Also known as a straightforward birth, or to midwives as a normal birth, a natural birth can mean slightly different things. Some see the main criteria as being a vaginal birth, while the most widely used definition is a vaginal birth using no pain relief or intervention (although using gas and air generally still constitutes having a natural birth).
Natural birth is generally considered to be one with no intervention at all, using neither induction in the early stages, nor forceps during delivery, or an injection to deliver the placenta in the third stage of birth. The things that almost certainly never fall under the remit of a natural birth are: epidural, episiotomy, caesarean or general anaesthetic.
The term ‘natural childbirth’ was coined by obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read in his ground-breaking 1930s book of the same name Natural Childbirth. The concept of birthing in a natural way has grown in validity over the years to become a common objective for many families. As birthing intervention, medication and hospital-based births have become more prevalent over time, many have felt that natural births are empowering and a way of staying in control of your body as well as being more connected to your baby when it arrives.
Natural births can be achieved in hospital, at home, during water births and breech deliveries. In place of anaesthetics and other medical assistance there are some tried and tested coping techniques that assist in calm and healthy births, mainly using mind-body connections. They include massage, water birth, mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises and self-hypnosis. Movement techniques and support from loved ones or and/or midwives during birth are also important.
Having a natural birth can be important to women and their families due to a number of reasons, including religious and personal beliefs, a fear of medication or hospital settings, a previous bad experience with birth intervention or a desire to feel in control of the birth. Even if someone has previously had a caesarean, they can opt for a natural vaginal birth in subsequent deliveries.
Early labour and your birthing partner
When you first go into labour it’s important to do things that will keep you feeling calm and self-assured. Even if you’re planning on going into hospital, you should try to stay at home as long as you can in a setting that comforts you. You could walk around the garden, take a bath, have a nap in between contractions, or do something that you enjoy until contractions become regular. This is usually when they last 30-60 seconds and occur every five minutes, but your midwife will advise you.
Throughout labour, it’s also key to have emotional support from someone who is calm and that you know and trust. This could be your partner, your mum, best friend or a midwife – the choice is yours and you should get them involved in your birthing plans in order for them to help you to remain focused and speak to medical professionals about your choices. This leaves you to focus on things like breathing techniques, getting in the right mindset and being as comfortable as possible.
Let your hormones do the work
Hormones act just as strongly in labour as they do in pregnancy, and knowing how to promote positive childbirth hormones lets things work as they should. During labour your body produces oxytocin, a hormone that makes the uterus contract strongly and regularly. Remaining upright helps with the production of oxytocin but feeling afraid, anxious, embarrassed or angry can inhibit it, so learning how to deal with these feelings helps the birth along hugely. We explain how you can do this below.
Likewise, endorphins – which are hormones that provide a sense of well-being – are nature’s own pain relievers, helping you to cope with contractions. If you can learn to let go and allow your hormones to work for you then your body will function at its best. There are a number of techniques that can help with this and afford a sense of calm and empowerment to having a natural birth.
All in the techniques
There are multiple techniques available for allowing a natural, painless birth that you can use on their own or in combination.
Changing position regularly and keeping moving is a recognised method for encouraging straightforward, natural birth. It helps your baby to move into the correct position for birth and through the birth canal, as well as helping you deal with contractions. This can be achieved through walking around between contractions, showering (which can also help cool you down), rocking and swaying the hips, going up and down stairs or using a birthing ball to remain mobile and keep your torso upright. These all contrast with the traditional lithotomy position where a woman is in a hospital bed on her back with legs in stirrups, which has consistently been shown to slow and complicate labour.
2. Water birth
The soothing power of water has multiple benefits. It acts as a form of pain relief, helps to support your weight – particularly good if you’re getting back pain – and allows you to move more freely during the birth. Birthing in water is definitely a more natural method. You can either just labour in the birthing pool or also birth in there as well, which has the added bonus of reducing the risk of perineal tearing, due to increased blood flow and allowing a more relaxed birth. It is also a comforting transition from the womb, for the baby to be born in water.
An approach that encompasses many of the natural birth techniques is hypnobirthing. A form of self-hypnosis, it teaches mums-to-be to use deep relaxation, breathing, visualisation and fear release techniques during labour. Similar to meditation, it’s one of the best ways of avoiding anxiety and allowing your hormones to work effectively in relieving pain and allowing your uterus to contract. Part of an approach known as family-centred care, with hypnobirthing there’s an emphasis on the active role of the birthing partner. Couples learn the techniques together and the approach sees the birth as a bonding experience.
Hypnobirthing is versatile – even if it turns out you can’t have a natural birth due to complications, you can still use the techniques to have a calm delivery. Procedures like having a caesarean or epidural can be distressing, but focusing your mind by using self-hypnosis distracts from them and allows you to focus on a positive birth. The skills learnt can also be used after birth to ward off stress and anxiety in everyday life.
Massage in the early stages of labour has been shown to help the release of all-important endorphins and reduce anxiety. If you’re feeling frightened, the touch of someone you’re close to can also reassure you. Being gently massaged during contractions may act as a welcome distraction to help you cope with the pain, although it’s important to communicate with your partner and ask them to stop if the massage is uncomfortable or not helping. A good area to focus on is the back and shoulders, and your birthing partner can create a rhythm with the massage strokes to promote beneficial breathing rates. Gentler foot or hand massaging also provides comforting closeness.
5. Warm and cold compresses
Using hot and cold compresses during labour can be an effective form of pain relief. Hot packs do so by increasing the blood flow to an area, while cold packs decrease the blood flow. Placing a hot pack at the base of your tummy helps minimise cramping, in the way you might use a hot water bottle on period pains. Hot packs can also be relaxing when placed at the back of the neck. Cold packs can relieve back pain when placed at the bottom of the spine.
Even if you’ve previously had a caesarean, you could still have a natural birth the second time around and thereafter, depending on certain factors. In fact, vaginal birth after C-section (commonly referred to as VBAC) can be achieved in 60-80% of cases.
It may be that you missed out on a natural birth first time round and want to try again. Other reasons to go natural after a C-section are a shorter recovery time, more involvement in the birth or because you want a large family and to avoid multiple caesareans. You should of course listen to your doctor’s advice on whether VBAC is right for you, as some ladies with a high-risk uterine scar or a large baby won’t be able to have a natural birth after caesarean.
If you find out your baby is breech you may think it will put pay to your plan of having a natural birth. However, studies show that hypnotherapy is very effective in turning a breech baby. Even if you haven’t been to any hypnobirthing classes yet, there are specialists who can address specific issues, teach fear release techniques and promote visualising the baby turning, which actually really works.
If you’re considering a natural birth but still have concerns about what could go wrong, birthing centres in hospitals, such as midwife led units, are a good middle ground between a home birth and delivery ward. Here mums who’ve been assessed as having a low-risk birth can go to labour naturally if they wish. But, medical intervention is close at hand if needed, which is good to know if something doesn’t go according to plan and you need to be flexible with your birthing choices.
There are many reasons why you might need to have a cesarean section, either emergency c-section or planned. For some, a planned cesarean might be a welcomed relief after a traumatic pervious birth experience. For others, a planned or emergency cesarean might be disappointing after pinning hopes on a natural birth. Either way, hypnobirthing can make surgical birth much more enjoyable, through relaxation techniques enabling you to stay calm and helping you to connect with your baby.
Hypnobirthing will make the experience the best it can be by empowering you to make personal requests such as asking the medical team if you can play your relaxation music during the birth. You have the choice to ask for the drape to be lowered if you want to see your baby being born and you can even ask to receive your baby, if you are able to. Otherwise, you could also ask for your baby to be held on your chest straight away. This way, you can immediately bond with your baby and even start breastfeeding instead of your baby being whisked away and the cord cut. Another option is to ask for the cord clamping to be delayed until the cord has stopped pulsating which will allow the baby to receive all the blood volume and oxygen that he/she needs. The most amazing moment for me, when my first baby was born by emergency cesarean, was when he was held close to me just after he was born and his eyes met mine for the first time. I will never forget that wonderful moment.
cesarean-birthThe cesarean itself, however, could have been much better if I had known some hypnobirthing techniques to help me through it. My whole body was shaking even though I couldn’t feel anything from the neck downwards. If I had done some relaxation techniques, I believe I could have calmed my body down which in turn may have helped to calm my baby down (he came out screaming).I learnt hypnobirthing for my second baby’s birth when I was lucky enough to be able to have a calm, natural vaginal birth. I was so elated by my experience that I decided to train to become a hypnobirthing practitioner. I have now taught many couples over the past couple of years, including women with planned c-sections and some who ended up having to have an emergency c-sections. They were able to use breathing and visualisation techniques to stay calm and relaxed and generally just much more positive about the experience. Through relaxation techniques you are then able to release the all important endorphins which help you to feel good, relaxed and they also, importantly, get past on to your baby through the umbilical cord.
Good preparation is the key to a good outcome. If you regularly visualise the cesarean birth going well in your mind whilst deeply relaxed using breathing techniques, you can create positive patterns/memories in the brain, so that when it comes to your operation, positive feelings will be triggered. You can also practice visualising a safe place (a special place in nature, somewhere at home, or even under your duvet!), which you can then imagine during the operation. These calm, confident and safe feelings will allow you to remain relaxed enough to produce endorphins, giving you and your baby a much more enjoyable experience.
If you are feeling particularly nervous about a planned cesarean or if you are fearful about the possibility of having an emergency cesarean, then seek out your local hypnobirthing pratitioner to do some fear release work with you. If you are in labour and have been told that you will need to have a c-section, you can use some calm breathing techniques to help keep you calm. This technique is also useful for getting into a deep relaxed state when practicing visualisations. The key to the technique is to slow your breathing down and to make sure the exhalation is longer than the inhalation. Breathe in and out through your nose, focusing the breath at the back of your throat like a silent hum. Count in for 3 and out for 6 or in for 4 and out for 8 whichever works best for you. You might prefer to breath in a relaxing colour like a soft green or blue and then breathe out tension like black or grey. As you breathe out, think about relaxing all the different parts of your body from the top of your head all the way down to your toes. This breathing technique will give you a feeling of control over your body, which will help you to feel calm and confident. Remember, you can visualisae your safe place at any time to add to your relaxation.
Once your baby is born the sooner you can do some skin-to-skin bonding, the better. A beautiful way to watch nature in play is to put your baby on your abdomen and watch him/her birth crawl up to your breast. It’s a truly wonderful experience, which makes your birth feel more natural.
Hypnobirhting can really help make your cesarean birth your own personal birth experience. Discuss with your care providers to let them know what you would like, to make sure it’s a positive fear-free experience for you and your baby.
In a nutshell the labour was really quick, I started feeling some contractions around 12/1 in the afternoon and they were soon 2-3 mins apart and lasting 30-40 seconds so I called the midwife. She came and did an internal examination on me and said at about 3pm that I was only 2cm dilated so left and told me to call back when the contractions got more intense. Iain got home at 4pm and started filling the birthing pool. In the mean time my surges were getting stronger but I kept breathing through them. At about 5pm the surges were constant and at that point my waters broke and Iain took me upstairs to the birthing pool and called the midwives to come out.
The water was a bit too hot so I just stood in the pool until Iain could put enough cold water to cool it enough for me and as soon as it was I sat down in it and immediately felt my body start to push the baby out. I must admit I didn’t do the J breathing as my body was doing all the work and literally pushed the baby out for me. The baby’s head came out before the midwives arrived and then my body did one more surge and her body came out just as the midwives came in (at 5.30pm). Amazingly the baby coming out didn’t hurt at all, the surges themselves were more painful. The midwives put the baby on my chest for some skin on skin and then the placenta was delivered naturally 20 mins later. I didn’t tear at all so didn’t need any stitches and I put that down to doing the perineal massage daily. Throughout the whole labour I was calm and in control. I wouldn’t say that it was a painless experience because it did get intense at some points but I did not have any type of pain relief at all and the sensations I had were completely bearable. Iain was also really great, he stayed in control and calm, did the soft touch massage and was generally very soothing.
I put my amazing birth experience down to the hypnobirthing lessons and doing the rainbow relaxation and birthing affirmations (almost) daily, so thank you for teaching Iain and I the skills we needed to make that happen.
We gave birth on Thursday at home using Hypnobirthing and labour lasted 2.5hrs. It was the most incredible experience.
My fiancé religiously listened to the birthing affirmations and we constantly practiced our deepening relaxations in the build up to the due date and when the time came we were well prepared with the birthing pool all set up and confidence in our practice and belief that a drug free, comfortable birth would happen. It did.
Within 2 hours Penny had fully dilated without any unbearable pain. Pure breathing techniques and a birthing ball. I gave a lot of soft touch massage, played ambient music and spoke soothingly to my amazing partner with confident words about the birth of our beautiful child.
By the time I managed to get the pool at optimum heat Penny’s surges where constant and I knew it was happening. She got fully into the birthing pool and before the midwives had even reached the front door, the head had popped out. I knew it was down to me to birth my child and as the rest of the body was coming out, the midwives arrived and I called out in relief that they had arrived ( it was 2.30 hrs at this stage – very fast for what I’m lead to believe) they unwrapped the umbilical cord that was around her neck and handed our beautiful daughter to Penny
Penny didn’t tear at all and has not only recovered but she is pretty much back to normal within 48hrs and we are blissfully happy.
Without Hypnobirthing, we know that this experience wouldn’t have been as magical as it was and fully believe in the power of a positive mind and belief in oneself can accomplish unbelievable feats.
So how effective is hypnobirthing at ensuring a manageable birth experience? As many as 69% of my hypnobirthing mums did not require any pain relief during birth. Based on my own client’s feedback, only 31% required some form of pain relief (including gas and air) and these were mostly due to special circumstances, but they reported to still finding hypnobirthing beneficial for helping to cope with the situation and remain calm and involved in the decision making process. Even if intervention was needed for special circumstances, hypnobirthing still helped women and their birth companions cope with their experience, empowering them to ask questions and stay calm so that they felt fully informed and positive about the birth.
“Although my birthing experience was not how I had planned it, hypnobirthing enabled me to cope and remain in control.” Kate, Berkhamsted.
In terms of epidurals, according to an American study in 2007, among the women who had vaginal births, 5 (10%) of the hypnosis prepared and 23 (45%) of those not using hypnosis had epidural anaesthesia (Source: VandeVusse, Irland, Franciscan, Berner, Fuller, Adams – Hypnosis for Childbirth: A Retrospective Comparative Analysis of Outcomes in One Obstetrician’s Practice http://www.asch.net/portals/0/journallibrary/articles/ajch-50/50-2/vandevusse50-2.pdf ). These figures help to show us that although hypnobirthing cannot promise the perfect birth, it does give women the best opportunity for a drug-free birth as the need for pain relief greatly reduces.
Statistics also show us that women are less likely to have an emergency c-section with hypnobirthing than without. The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust has done a study into the benefits of hypnobirthing, which showed that only 4% of hypnobirthing births ended with an emergency C-section compared with 15% for the general population. As part of the Cochrane review published in 2012, three studies of 645 women found that more women in hypnosis groups had a spontaneous vaginal birth than those in the control group. The largest of the studies (numbering 520 women) reported a lower rate of caesarean section in the hypnosis group. (source: The Cochrane library http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD009356.pub2/abstract)
Harmon, Hynan and Tyre reported more spontaneous deliveries, higher Agpar scores (so better health of babies at birth) and reduced medication use in their study of 60 women. Of the 45 Hypnosis for Childbirth clients, 38 delivered without the use of caesarean, forceps or vacuum, a rate of spontaneous birth of 84%. This is a higher than average rate of normal birth for the general population of first time mothers. (Source: Harmon TM, Hynan MT, Tyre TE. Improved obstetric outcomes using hypnotic analgesia and skill mastery combined with childbirth education. Consultant Clinical psychology 1990)
Studies have also shown that hypnobirthing can shorten labour – Jenkins and Pritchard found a reduction of 3 hours for first-time mums from an average of 9.3 hours to 6.4 hours and and 1 hour for second-time (or subsequent) mums from 6.2 hours to 5.3 hours for active labour (262 subjects and 600 controls). The birthing phase was statistically shorter for first time mothers, from 50 min to 37 min (source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8476826)
The biggest study into hypnobirthing in the UK to date, was a randomised trial of 680 pregnant women in the UK in 2010 to 21012, known as the SHIP trial which reported that self-hypnosis made no difference to the method of birth (normal, instrumental or caesarean) or to the use of pain-relieving drugs between the self-hypnosis group and the control group, though the hypnosis group did report a reduction in anxiety about birth.
So how does hypnobirthing work? Hypnobirthing provides mums-to-be with breathing, visualisation, self-hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming and fear release techniques, which aid any anxieties and negative thoughts about birth at a subconscious level.
Hypnobirthing enables mums to go into themselves during childbirth. The neo-cortex, the thinking part of the brain, is subdued through hypnosis, in order for labour to progress effectively using the reptilian part of the brain. Hypnobirthing techniques enable mums-to-be to have a fear-free birth, one with a positive expectancy, which allows their bodies and minds to be in a relaxed state during childbirth, shutting down the neo-cortex and releasing the hormones that the body needs for an efficient and more comfortable birthing experience.
With hypnosis, oxytocin and endorphins flow and create a calm state of body and mind. Oxytocin causes the muscles to surge, opening the cervix at optimum efficiency. Endorphins act as the body’s natural tranquiliser, and are said to be 200 times more powerful than morphine.
Hypnosis is really just a state of relaxation where we choose to focus our attention inwards and become more suggestible (to positive statements about birth for example) and we remain fully in control and aware of what is happening around us. It is a completely natural phenomenon which we experience every day of our lives, when we daydream or become engrossed in a good book or film.
Despite the UK SHIP trial we can still see from other research that hypnobirthing does help to reduce the need for pain relieving drugs during childbirth with 10% of hypnobirhting mothers requiring epidurals compared with 45% of the non-hypnosis group (VandeVusse, Irland, Franciscan, Berner, Fuller, Adams) and only 31% of hypnobirthing mums requiring some form of pain relief or medication based on feedback from my hypnobirthing mums (and vast majority were due to special circumstances). Hypnobirthing has also been shown to reduce the risk of emergency c-section with only 4% of hypnobirthing births ending with an emergency C-section compared with 15% for the general population according to a study by The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust and according to a study by Jenkins and Pritchard, hypnobirthing can also help to shortern labour by as much as 3 hours for first time mums and 1 hour for second (and subsequent) mums. We have also seen better health of hypnobirthing babies and higher than average rate of normal births (Harmon, Hynan and Tyre). It is no wander that The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust has seen a threefold increase in the number of women taking hypnobirthing classes in the past five years and Colchester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has seen a fourteen-fold increase in couples taking hypnobirthing classes from 6 per month to 84 per month in the past four years!
My experience of hypnobirthing enabled me to feel calm and relaxed during labour and birth. The birth of eldest daughter, Jemima, was fairly traumatic so as the birth of my son drew nearer, I began to feel increasingly anxious. Last time, I had felt frightened and unprepared for the pain as my labour progressed; this time, I wanted to feel as calm and relaxed as possible.
Several friends recommended hypnobirthing to me. The more I found out about it, the more interested I became and, with just two weeks until my due date, my husband and I booked onto a hypnobirthing course with Emma Harwood-Jones. She taught us breathing techniques for each stage of labour: calm breathing, surge (contraction) breathing & birth breathing. She also did a fear release hypnosis on me to dispel any fears I had about giving birth and to help me feel relaxed about the labour. I read the book Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan and also listened to the recommended hypnobirthing tracks every night. A key part of hypnobirthing is the use of positive affirmations and language: ‘pain’ or ‘hurt’ are not referred to and contractions are known as ‘surges ‘.
In the run up to the labour, I definitely felt a lot more relaxed than before and found myself feeling positive about, and even looking forward to, the whole experience of labour and birth.
My due date was 18th February but our little boy did not want to come out! I tried all sorts of natural induction techniques (reflexology, acupuncture and spicy food to name a few) but nothing worked and, on 1st March, I went into hospital to be induced.
The birth was extremely quick in the end; less than 6 hours from start to finish. Once the surges started, I remembered to do the surge breathing, which helped me to cope, especially as they got more intense. My husband was fantastic and kept reminding me of the various techniques we had learned. We walked all around the hospital in order to speed up the labour. After about 4 hours, my surges were coming every minute and a half, lasting for 30-40 seconds. My husband was keen for me to be examined as they were so close together, but I didn’t think they were lasting long enough for me to be too far along. However, we were taken to the birth centre and I was given the good news that I was already 8cm dilated. I wanted to try gas & air at this point, but found that it did not help me at all. The surges started to get very powerful and intense, and I have to say that I was definitely aware of the pain! My waters broke and baby Joshua was born 30 minutes later. I did not have much chance to use the birth breathing techniques as, by that stage, everyone was shouting at me to push!
Overall, I would recommend hypnobirthing classes to anyone feeling at all anxious about giving birth. My experience of hypnobirthing instilled in me a sense of calmness about the birth and I am sure that it helped me to relax as the labour progressed. I think that the breathing element of hypnobirthing really helped me to cope with the surges, particularly in the earlier stages of labour and I am delighted that I was able to experience a drug free and uncomplicated natural birth.
There are many misconceptions about hypnosis. Put simply, hypnosis is when your focus is directed inwards on one thing, to the exclusion of all else, so can happen as often as when you day dream, for example, or when you watch a flickering flame in a fire and become lost in the moment, or when you become absorbed in a good book or film. Often people associate hypnosis with stage hypnosis where people are made to do silly things like pretend to be a chicken or bark like a dog! They appear to be in a sleep-like state, unaware of their actions or their surroundings. In fact, with hypnosis and hypnobirthing, you are fully in control of your actions all of the time. You can bring yourself out of hypnosis at any moment. You are also aware of your surroundings. You do not have to go into some deeply relaxed state for hypnosis to be effective. Equally, if you are so relaxed that you look and feel like you are asleep, hypnosis will work just as well. The subconscious mind is still listening to the words.
I describe hypnosis like a telescope into your mind. When you are in a relaxed state you become more suggestible to words. For example, using positive words about birthing during hypnosis, will help you to let go of any negative thoughts about birth that you might have acquired in life and be holding subconsciously. All thoughts are taken in by the brain and processed by the subconscious mind, which then has a chemical and physiological effect on the body at a cellular level. Last thing at night is a good time to have positive thoughts because you go to sleep processing them at a subconscious level.
We can look at the mind like an iceberg. The conscious mind, the brain, is the part of the iceberg that sits above the water responsible for only 5% of our behaviour, whereas the subconscious mind is the larger part of the iceberg beneath the surface, responsible for 95% of our behaviour. The conscious mind is the critical part of the mind, the here and now, the analytical and logical, whereas the subconscious mind is the instinctive part of our mind. It is the filing cabinet of all of our memories, experiences and beliefs held at a cellular level. It is responsible for our emotions, which explains why we can feel without really knowing why, and also for all the physiological functions of the body (regulating our heart rate, breathing, digestion etc.). The subconscious mind takes control of daily automatic movements without our conscious awareness for example driving yourself to work in the morning on autopilot.
Working directly with the subconscious mind through hypnosis can make profound changes mentally, emotionally and physically. It is the subconscious mind that we need to change if we have picked up phobias, fears, anxieties or bad habits on our journey through life. In the case of hypnobirthing, we are using hypnosis to unravel all of the negative thoughts that might be held at a subconscious level about birth to help women feel more at ease and calm as they approach their birthing day.
You can communicate effectively to the subconscious mind with imagery, which is why in hypnobirthing we use visualisations during birth to help the body. For example, the opening blossom to symbolise the cervix or the vaginal outlet opening, or inflating an imaginary balloon in the uterus during a surge/contraction.
For more information about Hypnobirthing, visit www.togetherbirthing.com.
Emma Harwood-Jones, Hypobirthing Practitioner, Together Birthing
When special circumstances arise, hypnobirthing can still help you have a calm and relaxed experience as well as make informed decisions. Edie Rose Collins was born on the Wednesday 17th Feb a healthy 8lb 6oz exactly 1 week after my due date. Unfortunately she had other ideas on how this birth was going to go as when my waters broke on the Tuesday afternoon there was lots of meconium. Once in hospital we were placed on the labour ward and on constant monitoring and were unable to use the pool. The mobile monitor was in use but the midwife’s were really great at helping me to be as mobile as possible within the room. It was decided that she needed to come out quicker than we were going and after taking the time to asses the options and risks of not having the artificial drip we decided it was the safest option for the baby and also reduced the chances of needing a c-section.
The hypnobirthing techniques were invaluable at keeping me calm – the midwives were quite surprised at how we were managing and they also supported in breathing baby out rather than pushing. It became apparent that Edie needed to come out even quicker so I also had to have an episiotomy & forceps as the shoulders were completely stuck and the umbilical cord was around her neck.
I found it so invaluable having my partner involved. Jez was an absolute star in keeping me focused on my breathing and using the techniques to make sure we both stayed calm despite the circumstances.
Natalie & Jez, Amersham
The most important part of being a birth partner is managing to stay calm and confident, no matter what the situation, as well as giving you plenty of reassurance along the way. This is because mum will mirror your emotional state during labour and birth. If you are anxious, she will feel anxious too.
There are many different birthing prompts that partners can use to remind mum to stay calm and relaxed and to give her encouragement. These vary depending on the stage of labour but include phrases such as:-
“Body limp with total relaxation and peace.”
“Trust your body; long, deep breaths.”
“Body limp, shoulders limp, chest relaxed.”
“Opening with each new sensation.”
”Follow the lead of your baby and your body.
“Gently, softly, breathe love down to your baby.”
With hypnobirthing, there are various anchors that birth partners can use to prompt a deeper relaxation such as their hand pressing down on your shoulder, prompting a key word such as ‘lavender’ or your chosen birth colour or prompting visualisations such as an opening blossom or inflating a balloon in your uterus during contractions (surges). Birth partners should become familiar with the hypnobirthing breathing techniques so that they can remind mum to do them, if necessary.
Birth partners will be mum’s advocate for the birth plan, asking appropriate questions when necessary, so it is important that they know what the birth preferences are. They will need to ask questions to weigh up the risks verses the benefits of any medical intervention, if it is suggested:-
Benefits – what are the benefits?
Risks – what are the risks?
Alternatives – are there any natural alternatives?
Instinct – what is your instinct telling you?
Nothing? – what if we were to do nothing and wait for a while?
Birth partners’ role is to set up the right environment for birth with dimly lit lighting, comfort zone music playing, relaxation and birth affirmation recordings playing, covering the clock to avoid any time keeping, and in the case of a home water birth, keeping the temperature of the birth pool at the right level.
Physically, birth partners can help enormously by giving light touch massage before, during and after contractions (surges). This will help with the release of endorphins, the body’s natural tranquiliser, by producing a massive stimulation in the nerves just below the surface of the skin which overwhelms the nervous system with a message of pleasure from the brain blocking out any messages of pain to the nervous system.
Other physical support might include walking with mum and being her leaning post during the contractions (surges) so that she can lean forward or supporting her if she is squatting or even just being a lap to rest on during hands and knee positions.
Caregiving is another important role, which includes providing mum with cool facecloths on her forehead or neck, keeping her warm, placing pillow and cushions where needed for comfort, reminding her to go to the toilet, keeping her hydrated and fed to keep up blood sugar levels because without food and fluid labour slows down.
Birth partners have a crucial role to play during labour and birth, to support mum psychologically, emotionally, and physically with a calm and confident manner and the frequent assurance that all is going well.
Choose a birth partner that you trust wholeheartedly and who will support you without question.
Emma Harwood-Jones, Hypnobirthing Practitioner, Together Birthing
You can connect with your unborn baby in the womb with pre-natal bonding in many ways. It’s never too late to start. Babies respond differently to different sounds and activities through their movement, and studies have shown that babies often react positively to gentle vibrations, music, voices, light, warmth, touch and even humour. Any gentle, intentionally initiated interaction will help with pre-natal bonding. Studies have found that babies love the sound of their parent’s voices, especially when sung to and often respond with gentle moving action. Daily conversations and positive birth affirmations read to your baby are a lovely way to connect. Having a playful conversation using touch can also be a wonderfully bonding experience – gently rubbing, squeezing, patting, pressing and massaging in response to your baby’s movement. Research has also found that babies exposed to soft music in the womb were calmer, happier and better adjusted to life outside the womb and they also slept better.
So How do we Know that Babies in the Womb are Aware?
Thanks to research into the pre-natal development of babies, which was advanced in the late 1970s and early 80s, it is now believed that individual consciousness exists from the moment there is a living cell, so it is there at conception and within the embryo. The subconscious mind is imprinted by emotional encounters and the memory of these experiences is held in our cells – These deep early memories can be accessed later on in life through hypnosis.
Dr David Chamberlain’s studies found that babies do remember their births. In his book entitled ‘Babies Remember Birth’, he was able to show how the imprint of babies’ birth experiences is carried throughout their lives. Researchers have said that when people have recalled what happened, it goes as far back as the pre-natal period, way before they had the brain support to remember.
Studies observe babies through the use of ultarasound equipment. Dr Chamberlain discovered that babies develop their own physical exercise routines in the womb and are fully aware of their surroundings and their parents, as early as 20 weeks. Dr Chamberlain states, that “from all our studies we know that babies are far more sophisticated that we had ever given them credit for. We didn’t think babies could sense anything. We didn’t think babies had the brains to know what the senses were telling them. Babies seem to have a working mind, which is part of their consciousness. It’s not something that develops in stages. It’s quite simply part of who they are.” Knowing this, it is only natural that babies should thrive on interaction and socialisation.
The Benefit of Pre-Natal Bonding on Babies’ Health
Dr Thomas Verny, who wrote the book ‘The Secret Life of the Unborn Child’, studied the effect of pre-natal bonding and birth environment on babies’ health, learning ability and their relationships and found that in addition to developing physically, babies are developing mentally, emotionally and psychically and are affected by emotional encounters in the womb.
A study at the University of Salzburg showed the benefits of pre-natal bonding on babies’ health – fewer premature births, fewer low birth weight babies, an increase in the socialisation of babies and better general overall health.
Does Stress in Mothers Effect Babies?
On the flip side, studies have also shown that a baby’s heart rate increases dramatically when exposed to loud or disturbing noises, screaming or emotional distress. Developments in neuroscience have helped us to understand that if stress in the mother remains high over a prolonged period of time, it can cause the sympathetic response system or fear fight flight response to become permanently wired for over-sensitivity, affecting the baby’s reactions and ability to cope with stress later in life. Put simply, the less stress in pregnancy, the better equipped the baby will be psychologically.
Love is the Most Important Emotion for Babies
Ongoing studies are attempting to determine the degree to which a baby in the womb is affected by these emotional encounters, but what has become very clear is that babies’ sense of wellbeing and self-esteem benefit enormously from being made to feel welcome, wanted and loved, right from the very start. Love sends out a message of security to your baby and is by far the most important emotion for your unborn child – both the love that you share as parents and the love that you feel for your baby.
Hypnobirthing will give your baby the best possible birthing experience on the day through the use of relaxation, breathing, visualisation and hypnosis fear release techniques. Visit www.togetherbirthinng.com for more information on my courses.
Emma Harwood-Jones, Hypnobirthing Practitioner
‘What Babies Want, An Exploration of the Consciousness of Infants’ – Documentary by Debby Takikawa
‘The Secret Life of The Unborn Child’ – Dr Thomas Verny, 1982
‘Babies Remember Birth’ – Dr David Chamberlain, 1989
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Areas we cover
It is easy to get to our classes from London and Bedfordshire towns: Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard and Luton. There are also travel links from Buckinghamshire, from Amersham, Aylesbury, Chesham and Wendover.