HypnoBirthing® is a widely-recognized childbirth education program that has been in existence for nearly 30 years. However, it is often misundertood.
Let's address 7 common HypnoBirthing® myths... and truths behind them!
Myth #1: HypnoBirthing® mothers are not supposed to make noise in labor. They should be still and quiet.
The Truth: I am genuinely a bit confused about where this myth came from! If you turn to the HypnoBirthing® book, as well as the full course curriculum, nowhere does it state that women are to "remain silent." In our text, as well as in the videos we show in class (particularly those released in recent years), you will hear about and see women vocalizing and using all kinds of movement/positions.
Sometimes words like "hypno", "calm", "relaxed", and "confident" can create a picture of women laboring as quietly and as still as can be. However, just like all birthing women, some HypnoBirthing® mothers are quiet... some are louder... You can be relaxed, calm, in a state of hypnosis, and make sounds - they are not mutually exclusive. Some women use many different positions and forms of movement, while others do not.
Making instinctual sounds can help women feel empowered, in control, and as though they were able to express themselves in labor. Moving around can bring comfort and aid in baby's positioning for birth. HypnoBirthing® mothers are free to make any and all noises, and choose any and all positions, that make them feel good. In the end, it is most important that women feel like they are the ones directing their labor. We want mothers to do whatever comes naturally to them!
Myth #2: HypnoBirthing® doesn't "work" for everyone (especially first-time moms)!
The Truth: Marie Mongan, the creator of HypnoBirthing®, has a wonderful saying:
"It's not if the program works for you... It's how you work the program."
I have found a two-fold meaning to Marie's statement:
To address first-time versus repeat moms in particular - I have seen (and heard reports from) just as many first-time moms as repeat moms who have had beautiful births. You can check out my class web page as well as the Flutterby Blog for testimonials and birth stories from some of these women. It does a disservice to first-time birthers to insist that their birth will automatically be more difficult... or longer... or more painful... or more "impossible."
Fun fact: Some of my quickest doula client births have been first-timers! When it comes to birth, all bets are off.
Regardless of how many babies one has given birth to, when the body is relaxed, the woman is calm and confident, and the environment is supportive, beautiful births happen.
Myth #3: HypnoBirthing® guarantees a pain-free birth/women won't feel anything.
The Truth: The key word in this myth is "guarantee." In reality, HypnoBirthing® does nothing of the kind. Do we encourage women to birth instinctually, which may lead to experiencing less pain in labor? Absolutely. Do we teach breathing, relaxation, self-hypnosis, and visualization tools that may lead to a decrease in pain/pain perception? You bet! Do we reframe how we think of/talk about the pain and sensations that may be experienced in birth? Yup. And, do we protect ourselves from the messages we see everywhere that suffering must be a part of birth? Of course.
Do some HypnoBirthing® students report having zero pain during their birth - YES! This can be difficult to understand for the vast majority of people, as this is not what society tells us or shows us!
We explain and explore the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle, a phenomenon first observed and noted by obstetrician Dr. Grantly Dick-Read: In the absence of fear (which produces tension in the body and releases hormones that trigger fight-flight-freeze/inhibits pain-blocking hormones), women are less likely to experience unbearable pain in labor, and their labors are more likely to move forward with fewer interventions.
We start out in Class One explaining exactly how the body (the uterus in particular) works in labor. Once we start dispelling myths about what is really going on there, as well as breaking through the negative messages that society gives us about birth, we almost instantly start to change our view and perceptions of extreme pain and its necessity in labor! Now, if a woman perceives pain during her labor, does that mean she has somehow "failed" at HypnoBirthing®? Absolutely not. There is not such thing as a "failed" HypnoBirth.
Myth #4: HypnoBirthing® only teaches 'comfort techniques' for birth. It is "just" a method.
The Truth: HypnoBirthing® is a fully-comprehensive childbirth preparation class. At 12.5 hours of class instruction and practice + out of class reading/practice/"homework," we are equal or greater in length to other time-tested programs such as Lamaze. We walk through the entire process of what occurs, both physically and mentally/emotionally, during labor. We discuss the phases of labor, what they look like, and how we can move through them using self-hypnosis and other tools. You do not need to take any other childbirth education course when taking HypnoBirthing®.
HypnoBirthing® is as much a philosophy for birth as it is a method - We teach: Birth is not inherently a "medical" event. It is a "life event!" It has a normal rhythm and flow. Birth is normal, natural, and healthy. Healthy women experiencing a healthy pregnancy and healthy labor can have a birth where her body functions as it is made to. Birth can safely happen at home, in birth centers, and in hospitals. Birth is not about the caregivers, or nurses, or doulas, or educators... It is about the family, and they must take charge of their care and birth experience.
One concept that Marie Mongan is clear about it this (and this is what makes us unique): If students come to class looking for lengthy discussions about medical interventions in birth, they won't find it. This is purposeful and by design. We use our time together wisely to focus on how the mind and body work when free from medical intervention. Our classes are a safe space to explore what undisturbed, instinctual birth can look like... And I, for one, think this is wonderful and much-needed!
Do we explore several common interventions when we discuss making informed decisions in labor? Yes, of course - "Here are some of the options that may come up for you, here are the times these may be medically necessary, and here are ways you can advocate for yourself/your partner/your baby to feel more empowered in your care."
The focus of HypnoBirthing® is on chipping away at the fear that many students come to class with. It is not about building up a sense of doom and "worst-case scenarios." Of course, if students request more information about specific interventions, we are happy to discuss and point them in the right direction for additional evidence-based information.
Myth #5: HypnoBirths are not possible in a hospital setting.
The Truth: HypnoBirthing® happens in all settings - in hospitals, in freestanding birth centers, and at home. The majority of my own HypnoBirthing® students and doula clients are hospital birthers, but I get a beautiful mix of all choices. What does help someone have a better birth is to find a truly supportive medical provider, choose a location for their birth that doesn't make them feel as though they are surrounded by peril, and to advocate well for themselves and their baby. We teach our students to be smart consumers of their health care - And to make a change in birthing location/providers if they do not feel fully understood and supported.
Oh, and we highly recommend hiring a HypnoBirthing®-trained/certified doula -- They are experts at guiding families through the process and techniques, and provide such important perspective!
Myth 6: HypnoBirthing® doesn't give students "enough" hypnosis audio tracks.
The Truth: This comes down to the root of our program and why Marie designed it in the way she did (it is the original childbirth hypnosis program). Having read through the previous five myths, you have seen me mention the terms "instinctual" and "undisturbed" several times. Another term to add to this discussion is "non-contrived." Marie designed and produced just the right number of self-hypnosis audio tracks to help parents prepare for and make their way through birth, including the cornerstone Rainbow Relaxation. She kept things simple to help parents prepare for their births without feeling pressured to use dozens of tracks, one for each part/phase of labor. Additionally, each birth partner receives several hypnosis scripts to provide additional guidance for their partner.
The beauty is in the program's simplicity and its encouragement to use your own natural birthing instincts with *just* the right amount of guidance and reinforcement.
Myth 7: HypnoBirthing® teaches that your baby will simply "float" out of your body with the use of special breathing... and HypnoBirthing® mothers don't push.
The Truth: HypnoBirthing® does indeed teach a unique breathing technique that mothers learn how to use during the birthing phase of their labor. This technique harnesses the power of the breath to gently, but powerfully, nudge/move baby down and into the world, following mom's instincts and what is called the "natural expulsive reflex." It allows more oxygen to reach both mother and baby, and keeps one's pelvic floor and tissues more relaxed throughout the process.
Marie designed this technique to assist versus resist what the mother's body is naturally doing - moving baby down (as baby helps in the process). She had witnessed way too much of what is called "purple-faced" or "coached" pushing in the birthing room, with women holding their breath and being instructed to push as hard as they can, even when not medically necessary. She wanted to help women understand that their bodies were made to do this - And "Birth Breathing" simply helps in that process. It's a powerful technique! In the absence of special circumstances, and under the care of a good and patient provider, the birthing phase can be so much more gentle and empowering. It looks just a little bit different for everyone (see answer to Myth #1). When you see its power before your very eyes, as I have, it is simply magical.
What other myths/concerns have you heard about HypnoBirthing®?
Leave a note in the comments, and I will do my best to address them!
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HypnoBirthing® Educator, Certified Consulting Hypnotist
On a related note: I have addressed the basics of what hypnosis is (and what it’s not) HERE, so please feel free to explore that related topic as well.
Special thanks to Danica Donnelly Photography for the beautiful pics contained in this post, from a Flutterby HypnoBirthing® student/doula family's birthing!
I often ask my HypnoBirthing students this question in their first class:
"Have you ever been hypnotized?"
As they picture swinging watches, people on a stage clucking like chickens, or a formal sit-down session with a hypnotist/hypnotherapist, most often the answer is "NO!"
My typical response is: "Oh, really?... Have you ever gone to bed and experienced that gentle, lulling feeling as you fall asleep?"... or... "Have you ever woken up in the morning and found yourself in that in-between state of coming-to, but not quite being fully awake?" [Heads nod all across the classroom]. "Well, then, you have indeed been hypnotized!" [Light bulbs come on!].
It is comforting for most people to know that hypnosis is a natural state that we all experience at least 2x each day - When falling asleep, and when waking. When going through each of those processes, we go down through, or up through, several states of consciousness - Beta (waking), Apha and Theta (states of hypnosis/trance), and Delta (sleep). Once we know this, we can discover just how easy it is for us to slip, almost unnoticed, in and out of hypnosis!
It is important to remember this: All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. This means that no one can make you do anything - No one can make you go into hypnosis. You have to be open to the experience. Someone skilled in hypnosis (such as a Certified Hypnotist or Hypnotherapist), can help guide you in and out of that state.
Hypnosis allows us to naturally access our subconscious mind, which is where our beliefs, values, intuition, long-term memories, and imagination live. These things are not accessible in the same way while we are in our conscious mind. When we access our subconscious mind, and put suggestions there that match our goals or values, we can make significant change in our day-to-day lives! Find out more about hypnosis HERE.
Has anyone ever told you to "just take a deep breath?"... Or have you given the same advice to someone else? It's actually great advice! You are, or they were, essentially telling you to "relax" and go into a calm state, which is very similar to self-hypnosis.
Try the following exercise to bring yourself into this lovely, relaxing state:
1) Take a deep belly breath
2) Pause and hold your breath for a count of 2
3) Exhale and count out loud, or in your own mind - FIVE.... four..... three..... two..... one.... RELAX.
4) Repeat this 5 times in a row, 5 times per day
5) Enjoy the feeling of calm, quiet self-hypnosis!
Don't worry - You won't (and can't) get stuck in hypnosis. As soon as you are needed, or whenever your mind is ready, you will return to a state of full awareness and alertness. Enjoy!
Originally published in April 2014
My journey into birth began 14 years ago after the birth of my first nephew, Micah. I wouldn’t fully embrace birth as my calling until many years later, after the birth of my own two girls and the 'birth' of the passion inside me to bring services of meaning to pregnant women and their families.
I will never forget that moment. After an induction that lasted more than 24 hours, and “arrest of descent” of the baby during pushing, my sister was told that she would need a cesarean section. I watched as her face turned from determination, to disappointment, to resignation, and to sorrow. As my mom and I left the room while they began the surgical prep, I said to Mom, “That’s not what we wanted.” With tears trickling down her cheeks, she shook her head, “No.” The grief for what Sarah so badly wanted – a vaginal birth with minimal interventions – was palpable.
A few years later, as I was pregnant with my first child and wanting to learn as much as I could about having a healthy birth, Sarah invited me to an ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) meeting. At that time, the group was small and had just begun reforming here in the Twin Cities. I happened to attend on a night when a wise midwife named Gail Tully was on hand to provide information and practice in ‘optimal fetal positioning’ for birth. I didn’t know anything about birth balls or Rebozos, or the side-lying release. I just knew that it felt so good (and kind of funny!) as I was used as the ‘pregnant model’ for Rebozo belly sifting.
Two babies later, both of which included my sister’s attendance and support, I began the true path to birth work as a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, doula, and HypnoBirthing Certified Educator. Again, my journey was largely inspired not only by Sarah’s first birth, but also by her successful VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) her second time around.
To offer full disclosure, I somewhat dreaded as a doula the first time I would need to step into the surgical suite and witness a mama experience a cesarean birth. In some small way, I was traumatized by my sister’s experience. Now with many under my belt, I can say that my perspective has changed. Yes, it is still difficult. But, with my doula hat on, I enter the experience with an open heart and an open mind, with nothing but how I can best support that mama in that moment as my focus. It is at that time that we turn our trust over to the trained surgeon whose job now is to safely bring the baby forth from the mother's womb. I offer a grounding hand on the forehead, an explanation of what to expect and what is happening, sounds and smells that calm the mother, words of reassurance to the partner, and pictures if mama desires.
I have seen mothers who view their surgical births in many different ways: From full-on acceptance; to complete devastation (offering my doula hands to wipe away tears); to somewhere in the middle (perhaps with resignation and a resolve to process the experience later). I have seen cesareans that are completely medically necessary, and those that fall in a grey area.
Look, the cesarean rate in this country (31.9%) is too high. There’s no way around that. We can do better. For women, for babies, and for their families. It may feel daunting to tackle this subject on a grander scale and I know many of us birth workers often feel at a loss. But here is what we can do:
Below is a news story regarding the U of M's research into cesarean rates from 2014, for which Erin was interviewed:
A perfect example of first-time Flutterby HypnoBirthing® parents devoting time and practice to help make their birthing wishes come true!
Erin Stertz-Follett, Owner