by Stephanie T. Hodnett
Mike and I have seen lots of interesting reactions when we’ve mentioned HypnoBirthing (and I’m sure there were many more covered up by polite smiles). If you’re like me, you probably picture someone rhythmically swinging a pocket watch when you hear anything that starts with ‘hypno’. That was definitely my first mental image when some of my friends told me that they had done, or were planning on doing, HypnoBirthing to manage the discomforts of labor. Though I was a bit skeptical (I’ve always thought hypno-sorts of things were a crock), I was interested. How could someone fake a painless childbirth? I started reading the book.
It was a relief to learn that this ‘hypnosis’ was not the type you see in a stand-up routine at a comedy club. It’s more like losing track of time while reading a good book, or driving on auto-pilot, zoned out, but somehow still arriving at your destination without an accident. It’s a state of super relaxation where your body takes care of things without your mind having to consciously direct every action. This was still a little odd, but much less creepy than I had first imagined.
HypnoBirthing offers an alternative to the traditional pre-labor experience. Our HypnoBirthing classes explained the physical process of childbirth thoroughly, all the while emphasizing that childbirth is a natural function of a woman’s body and that, if left to itself, the body knows knows how to deliver a baby naturally and with minimal discomfort. We actually learned more about the actual process of birth from HypnoBirthing classes than we did from our Lamaze classes, which we took from a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital.
Some of the theories behind HypnoBirthing made a lot of sense to me. The “Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle” is a good example. Can you think of a time when you hurt yourself but carried on with what you were doing only to look down a little later and see blood? Suddenly, the injury that you hadn’t noticed gets really painful. When you realize you’ve been injured, you begin to fear the pain you know must accompany it. Fear makes your muscles tense, increasing any pain, and your mind begins to dwell on the fear and pain in a self-perpetuating cycle.
It doesn’t require a HypnoBirthing instructor to explain that our mental state affects our physical state, and our physical state affects our mental state. I know that my mind can convince my body that it’s sick, and it will actually get sick. Mike missed a few days of elementary school that way. One of the ideas behind hypnobirthing is that if we condition our mind for a positive experience, we can actually make the physical experience more positive. That seems like a good idea, but it takes serious concerted effort and lots of practice. Our mind is conditioned by our experience, the experience of our friends and family, the things we’ve learned in school, what we see on the television, and everything else around us. Have you ever seen a laboring woman on TV who was calm or one who never screams and curses the father? Probably not. Most baby showers (not mine, thankfully) are filled with horror stories as guests try to “one up” each other with an even more awful childbirth experience. As the stories grow more dramatic and excruciating, the pregnant guest of honor becomes more tense and fearful. If you add up everything you’ve heard from family or friends, seen on television or in movies, and read in pregnancy books, you end up with some pretty negative mental conditioning. Our hypnobirthing classes helped strip some of that negativity and turn it towards positive expectations. Was I still nervous? Of course. But I wasn’t terrified, and I was more excited than nervous.
In some parts of the globe, women go out and birth their babies without fanfare, weeping, or wailing. Is their anatomy so dramatically different than ours that what is excruciatingly painful for lots of Westerners is a walk in the park for them? Or are they just tougher than us and don’t complain as much? They probably are tougher, but I am convinced that a lot of the difference stems from the conditioning of our minds. In our society, we fear childbirth. We expect it to be agony, and spend the months before the actual experience conditioning our minds and bodies to expect it too. By the time the baby is due, we have trained our minds and bodies so well, that they react perfectly, as if they were being subjected to the most excruciating pain imaginable. The tension we build up in the expectation of pain helps create the pain, which increases tension and causes more pain. In places in the world where the expectation of pain is less severe, this cycle never begins, so the pain itself is less severe as well.
We also learned methods to actively divert and distract from the fear and tension that is likely to build during the childbirth process so that it didn’t become the painful experience it might have. For several weeks we practiced consciously relaxing each part of our bodies from head to toe, something akin to what’s recommended for people who sit at desks all day and have stressful jobs. We found it was not only a wonderful way to relax after a long day, it was also a great way to fall asleep. We practiced telling stories, so that our minds could be busy remembering places we had been together and things we had done. Since the mind can host only thought at a time, an engrossing story effectively blocks it from dwelling on discomfort or fear, letting the laboring woman’s body do what it naturally knows to do when it’s time to give birth. Labor doesn’t really require mental direction; the body has all the hormones in place to make the action happen without any help, and since the mental interference of a woman who is terrified is likely to increase tension and pain, the body probably works better when it’s left to do it’s own thing.
I don’t think the HypnoBirthing method is the one and only way to have a pleasant childbirth with minimal pain, nor do I agree with everything taught in HypnoBirthing, but I think the basic theory is good and the methods are useful. Mike and I feel it was well worth our time and money. We felt very confident. I trusted that my body knew what to do and was capable of doing it. Because we had educated ourselves, we were able to make informed decisions and take control of our birth experience. I would recommend HypnoBirthing to anyone. Even women who plan to have an epidural can learn from the ideas and methods of HypnoBirthing and benefit from the confidence that comes with better understanding. Every woman will have to make decisions about her own care and that of her baby, and will certainly want to be able to manage the discomforts of labor until pain medication is offered.
6 Replies to “HypnoBirthing Explained”
HypnoBirthing sounds like someone made up a trademark and merchandising for ‘just giving birth the way it was supposed to go’, which of course doesn’t sound half as good, and probably won’t attract any customers. I had never heard of hypnobirthing when I had my babies, yet what you describe is what a woman’s body does naturally, providing she wasn’t brain-washed into thinking child-birth is a curse (as you described beautifully). It’s a bit sad that western women need lessons before they can give birth naturally (much in the same way we need books to teach us how to feed our children), but at least it’s better than choosing an epidural and a caesarian before even feeling the first contraction. Hopefully our daughters will get the true story from us, and thank God and Mother Nature for their beautiful body that just knows how to put a baby on this world and nurse it and nurture it!
PS My first baby was born in hospital, with an epidural, for which I was eternally grateful then (I started a home-birth, but it just took too long (I was waiting, not laboring, I later realized) and the midwife decided it was unsafe to continu at home. My second child was born at home, with the help of my husband and the midwife. I felt pain, but no anguish, I wasn’t wounded in any way. I think wanting a painless childbirth is strange, like a life without any pain.
If you hear from Alex Haralson, be nice to her… she is my friend and is due in October. We talked about Hypnobirthing a bit and I am directing her to this site so she can learn more.
Well, lucky for you—I’m actually nice to EVERYone. :} We’ll love to have her. Thanks!
What we work for in HypnoBirthing is to get rid of the fear of childbirth, that causes tension. Stress and tension will cause unnecessary pain in a body working hard to birth. We help moms to be amazingly comfortable by helping them to relax. I agree, it is sad—but true–that our culture needs to be taught to relax. Many cultures do not need these classes because they already know how to approach childbirth with confidence and calmness. We use these cultures as wonderful examples of how to do this birth thing much easier.
I just wanted to let you know that your influence extends far beyond the people who take your classes. Neil’s sister gave birth to a little boy in July in California. She had gone natural with her first child, (not by choice!!) and decided about a month before she was due that she wanted to actually try to this time. She called me and we chatted for about 2 hours and I told her everything I could remember (with my class handouts in hand) from the class. I also told her the book is a must read. She got a hold of it somehow, and read it cover to cover. Her delivery was a much better experience than her first.
My little sister just delivered a little baby boy last week. Her first birth was also not a very pleasant experience. She had toxemia, was induced 6 weeks early, and her girl was in the NICU for 4 weeks. She decided about a week before she was scheduled to be induced (which I tried to talk her out of) that she wanted to go natural. I once again spent a good hour or two on the phone with her talking about breathing, and the rose, and going limp, and cord clamping, etc. She was a real trooper and went through the whole thing drug-free!!
Thank you for sharing your wisdom and expertise to those of us who otherwise would have been clueless. Your wonderful information has allowed me to help pass it on to others as well. Just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you, and what you do!
You go girl!! 🙂
Oh, my goodness! Jodi–what wonderful stories. Thank you so much for your kind words. But may I point out-my dear–that YOU are the one passing the info on to help your friends and family. I learned it and passed it on to you…then you passed it on. Everyone helping everyone else. That’s how this planet is suppose to work–I’m sure of it.
You are so sweet!