What is hypnosis and how can it help prepare for birth?
Hypnosis is a completely natural state of absorption (or focussed attention) which all of us experience on a regular basis. This happens when we become so engrossed in something we are doing that we become unaware of our surroundings and even loose any notion of time (such as becoming deeply absorbed in a film or book, or driving somewhere and not remember any part of the journey). It is a state of mental relaxation similar to daydreaming during which you are taking a step away from the here and now.
To simplify, there are two aspects to our mind : the conscious and subconscious.
The conscious mind is our rational, analytical, decision-making part. The subconscious is the instinctive, emotional part made of beliefs, behaviours, memories, emotions, instincts.
During hypnosis, we reduce the dominance of the conscious mind to improve communication with the subconscious, emotional part of the mind.
In this relaxed state you become responsive and receptive to new ideas and open to change. During hypnosis we can make helpful suggestions to the unconscious mind to change behaviours, thoughts and sensations during and post hypnosis. Everyone responds uniquely to hypnosis but most describe the experience as deeply relaxing and nurturing. It is important to remember that YOU remain totally in control and actively engaged at all times.
Hypnosis and childbirth
There are many therapeutic applications to hypnosis. Hypnotherapy has been clinically proven as a treatment for a great many medical and psychological conditions.
For labour and birth, hypnosis (“hypnobirthing”) can make it easier for women to access the roots of their thoughts, beliefs and emotions (which they may not even be aware of), and positively impact on how they approach and experience birth. One of the main benefits of hypnosis is to remove the fear/anxiety barrier which is known to have a negative physiological impact on the experience by creating unwanted physical and mental tensions.
The way I offer hypnobirthing sessions (group and one-to-one) combines yoga nidra with some of the hypnobirthing tools. Yoga nidra, which is often loosely translated as “yogic sleep », is a practice of focused attention, contemplation and meditation which opens the doors to consciously explore a dream-like state helping to let go of profound mental tensions. There is a strong overlap between yoga nidra and hypnosis techniques, both in their aims (relax mental tensions and create positive intentions) and their results (feeling more positive about the forthcoming birth and deeply relaxed). The combination of yoga nidra with hypnobirthing tools offers in my opinion a very useful framework to address the conscious and subconscious fears which can come in the way of a positive pregnancy, labour and birth experience.
What is the evidence?
The scope, range and quality of studies on the impact of hypnosis during birth is unfortunately still limited. However, the little evidence available points towards self-hypnosis having a positive impact during labour in reducing the need for pain-medication and increasing women’s overall level of satisfaction on their birth experience. Let’s hope that more detailed research comes out soon…
For a good overview of this question:
Is Self-Hypnosis enough?
My personal belief (also based on the feedback I receive from women who have used it) is that hypnosis/hypnobirthing is an excellent complement to other ways of preparing for birth. Educating ourselves positively through an inspiring antenatal class is a really good start. Knowledge is empowerment and helps make informed decisions on how, where and with whom we would prefer to give birth.
The Active Birth philosophy which I instill through my prenatal yoga classes also aim at empowering women through information but also at empowering through movement, breathing, relaxation and meditative practices. Remember, we give birth with our bodies, and the body needs to feel prepared for that, both in terms of strength and stamina but also at an intuitive level, so that you can use as much freedom of movement that your body requires to help your baby move through the birth canal in her super clever way.
But although childbirth is a bodily experience, the mind can be a great obstacle if we don’t know how to easily access a state of calm and focus which can help so much during some of the most demanding moments of birth.