By Rebecca Hall

It may seem for many of us that hypnobirthing is one of the newer ‘fads’ of birthing, so it may be surprising to learn that it is not such a new practice.  Although here in Christchurch the ‘Mongan’ method of hypnobirthing is a relatively recent option available to women and their partners, it was in fact developed by Marie Mongan in the 1980’s as a natural way of preparing for childbirth.  Marie is a well respected hypnotherapist and has written two books on hypnobirthing.  There are now 27 countries with practitioners offering this method as an option for pain relief and relaxation through pregnancy and childbirth.  As it is well described on her website, ‘Hypnobirthing is as new as tomorrow and as old as ancient times’.  It is a ‘rebirth of the philosophy of birthing as it existed thousands of years ago and as it was recaptured in the work of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’, the English obstetrician who, in the 1940s, brought information about natural childbirth to the public in his book ‘Childbirth Without Fear’.

Midwives and women around the world have long recognised the benefits, and used a variety of methods of relaxation, visualisation, breathing, and affirmations to positively affect the experience and outcomes of childbirth for women and their babies.  We can still see the value of these inwardly focused practices being taught in many antenatal classes, although I do have concern (based on feedback from women) that the importance of these very empowering ancient and natural resources are being over-ridden by discussions and lessons on pharmaceutical pain relief options available and possible complications such as becoming ‘overdue’ (according to whom?) and the procedure of inducing labour.  In ‘Spiritual Midwifery’, Ina May Gaskin illustrates the use of natural skills and personal resources, such as visualisation and breathing, for pregnant and labouring women on ‘The Farm’.  For those of you that haven’t read or heard of ‘the farm’, it is a commune in the USA where women began supporting each other in labour as lay midwives, resulting in some fantastic personal and statistical outcomes of natural birth – well worth a read!

Hypnobirthing classes have been set up essentially as antenatal childbirth education classes run by a specially trained hypnobirthing educator (many already being hypnotherapists, then further trained in the Mongan Method) and are run over a period of 5 weeks.  Throughout these classes, women and their partners learn a variety of self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques alongside the equally important education about the natural physiology of childbirth.  The basis of hypnobirthing philosophy is the theory of Fear=Tension=Pain and teaches the techniques to assist in eradicating fears and therefore reducing and/or eliminating pain in labour.  Hypnobirthing is primarily chosen as a pain relief option and shows its effectiveness through the website’s US statistics with over 70% of women birthing vaginally having unmedicated births, and over halving the rate of caesarean sections in those that used the technique.  The aim of the classes is to learn and practice the techniques, connect with our bodies and our babies (who are conscious and active entities throughout the whole process), and to then use this to help ourselves through labour and birth for a more relaxed and positive birth experience for all.

Hypnobirthing classes were an option that I, together with my husband, chose for my first pregnancy and birth in 2006.  Overall, I really enjoyed the intimate small classes, time to connect with my husband and unborn, and giving myself and my pregnancy some care and attention before the birth.  Along with the classes came a book and a CD.  The book was easy to read and full of great positive and natural information surrounding pregnancy, birth and using self-hypnosis.  I found the CD a lovely way to wind-down in the evening, connect, and relax while practicing the self-hypnosis techniques.  After progressing through a reasonably straight forward labour using hypnobirthing, I was shocked to experience a long and intense pushing stage as I birthed our son.  I had very high expectations of myself for ‘breathing’ my baby out, as I had seen other hypnobirthing mums do in the birth videos during the classes.  Once I had finished birthing and saw the size of my baby boy (looking almost three months’ old already), the tough push made much more sense – there’s no way I could’ve just breathed him out! Every labour and birth is unique and sometimes we need to have more trust in ourselves to do what we have to do during our birthing.

Hypnobirthing classes provide excellent education and support for immersing ourselves in the natural and spiritual essence of pregnancy and birth.  It can be a great option and valuable resource for many women, particularly in birthing at home, as it assists us to draw on our own abilities to guide us through childbirth. For those that may be interested in pursuing this option, you can visit www.hypnobirthing.com for further information on hypnobirthing and an up-to-date practitioner directory.

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