Hypnosis For Birth: What IS It?
In recent years, a number of birthing “methods” have come into vogue. Clients ask me all the time about my thoughts on the Bradley method, Lamaze, and hypnobirthing all the time.
The last of that list usually strikes a chord of curiosity with most people. Hypnobirthing = hypnosis and birth? It certainly sounds intriguing and trendy, doesn’t it? But what is it really – and does it even work?
Furthermore, what does it mean to say that a birthing method “works?”
First, let me preface by saying that I do not believe there is any “one method” of birth that is best for every mother. No single method will work for all women.
But all methods will work for some women.
And herein, education is critical. You see, I believe birthing women should learn as much as they can before and during pregnancy in order to prepare for birth. This is because you do not know what is going to work best for you until you are in the middle of labor! And that’s decidedly NOT the time to try and educate oneself!
So with that in mind, education is my primary intent with this series.
I am not a hypnobirthing instructor, and I’m not affiliated with the Hypnobirthing organization at all. Still, I have worked with mothers who chose hypnosis for birth as their preferred method of birthing, and it has several wonderful benefits, and for that reason, I think all pregnant women should learn about its benefits as a part of their childbirth education.
So with that in mind, let’s start with some background: What IS hypnosis?
Or rather, what is hypnosis NOT? It’s not surrendering of one’s will, it’s not manipulation, and it does not involve losing control over oneself.
Rather, in the most basic of terms, hypnosis is simply a normal state of being. It’s intense focus. It’s tapping in to our mind’s ability to direct thoughts to influence our body and subconscious mind. Really, that’s what it comes down to.
You see, your mind is an unspeakably powerful thing. In particular, the subconscious mind is the driving force behind all that we do. We may think our thinking mind is in charge, but in reality, it’s our subconscious mind that shapes our reality. And yet, our thinking mind is what gives our subconscious mind all the tools and information it needs to do just that.
The subconscious mind is incredible because it does not discriminate. It simply receives messages and drives our actions (and bodies) accordingly. And it affects what happens to us WAY more than we even realize.
In addition, the subconscious mind does NOT work in negatives. It only receives the messages it sees and / or hears. Let’s use a non-birth example to illustrate this. If you tell your mind NOT to think of a pink elephant, what image comes to mind?
That’s right: the pink elephant! Now try this: Picture an orca. Did the pink elephant disappear? Yes it did. So it is with the messages that we send our brains.
If you are preparing for your labor, and you intentionally think about NOT having pitocin during your labor, what is going to happen? Conversely, if you picture having a normally progressing labor and a healthy contraction pattern, there is no room for pitocin!
In hypnosis, as well as any other childbirth preparation method, intentional focus on the desired outcome is encouraged rather than fixation on fears. Because when you’re fixating on the fear – let’s say it’s the pink elephant – that is the only message that your mind is being given about your birth!
That’s not to say you shouldn’t talk through your apprehensions or concerns – it just means that you should also be intentional about the messages that you are giving your mind! Because the mind controls the body – and there is no greater place that this is proven true than in birth!
For instance, I know a doula who told me a story about a client of hers. The doula noticed that this particular client was rather self defeating with her speech about her upcoming birth. Though the doula tried to encourage her, the client would consistently say things like:
- “I just know I won’t be able to handle it.”
- “I’ll bet my water is going to break when I’m 38 weeks.”
- “I’m going to go into labor when my husband is out of town and he won’t be there.”
- “I’m going to be slow to progress and they are going to need to give me pitocin.”
- “I’m going to get to 8 cm and need an epidural – but it won’t work.”
And every single one of those things came true. Every one of them, down to the last detail.
Conversely, we’ve seen scores of mothers who have had intentionally positive self talk experience birth exactly the way they envisioned with tremendous outcomes!
The body is only responding to the messages it’s been given. And there is no place quite like birth where the unity of the mind and body are so apparent to observers.
Now, please understand that hypnosis is far more than self talk. But it’s most effective as a birthing method if it’s started long before the birth even arrives. Mental preparation for birth is over half the battle, and nothing can quite prepare the mind for birth as much as intentionally visualizing what you want from your birth, and giving your mind and body the exact messages you want it to have.
Also, please understand that sometimes things don’t go the way we intend, and that is okay too! But you’re sure setting yourself up for success by going in as prepared as possible.
Hypnosis is preparation, but it’s deep relaxation and focus as well, and we will touch on that in Part 2 of our series on hypnobirthing: How Can Hypnosis Work During Birth?