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HypnoBirthing the art to a peaceful birth

23 September, 2008

HypnoBirthing the art to a peaceful birth

Women birthing under self-hypnosis is a growing trend. HypnoBirthing practitioner and UK trainer Jenny Mullan explains the practice.

Women birthing under self-hypnosis is a growing
trend. HypnoBirthing® practitioner and UK trainer
Jenny Mullan explains the practice.

Midwives magazine:

October/November 2008


An increasing number of midwives in the UK can now claim to have experienced the joy of attending a hypnobirth. Following a visit to their local birth centre, a midwife informed a couple how thrilled she was that they would be using HypnoBirthing®, as she and other midwives had witnessed many beautiful and peaceful births through this process. The midwife stated that ‘midwives believe all mothers should learn relaxation techniques for birth’.


So why are midwives becoming more and more interested and excited at the prospect of women using HypnoBirthing®? The reason is simple. The practice, which is as much a philosophy as a set of techniques, gives women the tools and the confidence to return to the art of birthing naturally. They are able to call on their own natural birthing instincts, and experience a level of relaxation and calm, which allows them to have a much more comfortable, enjoyable and natural birthing experience.


Its roots are in the work of an English obstetrician called Dr Grantly Dick-Read.  A poor country woman’s statement that ‘It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t meant to, was it doctor?’ started his quest. This experience led Dr Dick-Read to investigate the effects of fear on childbirth further.


With some of the poorest women, their lack of education meant that they had not been presented with the idea that birth was supposed to be excruciatingly painful.


In Childbirth without fear (2004: 40), he explains that: ‘There is no physiological function in the body that gives rise to pain in the normal course of health.’ He also states: ‘In no other animal species is the process of birth apparently associated with any suffering, pain or agony, except where pathology exists or in an unnatural state, such as captivity.’


When we are afraid, our body diverts blood and oxygen from non-essential defence organs (such as the uterus) to large muscle groups in our extremities. Our face drains of blood and we are said to be ‘white with fear’. These beliefs led to Dick-Read’s theory that fear and tension cause the labour pains in approximately 95% of birthing women. He termed this phenomenon ‘the fear tension- pain syndrome of childbirth’, and he believed that by eliminating the fear, women could return the uterus to its normal function, thereby eliminating the pain (Dick-Read, 2004).


In 1959, Marie Mongan, the founder of HypnoBirthing® in the US, managed to use the work of Dr Dick-Read to experience comfortable childbirth for her third and subsequently fourth births, and in 1988 added hypnotherapy to her counselling practice. She then realised that what she had been using during her births was a form of self-hypnosis.


In 1989, her grown-up daughter, who found herself pregnant asked her mother to devise a programme for birth using self-hypnosis to duplicate her own birth experience. Marie Mongan wrote a programme for her, which became HypnoBirthing®: a celebration of life published the same year, and which now forms the basis of the modern day HypnoBirthing® curriculum.


So why does hypnosis work so well, and what place does it hold in modern-day birth experiences? We all know how over-stretched midwives are in the current NHS. HypnoBirthing® teaches women through easy-to-learn self-hypnosis techniques to enter deep states of relaxation during pregnancy and birth, resulting in shorter, more comfortable, easier labours, with less need for intervention or pain relief.

When I first started teaching HypnoBirthing®, many midwives were concerned that mothers would not be in control of their birthing, and would not be able to respond to midwives' suggestions or requests. Thankfully, these fears were unfounded. Hypnosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and is a little like daydreaming. Any time we redirect or narrow our focus, such as when engrossed in a good book, or watching the flickering flame of a fire, we could be said to be in a state of hypnosis. When in hypnosis you are always fully in control, and aware of what is happening to yourself and around you.


A birthing mother who redirects her focus to her internal world – her birthing body – is able to then call upon her own natural birthing instincts. This, coupled with specialised breathing techniques taught in class, allow the two functioning birthing muscles in operation during the first stage of labour to work as nature intended – with, rather than against each other. Mothers often say they experience just pressure and tightening sensations.


During the second stage of labour, a HypnoBirthing® mother will often follow her body’s lead into different birthing positions that work well for her, and by letting go, enables her to allow the natural expulsive reflex to gently nudge the baby down. Such mothers are taught to breathe their baby down, not the hard, forced pushing that midwives are used to seeing, and sometimes directing. The results are that mothers are less likely to feel exhausted, and also less likely to tear or suffer pelvic floor damage.


HypnoBirthing® is a shared experience for the couple and the baby. Fathers have a huge role to play in the birth experience guiding the mother into deep states of relaxation, and protecting the birthing environment. This is in stark contrast to the usual experience of sitting helpless on the sidelines. As a result, fathers feel closer to the mother and baby, resulting in better bonding.


In a HypnoBirthing® class, a mother will learn self-hypnosis/deep relaxation and breathing techniques, birth positions, the basic physiology of birth and much more.


Put simply, HypnoBirthing® offers women a better birthing experience. As a result, many mothers find birth empowering and life-changing – something that carries over into their new role as mother, and often instills a greater confidence in other areas of their life too.


Often as a result of seeing successful births, more and more midwives are choosing to train as HypnoBirthing® practitioners. The training course runs over four days – two days ‘Introduction to hypnosis for childbirth’, followed by the two-day practitioner certification.


The process fits perfectly with the RCM’s Campaign for Normal Birth, supporting the notion that intervention and caesarean should not be the first choice, but the last.


Practitioners run classes in all areas of the UK, and with a recent sharp rise in the number of practitioners training, more and more women are being helped to achieve satisfying, comfortable, normal birthing, which can only reduce pressure on the maternity services in the UK.


Dick-Read G. (2004) Childbirth without fear. Pinter and Martin: London.

Mongan M. (2007) HypnoBirthing®: the breakthrough approach to safer, easier, comfortable birthing. Souvenir Press: London.



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