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Is HypnoBirthing for You?

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Every mother has her own birth story. Mine? I went through 13 hours of labor plus five hours of pushing with the first for an 8-pound, 4-ounce baby. The second took 23 hours of labor and only 55 minutes of pushing for a 9-pound, 4-ounce baby. Ouch. The only way I could have survived was through the help of Mr. Epidural. But that's me. Some women choose to go the natural route, and having had two babies of my own, I seriously bow down to them.

But what about HypnoBirthing? It's the method of hypnotizing yourself (through the help of a professional) to get you through the pain and stress of childbirth. While it might sound scary, it's actually a very interesting, practical and effective method for some women.

I interviewed Shelly Slocum, certified professional doula and certified HypnoBirthing Instructor, to get the entire scoop.

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So what exactly is HypnoBirthing?

HypnoBirthing is a program to teach women a few techniques to learn how to relax during pregnancy, birth and for your entire life. Women learn how to go into hypnosis, which is a deep, relaxed state of focus. In hypnosis you are in control of how relaxed you choose to be the entire time, while imagining the given scenario. HypnoBirthing is practiced with guided relaxations and affirmations to be used during pregnancy and birth that are birth-specific.

Why is it beneficial for baby and mom?

This program helps women learn how to relax (pregnant or laboring), thereby affecting the baby's experience. The words in the guided relaxation are all filled with positive affirmations and perspectives on the natural process of birth. I think that even subconsciously women are taking in these ideas that their bodies were made to do this and that they can give birth in a positive, beautiful way. The babies (who are full-on personalities and people) can hear this information and feel how the mother is feeling and are active participants as well. It really combats the negative birth stories and experiences that fill our society.

You can say that again. People love to tell pregnant women birthing horror stories!

Right. No one walks up to pregnant women saying, "Oh my gosh, you are going to have so much fun in your labor!" But in HypnoBirthing the couples are interested in discovering an outlook on birth that is positive, filled with joy and gentle. Today there are a lot of studies being done on the effect of a mother's emotional life on the fetus. How her neuropeptides affect this baby. Even the findings of epigenetics (the changes in the potential of a cell that aren't heritable), which mostly comes from studies with mice, show that the emotional state of the mom can influence the child before he or she is born. I personally believe we are living in a time when pregnant women are going to start being given recommendations not only about diet, but also about behavior. Can you imagine how good it would feel to be prescribed relaxation from your care provider?

What are some known dangers or complications that can happen at a hospital during childbirth vs. at-home delivery?

This is such an interesting question, because my initial reaction doesn't have anything to do with the place. I think the biggest outcome on any complication in your birth has to do with who you hire to be your care provider. Because sometimes it's not even about a complication as much as how that is communicated to the family. Different care providers are going to handle "dangers" in totally different ways. Some may react with a lot of adrenaline and others might react in a really calm matter, so a mother never really knows how much "danger" she is in.

It ultimately truly depends on where the woman is going to feel the safest. For some women, the idea of being in a hospital makes them feel safe and protected. For others, the idea of a hospital scares them. In either scenario, if you don't feel safe in thinking about giving birth in a chosen place, your body will clench up; and in birth you are looking for your body to be totally relaxed and open so that your cervix can open and allow your baby to slide through.

During hospital childbirth, there are medical interventions that can get in the way of allowing a woman to release the hormones needed so she can relax and allow her cervix to open with every contraction. There are always risks and benefits with every medical intervention.

Home birth is not risk-free either. Home birth midwives are highly trained in using oxygen on a baby or a mother. They are also highly trained to look for any signs of complication, and are often quick to transfer to a hospital before any complication becomes a reality. They are always looking for signs. A woman must feel safe in the environment she's chosen to give birth, and she must feel trust in her care provider.

It is unfair to expect that the success of a natural birth depends totally on every single decision a mother made during her pregnancy.

It is said that a woman's body knows what to do naturally during child birth. Are there things that can interfere with this?

As a species it makes sense that women are born with the innate bodily wisdom to give birth. That's survival. I think it's VERY rare that a woman's body is broken or that her uterus isn't capable of contracting in a way to open her cervix. I think the environment can affect a laboring woman in a big way.

When we talk about the environment, that is also talking about how other people around the mother are feeling. Are they feeling trust, or fear or adrenaline? All of these things will affect a laboring woman and in some cases, like a hospital birth, you have no idea what nurse you are going to get and what kind of day they have had or how they feel.

Giving birth is a mind game for a woman, because unlike any other time in her life when she feels pain, this pain or tension—or lifting up—is a positive thing. So, mentally, she can learn to embrace this feeling and relax into it, versus the innate response of holding our breath and freezing up. In an ideal world she has the right environment and team of people around her encouraging her to trust this physical feeling of a contraction/surge and release the tension.

Is hypnosis or meditation effective to get through the pain?

Yes! Hypno does mean a form of guided relaxation to not only get through the pain, and in some ways reprogram the way we think about birth. HypnoBirthing is a focus on the words of these positive relaxations, which can reprogram our mental state to be positive, therefore allowing our body to have less tension and with less tension, there is less pain. The goal with HypnoBirthing is for a woman to practice the relaxation at home and in labor and have her partner be able to say phrases or read relaxations to her that will encourage her to go into a deeply relaxed state of consciousness.

In reality, I think there are lots of scenarios when families who take the class never even listen to the CDs or read any relaxation in labor, but when the mother was pregnant they listened to them a lot; and I have no doubt that even subconsciously all of those positive images and information informed her reaction to each contraction/surge.

Some women are afraid of not having medication at birth, i.e., not being able to handle the pain. What would you say to them?

If a woman really wants medication for her labor, I think it's important for her to look at the factual risk involved with choosing a medication and the factual benefit of it. Natural birth takes commitment, and trust and you can't make a woman commit to something like natural birth—the choice has to come from her. HypnoBirthing can positively impact medical births as well, because again, a woman is thinking about how her body is opening and how every surge is full of love for her baby, even if she can't feel them and is laying on her side with an epidural.

What if you plan on having a natural birth using HypnoBirthing but must have a C-section?

In HypnoBirthing we talk about "baby's choice" and special circumstances. Despite how many times you have listened to these CDs, how confident you are in the choice of care provider, how healthily you ate and exercised, how much emotional work you did to prepare for the baby—sometimes the baby makes a choice on how they want to be born.

My own midwife said something to me that was very helpful and intelligent when it came to giving birth to my second baby, which was not to make the assumption that in every single birth scenario that baby can come through vaginally, and that a woman's body is going to open perfectly. There are plenty of scenarios where we should be thankful for a necessary medical intervention like a Cesarean, because we live in a day [and] age where there are many options, and that is empowering for women. It is unfair to expect that the success of a natural birth depends totally on every single decision a mother made during her pregnancy.

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Physiologically, sometimes it doesn't work that way and we have to be able to surrender and accept those moments without judgment on the mother. Again, every birth is so individual, and if women walked around trusting that more, we could all celebrate each unique birth with applause and love for the new family, regardless of the outcome.

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