Worried about giving birth? Don’t be. Self-hypnosis techniques can make childbirth a calm, controlled and beautiful experience for mum, baby… and dad!
Childbirth is the most natural of a woman’s functions. So, when and where did it become something to dread, almost verging on paranoia? It seems that we women want our birth experience to be medically stage-managed thus absolving us of all responsibility, pain and effort.
According to Dr Leila Edwards, a qualified hypnotherapist with a special interest in natural childbirth, it seems that the joy of birth can be rediscovered using the techniques of hypnosis, where deep relaxation and the use of imagery, allow the body to produce surges of natural endorphins, the body’s “homemade” painkillers. This enhances the birth experience, resulting in a more straightforward labour with manageable pain thus minimising the need for painkillers and other interventions.
Leila has been assisting women to birth the natural way for many years, teaching pregnant women and their partners to self-hypnotise and use a combination of techniques which include deep relaxation, imagery, massage and regression to clear traumas. She aims to help women to have the most beautiful and rewarding experience in childbirth as possible.
She explains, “I am basically teaching self-hypnosis. I set people up to be competent, to cope themselves; it’s really about self-empowerment. My job is to get them to realise what they can do for themselves.”
Leila recommends between four and six preparatory sessions as well as a commitment to practice the techniques daily at home. Some of the sessions involve the person’s chosen birth partner (husband, family member or friend) whom Leila urges to participate fully.
Hypnotherapy, according to her, is “about going into an inner place - like a private garden. The pain control technique I use enables the pregnant woman to turn up the volume of her body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals, endorphins. These are more powerful than narcotic drugs, such as morphine or heroin, and give a sense of well-being and euphoria. The woman learns how to induce a feeling of numbness – as if her body was made of wood or cloth, something that has no feeling at all. And you can turn that on or off as much or as little as you like so as to over-ride any discomfort or pain.”
The birth partner can actively support the pregnant woman by reminding her to “switch on” her pain control, using massage and positive suggestions. Leila gives the woman an audio file to use at home and during the birth to reinforce the relaxation response programme, so that it becomes automatic.
“I also help the women develop their birth plans - I have a template, which they and their partners complete, and I discuss it with them. I encourage them to talk it through thoroughly beforehand with their midwives and obstetrician. Labour is not the time to get into confrontational situations. You want the medical staff to work with you as a team and you are much more likely to be given their support if you have prepared a birth plan so that they know exactly what you want.”
But all this is not new; natural childbirth has existed - naturally - since the beginning of time. In traditional societies, birth was in the domain of women but with the development of modern medicine, childbirth has become defined as a medical event. Natural childbirth experienced a revival in the 1960s with its roots in the work of British doctor, Grantly Dick-Read. He identified the ‘fear-tension-pain’ response in which women who are afraid tense up and this means that contractions are much more painful. He believed that many of the problems experienced by women in childbirth were caused by their fear of giving birth. Because Western society had excluded women from seeing their female relatives in childbirth (picture the worried husband pacing up and down the corridor with towels and boiling water being ferried into the bedroom), they didn’t know what to expect. Women who are familiar with the experience are better “prepared”, and generally have a much easier time (e.g. women in traditional societies are used to seeing birth and know what to expect).
Leila became involved in the natural childbirth movement working with people like Sheila Kitzinger, of the National Childbirth Trust, who encouraged women to celebrate the power of childbirth and to see it as a natural experience in the life cycle. At the same time, she worked with Janet Balaskas in establishing the Active Birth approach, encouraging women to have babies in an upright or squatting position as opposed to the unnatural position of lying on their backs in the supine position. Traditionally, women always gave birth in upright positions as this maximises the size of the pelvic outlet and uses gravity to make it easier for the woman to deliver the baby.
Leila says, “I started off with what I called ‘Creative Birth’, incorporating physical and mental preparation. What I noticed after attending many births of women I had taught was that even people who had done their active birth preparation would often go off into what I can only describe as a regressed infantile state. They wanted to hand over the power completely to the nurses. Even women who said they wanted to have a natural birth would go into the state of non-coping.
“So I started investigating what other methods could help. I knew breathing really helped; and so I trained in breathing therapy, learning how to release tension, stress and emotion through breathing.”
Leila then found that by using hypnosis, she was able to help people gain far greater control over bodily sensations and also to discover and deal with their deepest fears. She found that women would often have regression experiences - remembering things that they had forgotten consciously, such as their own birth.
People sometimes have to clear something traumatic from their past before they can experience the full benefit of hypno-birthing e.g. a previous labour gone wrong or negative images of childbirth from the media that they hold subconsciously. Leila explains that she can help the woman to release these fears and negative memories and to develop a positive new “blueprint” for the present and future.
“You can instruct your subconscious to switch off or turn the pain mechanism right down. I use the power of suggestion so the woman learns how to take herself down to a deep level of relaxation and imagine putting on a ‘silver glove’ to control the pain by releasing the ‘feel-good’ endorphins. This means that she can learn how to handle her contractions much more easily and also rest properly between them. Anyone can learn how to do this: some people take a little longer than others, some are more analytical, but anyone who wants to learn self-hypnosis, can do so.
“I encourage the woman to do some reading around the subject; to take control of the process, to learn how to induce the relaxation response. They can learn to turn that on so they can do it pretty much at will. Anyone can achieve some success, but those who really focus and get good support and training can do very well indeed in overriding their pain. And after the birth, they can use it in life generally to control pain and stress levels.”
Leila conducts presentations and training for medical and nursing staff, where they can learn the hypnosis principles and put them into practice with their patients either by using suggestion hypnosis or by assisting those patients who have learned hypnobirthing to practise the techniques in labour.
Dr Kiran Bijlani MD, specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Bahrain Specialist Hospital, trained with Leila and says that hypno-birthing is “excellent” and that all mothers should be taught it. “It’s very simple; it reduces the amount of medication and interventions required. It’s so simple… it triggers their own release of endorphins.”
She teaches relaxation and imagery techniques, including those for pain relief such as the “silver glove”, to the mums-to-be at her antenatal classes. One useful technique she uses is called time distortion where the emphasis is put on the time between the contractions being very long, and the contractions themselves being very short.
She confirms, “They are automatically using it when the come to give birth. Of my 20 or so births a month, in all (who use these techniques), their performance is better in the labour ward. They are calm, relaxed, and use fewer painkillers.”
Dr Kiran also advocates active birthing and, in fact, the only position, which she does not allow, is the dorsal position (on the back).
But how about when things don't go well?
Leila says, “One of the things that’s great about using self-hypnosis is that you make a much better patient because you are able to cooperate. You are relaxed, and because of the way hypnosis works, you can slow your heart rate and circulation and so are much less likely to haemorrhage. Your subconscious mind is there to protect you; it's your survival mechanism, so you are much more likely to ‘see’ a problem coming.”
Even after a birth with medical intervention, including caesarean delivery, Leila says hypno-birthing techniques can help you to cope better with post-operative pain, as well as with breast feeding and sleeping. “You can be calmer in your parenting… so it’s not just that you are going to learn how to cope better with pain in labour, you are also looking at a different approach to handling your physical sensations and your emotions in a way that will help you to cope better with ALL pain and stress.”
Jessica Watson-Thorp has a phobia around hospitals, so it comes as no surprise that she sought a natural approach when expecting her second child.
“I wanted to alleviate some of the pain, (her first delivery was traumatic, as the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck causing great distress) but not block it all. It’s a life experience (labour and giving birth) - something you shouldn’t miss out on.”Because Leila helped her to explore scenarios of what could go wrong, she “faced the fear and smashed it.”
When she went into labour, she was so calm that she spent the day with family and friends relaxing. She laboured for only three hours on arrival at the hospital and describes her contractions as “intense but bearable.” Her obstetrician, Dr Kiran, gave her alternative ways of doing things. Although present at the birth, she was not actively involved as Jessica was managing just fine by herself.
Being an artist, Jessica confirmed, “I am a very visual person, so when I was doing the hypno-birthing imagery, a butterfly kept coming across my vision. Leila encouraged me to focus on this as my symbol for staying calm.”
Just after the birth, she was inspired to paint a beautiful butterfly picture for her new daughter, Havaani, a very calm and happy baby.
Fran Downes had her second baby using hypno-birthing techniques.
Fran’s first delivery was “nasty” (a marathon three-day labour ending with an episiotomy and ventouse extraction), so when she saw how calm her close friend was, using these techniques, she decided to give it a try.
Even when she was being driven to hospital, even when she panicked and “lost it”, she kept going back to her relaxation techniques. “When I arrived at the hospital, I was told I was 10cms dilated. I don’t think I would have done that without the hypnosis.”
Even though her labour did not go as smoothly as she had hoped, Leila had prepared Fran for this eventuality explaining that, hypno-birthing cannot always prevent difficulties, but it will help you cope with them. “I used the techniques to ride through the pain.”
The doctors and midwives at Awali Hospital followed her birth plan, but after three hours, convinced her to have an episiotomy (a cut in the vulva to make space for the baby’s head). That was when they realized the baby was in a posterior position, always a difficult and painful birth presentation.
Even though she was disappointed by not seeing her birth plan through completely, Fran says, “I felt empowered because I didn’t have any drugs. The baby was very calm; she latched on and fed well. I think it got me over my worry, my obsession - I was deeply, genuinely 100% relaxed.”
Julia De Souza used hypno-birthing techniques for the birth of second baby, son Sasha, as she was determined not to have medical interventions as in her previous labour.
She says Leila changed her whole perspective, from having such a fear of pain - “and childbirth is the ultimate” - to being focussed instead on helping her body to help her baby come out into the world.
“Rather than thinking about what drugs I would need, I could focus on giving birth to my child."
“You have to be open to alternative medicine,” she confirms, “My husband Ken was sceptical, but when he saw the effect it had on me, he changed his mind.”
When her contractions were coming close together, she and her husband set off. She can’t remember the journey so much as her husband’s calming voice which soothed her all the way to Awali Hospital. Thankfully, she remembers her second labour for good reasons. “This time, I remember the experience but not the pain; the first time, I remembered mainly the pain.”
In fact, Julia was so delighted with the outcome she recommends that “Every woman should know about it.”
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