor does it have anything with hippies or, indeed, hippos! In fact, there is nothing unusual about hypnobirthing at all.
I think hypnobirthing can best be described as the psychology of birth. In fact, it’s a lot like sports psychology. Just as athletes need to prepare mentally, as well as physically, to improve their performance, there is a similar need for women to prepare for labour and impending motherhood in order to get the best out of the experience.
Essentially hypnobirthing is a form of antenatal education, an approach to birth that is both evidence-based and logical. You may be surprised to know that it’s more scientific than anything else. On a hypnobirthing course you learn about the physiology of birth, and by that I mean how your body works on a muscular and hormonal level when in labour. Crucially, it teaches you the practical skills necessary to work with your body (rather than unintentionally against it) to ensure the right hormones are produced, making labour more efficient and comfortable. This combination of knowledge and practical skills leaves you feeling confident, and able to trust that your body really does know what to do.
So what are the practical skills that will enable you to access the state of deep relaxation that lies at the heart of hypnobirthing? It involves a combination of breathing techniques, visualisations, guided relaxation exercises, light-touch massage, positive affirmations and various other techniques. It also gives you the confidence and knowledge to make informed choices, so that you are in a position to navigate your birth – and any twists and turns – with confidence, armed with practical aids that ensure you feel calm and in control throughout.
Crucially, hypnobirthing is not for only one type of birth, just as it’s not for only one type of woman. Hypnobirthing is for every woman with a baby inside her uterus (you don’t need to subscribe to any particular school of thought) and for every type of birth (from a natural water birth without intervention or pain relief, through to an unplanned caesarean). Many women come to hypnobirthing wanting a vaginal birth, but I always say that actually the mechanics of how a baby enters the world matter little long term in comparison to how the mother felt during the experience, because it’s the feelings that last a lifetime. This is why a positive birth experience is so important and offers lifelong benefits for mothers, babies and entire families. It is well known that a positive birth significantly reduces a woman’s risk of experiencing postnatal depression (PND) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Giving birth and becoming a mother to a small person is a monumental moment in a woman’s life, whether it’s the first time or the fourth time, which is why birth really does matter. As much as motherhood is about winging it, putting some time into preparing for a positive birth is always worth it.
So, what constitutes a positive birth? A positive birth is a birth experience that leaves a woman feeling empowered rather than traumatised – in which the mother’s wishes are respected, and she feels listened to, calm, confident and informed throughout. Water birth, home birth, induction, caesarean – it’s no particular type of birth. All births have the potential to be positive. Hypnobirthing is all about teaching women – and their birth partners – to create those positive experiences.
Siobhan Miller, the mother of three boys, is an experienced hypnobirthing teacher and founder of The Positive Birth Company, which aims to empower women and their birth partners to create positive birth experiences.
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