How hypnobirthing can help with fear and pain, by Tracy Awere

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In this post, I shall be exploring the different ways our bodies responds when in a state of fear, panic or tension compared to when we are feeling calm, safe or relaxed. I will be examining these responses specifically in relation to labour and childbirth and explaining how Hypnobirthing can help.

Let’s first begin by classifying the two different nervous systems within the body:

The sympathetic nervous system can be summed up as our emergency response system. This is a life-saving response which evolved in human beings millennia ago when we needed to be able to save ourselves from predators- freeze, flight or flight were the options available when faced with mortal danger. Even though we no longer have such predators to worry about today, the freeze, flight, fight response remains in all of us when we are scared or in danger. The impulse to freeze is what will affect a woman in labour as running away or fighting are not relevant options in this scenario. When a labouring mother feels worried or afraid, her body freezes which in turn slows down or even stops labour. This is as a result of her instinct to protect her child- she is naturally programmed to only give birth in a place she feels is safe for her and her baby so if she is fearful or stressed, the body simply doesn’t work. In the sympathetic nervous system, the hormones catecholamine and adrenaline are released. Adrenaline in particular sends all resources rushing to the arms and legs in preparation for running or fighting. This, of course, is completely useless to a labouring woman.

The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand, is our confident, calm, normal state of being. The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems cannot operate within the body at the same time so we are either calm, confident and relaxed or fearful, worried and stressed but we cannot experience both states at the same time. The hormone oxytocin is produced in the parasympathetic nervous system and is typically produced during special times in our lives such as when we fall in love or when we make love and it especially peaks in women after giving birth. The oxytocin produced after giving birth is what helps the mother bond with her newborn and encourages the production of breast milk. Oxytocin is also responsible for stimulating uterine ‘surges’ (this is the hypnobirthing word for contractions) which aid the opening of the cervix in labour. In the parasympathetic mode, the human body is also capable of producing its own powerful painkiller- endorphins- which are several times stronger than man-made morphine. It is therefore fair to say that as long as the mother’s mind remains within the parasympathetic system, she will naturally produce the oxytocin required to make her uterine muscles work efficiently and the endorphins required to make the process as comfortable as possible. In the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s blood supply and oxygen is pushed to all the vital internal organs, especially the digestive and reproductive area which is far more useful than diverting it to her limbs, as with the fear response.

How Does Hypnobirthing Help?

In hypnobirthing classes, expectant mothers are guided through practical techniques to assist them in releasing fear and remaining calm and confident which in turns makes their body work more efficiently during labour. Simple, yet effective breathing styles are taught which complement and work alongside the physical surges that she experiences. These breathing techniques help the mother to stay in a calm state and also assist the muscles in the uterus to work comfortably. In addition to the focused breathing, deep relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques are taught in hypnobirthing and this aids mum-to-be in remaining calm and relaxed throughout her labour. This ensures that her body operates in the parasympathetic nervous system- a state in which it can produce oxytocin and endorphins. The effect is a more comfortable birth experience for both mother and child as her body is able to work more efficiently, often resulting in a shorter labour and less need for medical intervention. Hypnobirthing babies are often found to be calmer as they are born into an atmosphere of calmness, gentleness and peace. They are also known to be very alert as hypnobirthing typically allows them to enter the world drug-free.

Hypnobirthing classes are usually taken during the 2nd trimester of pregnancy and by regularly practicing the simple techniques, the mother essentially programs her mind and conditions her body to birth more easily when the time comes. Fathers/Partners also play an integral part in the process and they are encouraged to take an active role by participating in Hypnobirthing techniques both during pregnancy and at the time of labour and the birth. They can benefit from the knowledge that they are doing their bit to assist and protect mother and baby by ensuring that mother’s needs are listened to by her caregivers and also by assisting her with the visualisations and massages taught during pregnancy. This is empowering as it removes the feeling of things being ‘done’ to their wife/partner and instead gives them the security that together with the mother, they are ensuring the best possible birth experience for baby.

If you have any questions about hypnobirthing or if you wish to book your hypnobirthing class, please free to contact me at tracy@sankofa-hypnobirthing.co.uk / Tel 07957 675 141

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