If you haven’t heard about hypnobirthing yet – then you’re missing out. It’s a calm, relaxing way to give birth. Don’t believe us? Siobhan from The Positive Birth Company is here to explain all.

Hypnobirthing has gained popularity in recent years and is given the stamp of approval by celebrities including Fearne Cotton and Giovanna Fletcher. But what it is? What does it involve? And does it even help?! Well, I’m here to demystify Hypnobirthing…

Hypnobirthing: It’s all about preparation

A hypnobirthing course is a fully comprehensive antenatal course designed to help you and your birth partner prepare for the birth of your baby. The course usually begins with a session on physiology to help parents understand how the uterus works on a physical, muscular level as well as on a hormonal level.

It’s a surprise to most couples I teach, and indeed myself when I first attended a hypnobirthing course pregnant with my second child, that hypnobirthing is entirely logical and based on scientific fact. Contrary to what some might imagine, it does not involve vagina whispering, incense-burning hippies or stage hypnosis. It’s simply the psychology of birth.

I love teaching this part of the course best because when parents understand how the body works and most importantly why it’s so important to stay relaxed (which is a big part of hypnobirthing), it’s a real game-changer.

Without understanding the ‘why’ bit, all the relaxation exercises we practice in hypnobirthing can seem a bit fluffy; lovely but ultimately pointless. But once you understand why being relaxed in labour is key for an easy and natural birth then even the most cynical of people get on board.

A pregnant woman in labour is sat in a birthing pool surrounded by her partner and midwives, she is sat, calmly with her eyes closed.

Looking after your muscles

By way of a summary: The uterus is essentially a bag of muscles and like all muscles in the body it is perfectly designed to function as intended. The uterus is not a design fault. Women really need to trust their uterus! Like all muscles, the uterus requires hydration, oxygen and good blood supply to work effectively in labour.

By effectively I mean easily and efficiently. You’d never do a workout in the gym without having a glug of water or whilst holding your breath, would you?

An example I often give the couples I teach is this: hold your arm up in the air above your head and clench it repeatedly. This clench-release is initially very easy but after a while, as the blood and oxygen drain from your hand it becomes more and more difficult. It only takes a minute of doing this for you to notice the difference.

Each clench-release becomes harder to do, you slow down and it becomes painful. This is what happens to a woman’s uterus in labour if it is deprived of blood and oxygen. The contractions or ‘surges’, as we call them, become weak and less effective, progress (dilation) slows down and labour might even stall completely.

“Listening to your body and going with it is a lot better for you and your baby”

Siobhan Miller, The Positive Birth Company
A pregnant woman is in labour, knelt in a birthing pool. Her partner and friends look on as a midwife monitors the baby's movements with an ultrasound.

Fight or flight

Why would I deprive my uterus of vital blood and oxygen I hear you cry! Well, that’s where your hormones come into play… When you release adrenaline in labour, or in life, your blood supply is redirected to your limbs so you can run really fast or fight like the badass you are.

This is known as the flight or fight response and it’s your body going into lifesaving mode. Which is great if there is a real imminent threat of attack, but not so much when you’re trying to birth your beautiful baby. Since the uterus, albeit totally mind-blowingly amazing in its design, is not going to save your life if you’ve just come face to face with a great white shark, for example, the body cleverly redirects your blood to where it believes it’s needed more.

Hence why when you’re frightened your heart starts beating faster, pumping blood to your limbs and you may experience sweaty palms or a tingly sensation in your arms. In labour, because your uterus needs that blood flow, this redirection is totally unhelpful.

Well, how can I prevent this from happening you say! The key is to limit the amount of adrenaline you produce. Adrenaline is released when we panic when we’re fearful, not when we are calm, relaxed and feeling safe. This is why a lot of what you learn in hypnobirthing. Tools and techniques to help you find your zen.

Having a relaxed mind and body is key and will absolutely change your birth for the better. Everything we learn in hypnobirthing is so that when it comes to the big day, you are able to relax. Then you can allow your body to get on with birthing your baby as it has been perfectly designed to do.

A naked woman sits in a birthing pool craddling her newly born baby, they are both wet and tired. Her husband and midwife look at them.

Bring on the Oxytocin

There’s also something else you really need to know about adrenaline; it inhibits the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the magic ingredient and 100% essential for birth to happen! It’s the hormone we produce when we are happy! When we are in love! As we laugh! When we orgasm! And while we give birth! I kid you not. Oxytocin, that very same hormone we release when we are having the best time of our life. It is responsible for each and every surge we experience in labour.

Believe me when I tell you; giving birth can feel amazing. I am not some crazy lady hidden behind a computer screen having a laugh. I’m just like you. Most women reading this will raise their eyebrows at this point. In our culture we are conditioned to be fearful of birth, to believe it will be traumatic.

We share (and even relish in doing so) the details of horror stories we’ve heard but fail to shout about how beautiful birth can be from the rooftops! Every birth we see on TV or hear about or read about is dramatic. All those hundreds of uneventful births that happen every day go under the radar because they don’t make gripping telly or exciting reading. But let me tell you, when I gave birth to my second son using all the techniques I had learnt on a hypnobirthing course, it was euphoric.

I have never felt as strong and empowered and amazing as I did that day. And you too can have that birth. You’ve just got to let the oxytocin flow. Understanding this makes all those relaxation exercises you learn on a hypnobirthing course suddenly seem a lot less fluffy.

A woman sits on the floor, covered in towels, craddling her newborn baby while talking on the phone to relatives. She is surrounded by her partner, friend and midwife and they all look very happy.

What do hypnobirthing courses involve?

Here are just some of the things you and your birth partner will learn on a hypnobirthing course:

  • Breathing techniques for use during surges and when it comes to birthing your baby
  • Light touch massage
  • Relaxation readings / guided meditations
  • Positive affirmations to reprogram your subconscious
  • Fear release exercises
  • How to use touch and set anchors for deeper relaxation
  • Creating the right environment for a positive birth

So have we sparked an interest on the subject of hypnobirthing? Siobhan is on hand to tell us more, this time she’s talking breathing techniques in Hypnobirthing: How to Breathe Your Way to a Positive Birth.

Images © Susie Fisher Photography, discover more at susiefisherphotography.com.