Self-Hypnosis for Childbirth: "What the mind believes the body achieves"
Nov 01, 2012 02:35PM
By Kindra Hunckler
On the evening of August 31st, 2012, Livia Ball was delighted to notice signs that her body and her baby were getting ready for birth. Over the past several months, she had been preparing and practicing for a comfortable natural birth using childbirth hypnosis and she had been getting increasingly excited about this moment when all her preparation would pay off. That night she awoke to new sensations that she had not felt before, and contractions continued to come steadily through the early morning hours. Livia began to use her hypnosis tools. She listened to her birthing day affirmations CD that helped set the tone for her birth and encouraged her to relax and trust her body and her baby. As her contractions got stronger and closer together, she used the environment around her to help stay calm and comfortable, taking a shower, rocking on her yoga ball, resting on the arm chair. She also used the techniques she had practiced to take herself deeper into hypnosis envisioning comfort and peace flowing all through her body. When it was time to go to the hospital, Livia took her headphones in the car. Her husband drove while she stayed in hypnosis and they anticipated the moment when they would meet their baby girl.
Just 11 days later, Livia is beaming as she tells the story of her daughter’s birth. “I was really excited when my birthing time started,” she says “taking a Hypnobabies® class was like training for a marathon, and this was the big day.” Livia found out about Hypnobabies online and took a 6-week course through IU Health Network. “I chose to use childbirth hypnosis because I wanted to experience the joy of birthing. Hypnobabies was empowering for me—a confidence booster!” Livia learned, practiced, and utilized her hypnosis tools while she was pregnant, and with these tools and the support of her husband and doula, at 4:43pm on September 1st, baby Mikaela was welcomed joyfully into the world.
What is Hypnosis/Self-hypnosis?
Often when people hear the term “hypnosis,” it conjures up images of a caped and mustached man of mystery dangling a pocket-watch in front of a dazed young woman who seems under his control. This is the way hypnosis is often portrayed in films and television shows. But in reality, hypnosis is a natural state of being that we all experience every day, when we zone out while driving, get caught up in a good book or entranced by an intense scene in a movie. In his book, The Art of Hypnosis, renowned hypnotist, C. Roy Hunter MS, CHt, states that “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis . . .[it] is an altered state of consciousness,” and that “the most accurate way of defining hypnosis is simply to refer to it as guided meditation.” Even so, this guided meditation, when practiced correctly, can have profound effects on the body and the mind and has been used for decades by professionals and lay practitioners alike to help cure ailments, conquer habits and addictions, and alleviate discomfort caused by everything from acne to fibromyalgia. Over the last thirty years, the use of hypnosis in childbirth has increased in popularity and availability, with programs like HypnoBirthing®, Hypnobabies®, and HypBirth®. While each of these programs is different, they all offer expectant moms and their partners training and tools for using hypnosis to achieve comfortable, natural births.
Why Hypnosis for Birth?
As more research surfaces indicating risks associated with the use of epidurals, narcotics, and other pain-management medications used in childbirth, more and more women are looking for natural alternatives to help them minimize or eliminate pain. In many ways, hypnosis is a perfect solution to the dilemma of wanting a natural birth as well as a comfortable one.
True medical self-hypnosis relies on four key ingredients for success: imagination, belief, expectation, and conviction. When a person believes that a particular outcome—like an easy comfortable childbirth—is possible, she will be better able to imagine that event taking place. As she practices imagining and visualizing her perfect birth, she comes to expect it to happen this way, and with that expectation comes the conviction that she is able to and deserves to have the birth experience she desires. The Hypnobabies course materials sums this up nicely with the statement and affirmation, “What you expect to happen, indeed comes to pass.” Or, as new-mom Livia Ball put it, “As you envision things, that really is how they come to fruition.”
The mind is a powerful tool, yes. But why? How can the application of this mind-over-matter principle work when the time comes to birth a baby? The interaction between mind and body during childbirth can be explained as two opposing cycles that can take place for a woman during pregnancy, labor, and birth: The Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle and the Relaxation-Release-Comfort Cycle.
The Mind Matters
The Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle: Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome—was first presented as a theory by the late British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read in the 1920s and explains the impact that fear and anxiety can have on the experience of pain during the birth process. The sensations felt during birth that are often described as pain are a result of the contracting of the strongest muscles in a woman’s body—the muscles of the uterus—as well as the stretching of tissues in the pelvic region and birth canal. These muscles and tissues are designed to work together best when a woman feels safe and is relaxed—the uterus contracting to move baby down, and the tissues of the cervix and birth canal steadily stretching and opening in response. However, when a woman experiences fear and anxiety during birth, it can cause her body to go into protective mode and tense up, which results in the ultra-strong muscles working against themselves, and causing more pain. The increased pain compounds fear and anxiety, which in turn boosts tension, and so on.
The Relaxation-Release-Comfort Cycle: By achieving a deep state of relaxation through hypnosis, birthing women are able to allow their bodies to release the hormones that aid in childbirth, bonding, and lactation—oxytocin, beta-endorphin, and prolactin. And, they are able to minimize the hormonal bogey-man of the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle, adrenaline. As the birth-supporting hormones do their jobs, a woman’s body is able to release and relax more fully allowing her uterine muscles to easily do their job and allowing the baby to more easily position him or herself most optimally for birth. Releasing tension makes the birth process more comfortable and enjoyable for the woman who is then able to experience other sensations of this incredible life event.
Hypnosis for childbirth counteracts experience of pain by addressing fears and anxieties and redefining the possibilities of birth. As Marie Mongan asserts in her book HypnoBirthing, the Mongan Method, “every woman has within her power to call upon her natural maternal instinct to birth her babies in joy and comfort in a manner that most mirrors nature.” Learning and utilizing self-hypnosis to achieve a comfortable birth is not magic or voodoo, but simply remapping and manipulating those key ingredients—belief, expectation, imagination, and conviction—to create a desirable outcome. Childbirth hypnosis cultivates a mental environment full of positive expectations— turns all the what ifs that so many women have been taught to dwell upon, into what ifs full of new possibilities.