For years South African women have been making certain choices about how they take care of themselves and their unborn babies throughout their pregnancies. Eating the right foods, avoiding alcohol and nicotine, exercising regularly – be it Preggi Bellies, yoga, Pilates, or aqua aerobics – we women know how to approach our pregnancies.
Yet, despite this, a high percentage of us don’t give the most significant part of the process a second thought – the birth itself. It seems that some of us forget or maybe don’t realise that we can, and should be making informed decisions about how, where, and with whom we bring our baby into the world – and that the type of birth we havecan affect both our own and the baby’s health and emotional state, in the short and long-term.
One indicator of this is that, over the past few years, the caesarean section rate in South Africa has steadily increased to the point that South Africa has the highest rate of surgical births in the world (almost 80% in the private sector, and 5 times higher than the rate recommended by the World Health Organisation – WHO).
So, it may come as a surprise for many to learn that, to counteract this, more and more women are choosing to go “back to basics”, to birth their babies as nature intended, not only choosing and achieving natural birth – but more often than not, with no medication or intervention at all.
And the method that they are using? Hypno-birthing.
What is hypno-birthing
The history of hypno-birthing
Although Hypno-birthing is a relatively new concept in South Africa it has actually existed for over 20 years. It is the brainchild of an American, Marie Mongan, who developed the technique many years after she successfully birthed her own children with no medication or pain. In the 1980s, Mongan was the dean of a women’s college and trained as a hypnotherapist, where she soon realised that the deeply relaxed state she had been in whilst she gave birth was very similar to the state that people reach when they are under hypnosis.
When Mongan’s own daughter fell pregnant she devised a program for her and her daughter’s friend to teach them about pregnancy, their bodies and how they work during labour, with a focus on the fact that the female body is perfectly designed to manage labour and birth. The result was spectacular – in 1990, Marie Mongan’s grandchild became the first hypnobirthed baby, born without pain, medication or intervention. Hypno-birthing itself had been born.
Hypno-birthing is now popular around the world
Hypno-birthing became a local phenomenon and word spread quickly, first regionally, then nationally. Now 20 years on, Hypno-birthing is taught in 34 countries around the world.
In the UK, the National Health Service midwives are now training as practitioners and are using the techniques to assist mothers in labour. You would now be hard pressed to find a hospital in the UK that has not heard of, or witnessed the calm labour of a hypnobirthing mom.
So popular has the technique become, that hypnobirthing has experienced a celebrity boom, Natalie Cassidy (Eastenders actress), Nicky Hambleton-Jones (UK’s 10 Years Younger presenter), Tiffany-Amber Thiessen (Beverly Hills 90210 actress), Nadia Swahala (presenter of UK’s Loose Women) and super model Gisele Bundchen are all devout hypnobirthing mothers.
What is hypnobirthing designed to counteract?
What is hypnobirthing designed to counteract? Ask almost anyone what their expectation of labour is – and almost without exception, the word “painful” comes up, regardless of whether that person has personally experienced or witnessed a birth.
And in truth, the response is not surprising – we’ve all at the very least seen a “pregnant” woman on TV, screaming her lungs out and been told to “PUSH!”, so we all think pain is a natural consequence during birth. Ironically, it’s actually the fear (or expectation) of pain, that is the direct cause for the pain itself!
Fear and the autonomic nervous system
In physiological terms, the body is capable of controlling many things without direct instruction – heart beating, breathing, digestion, blinking – all of these things are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This system is also responsible for a defence mechanism when we are faced with extreme fear, threat or pain – known as the “fight, flight or freeze” response. We have all experienced this response at some point in our lives. The body is prepared for quick, strenuous action – put up a fight, run as fast as you can possibly imagine, or freeze to the spot.
The release of catecholamine (stress hormone)
In physiological terms it is the release of catecholamine (stress hormone – of which adrenaline is the most commonly known) that triggers the fight, flight, freeze response. Blood is diverted to the major organs for survival (heart, lungs and also muscles), heart rate increases, breathing rate increases, muscles tighten and blood pressure goes up – all ready for the required response.
Strangely, the autonomic nervous system cannot differentiate between real, and imagined danger. When we watch horror movies, our pulse increases, our respiration rate increases, as does our blood pressure. Phobias also trigger the same response, we have been programmed to feel anxious towards a specific trigger and our body responds in a defense mode. The physiological response is always the same – fight, flight, freeze.
What does this have to do with labour?
Because we are conditioned with the expectation of pain our body still goes into defense mode, triggered by the subconscious mind as soon as labour starts. Catecholamine is released, the muscles of the body tighten and blood diverts to the major organs for survival, ready for the fight, flight, freeze response.
The uterus is not a major organ for survival, so the blood is diverted away from it, reducing the supply of oxygenated blood to the muscle. Lactic acid is produced as a response, which causes pain.
The muscles around the cervix tighten (along with the other muscles in the body), and the cervix fails to open efficiently. Yet the muscles responsible for causing the cervix to open continue to contract and pull up, and now the two sets of muscles are working against each other – causing even more pain. The response to pain – more catecholamine, more tension and even more pain.
How the response to pain can lead to a distressed mom and baby
The body has a natural expulsion reflex that nudges the baby down and out, now the baby is being pushed against a tightly closed cervix with a reduced supply of oxygen (because the blood supply has been sent elsewhere). So, mom is in significant pain, but now baby gets distressed.
This scenario is known as “failure to progress” and is the number one cause of intervention or surgical birth.
Birth without pain
Hypno-birthing teaches you how to relax
Hypno-birthing is designed to counteract all of these symptoms. The 5-week course teaches relaxation techniques, basic physiognomy, offers information about your birth choices, teaches your partner how to guide and control the birthing environment, and teaches you how to connect with your baby.
As a result, hypnobirthing moms are able to have a labour without fear, with bodies and minds relaxed. In that state, we produce endorphins – our body’s own natural “feel-good chemical”.
Relaxation and endorphins
The more we relax the more we produce, and endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. Muscles relax, allowing the cervix to open smoothly and easily as it works in harmony with the other muscles connected to it.
Why hypno-birthing is the way to go
Over 70% of moms who use hypnobirthing do so without using any medication. Moms enjoy their pregnancies more, as they experience better sleep and health through their pregnancy.
Hypno-birthing moms connect with the body and baby, and so look forward to labour. They experience shorter labours, less need for medication, much faster recovery and fewer cases of postnatal depression.
Babies are also calmer and more responsive after birth so breastfeeding is established easily.
In a country where the c-section rate is so high, pregnant women should at least be made aware of the options available to them to try and achieve natural birth, and hypnobirthing is ideal for this.