Hypnobirthing and homebirth

Last month homebirth hit the headlines when guidelines changed so that women would in future be offered homebirth as a realistic and safe choice.

Debates on radio, forums and in newspapers, divided people across the country, but the sentence that echoed in my ears were the closing words of Cathy Warwick, the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, on the Today Programme “Women who plan a homebirth, even if they end up in hospital, have better outcomes”. This is what that looks like.

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Data is from BMJ 2005, 330. * These numbers differ from the BMJ article where data for midwives included forms of induction and stimulation only used by midwives and not comparable to hospital births.

Homebirth is often dismissed out of hand – in this country the homebirth rate is usually around 2.5%. But you can’t dismiss the figures above and as women we should be given the knowledge to learn about birth in a way that connects us with the experience it can be, and to take responsibility for ensuring that our babies are born into as safe, and gentle, environment as they possibly can be.

Hypnobirthing helps you do this.

There is so much fear surrounding birth, and whether that fear is internal or external, it does not nurture a gentle birth or a positive experience. Hypnobirthing is a method of birth preparation that creates the optimum environment for birth, by reducing fear and anxiety. It also helps you to understand birth, to understand your choices, and why it’s important to have the right mindset to explore your choices, rather than asking “am I allowed”. It gives you techniques that complement the birth process rather than taking it over.

Hypnobirthing helps:

  • you to understand your birth hormones better
  • to address your anxieties
  • your partner learn how he can support you not ‘try to fix it’
  • you to made considered choices about your place of birth
  • you to learn tools that reduce the need for pain relief

Understanding your birth hormones

Before I had children, I had a vague recollection of my mother always telling me “you are your hormones”, but I never really explored them in depth. Hormones for me were to do with my bad moods every month. I certainly had little understanding of the roles of oxytocin and adrenaline in labour when I was pregnant with my first son. But knowing what your hormones are doing can be a light bulb moment for many women.

To birth we need the hormone oxytocin, and lots of it. Oxytocin is the feel good hormone, the love hormone. We produce it when we feel safe and secure in familiar surroundings. On the flipside, if we are anxious and afraid it can trigger the release of adrenaline, our fight or flight hormone. If this is triggered during labour it stalls oxytocin by sending a message to our brain “hang on a minute, stop! It’s not safe to birth a baby right now, let’s get out of here, or wait until you feel safe”.

Hypnobirthing teaches you about these hormones, so that you understand how your feelings, as well as what’s going on in the space around you, can slow or speed labour up.

This is why so many people who do hypnobirthing have homebirths, they know that giving birth in a familiar space, where they feel comfortable, nurtured and in control, gives oxytocin the best chance possible of doing it’s thing without the abrupt introduction of adrenaline.

Hypnobirthing addresses your anxieties and fears

‘The presence of trust brings the absence of fear’ said one woman on the Mindful Mamma Facebook page when asked how hypnobirthing connected with homebirth.

Sadly often choices are not based on knowledge of birth and trust in their body, but on what women have seen in dramatised in the media or conversations from friends who have had very negative experiences. It’s hard to make a rational evidence based decision when you are clouded with fear, both before your baby’s birth and during the birth.

Women I know who have had very straightforward births don’t talk about them that much, several women who have come back to my classes for a refresher say, “it’s becoming embarrassing to say ‘yes’ actually it was fine, really easy”, or as one woman said, “I’d rather give birth than do my ironing”.

A hypnobirthing class helps to lift the fear fog, it teaches you about how beliefs of birth based on misconceptions, skewed media reports, and exaggerated television drama can trigger adrenaline and shape our own experience of birth. It helps you to seek out and understand the evidence upon which your choices are made.

It also really helps uncover the multitude of positive stories that are out there and hear the message “I did it so you can do it too” when you are pregnant. This website (http://tellmeagoodbirthstory.com) is a great resource and will even buddy you up with someone.

Hypnobirthing teaches you to explore fears that may come up during the birth; this means that you are able to see them for what they are, and your partner is able to support you in the right way when or if they do arise. This is crucial when it comes to homebirth as often it’s moments such as these that can turn into a transfer.

Hypnobirthing teaches your partner how he can support you

Research shows that often women end up in hospital too quickly, because a partner or family member says something along the lines of “shall we go in now”. This is based on their own anxiety and sense of responsibility. The same goes for a homebirth, a mother can feel their partner’s anxiety and sometimes this will create unease in the mother, an unconscious sense of their being something wrong which can lead to adrenaline rising, labour slowing down and maybe a transfer.

A partner addressing his or her own fears before the birth, is as important as a woman addressing hers. One dad told me hypnobirthing gave him confidence as a birth partner because it taught him what happens, why it happens and what to do (or not do!) about it.

So partners, be mindfully supportive, warm, loving, fearless and empathetic not sympathetic! (watch this great little video to understand the difference http://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw ).

Making considered choices around birthplace

Whether you choose to have your baby at home or at hospital should not be a decision taken lightly, nor should it be a decision based on fear.

Once you’ve learned about your physiology and the extraordinary ability of your body to birth (some truly amazing and quite frankly, miraculous, things happen that I was never taught about in biology or sex ed) anxiety melts away and you become far more trusting in your body. This is the time that people begin to be more questioning about the journey they are on.

When you have that light bulb moment and begin to feel that deep trust and calm expectation, you can start making informed choices based on evidence and your own intuition. It feels great to know that the unfolding of your baby’s birth is based on choices made not by the midwife, and not by the doctors; but by you. Whatever course your birth takes, ultimately this is what will contribute to you have a more positive birth experience irrespective of whether you birth at home or hospital.

Tools for supporting you throughout a homebirth

One of the main reasons for transfer are failure to progress, exhaustion or pain relief. By helping a mother to prepare and connect with her body and her baby, hypnobirthing equips a mother for what I sometimes call ‘forks in the road’ ‘or get off points’ during the birth.

Sometimes it can feel as if things are running away from you, but having the confidence to say “I’d like 10 minutes alone to think about that and talk it through with my partner”, or “We’d like to be on our own for a bit” can give you clarity, the space and time to refocus and maybe help you to disembark from a potential transfer route and take your birth in a different direction.

If you were to do hypnobirthing you may be more confident in your own ability to observe your contractions, to rest and to use relaxation techniques in between contractions, conserving your energy and helping you tap into a deep inner strength.

Your partner may be more conscious of ways that encourage you and relax you deeply so oxytocin is raised and adrenaline lowered. You will have been taught about transition and how to address it when and if it feels overwhelming.

Hypnobirthig will ask you to reflect on that fact that you and your baby are well, and that it may be best to leave things as they are, not to interfere, and that if labour slows down, to take it as an opportunity to rest and buy a bit of time rather than to transfer in.

Techniques that you will have practiced and conditioned for weeks will mean your body releases more of it’s natural endorphins or ‘in house’ painkillers reducing the need for transfer for pain relief.

Women who have given birth at home and used hypnobirthing say that they go hand in hand, and that hypnobirthing gave them the confidence and positivity they needed for a homebirth.

What are you waiting for!

Even if you have decided homebirth is not for you, I would definitely suggest keeping an open mind and exploring hypnobirthing as a way of creating a very positive experience in hospital. There is a reason why hypnobirthing is growing in popularity and so many women are doing it, aren’t you curious about why?

You and your partner will learn invaluable skills in relaxation and self-care that will last you a lifetime. Not least set you up well for parenting.

Mindful Hypnobirthing by Sophie Fletcher is published by Vermilion, priced £12.99.