Is Hypnobirthing Evidence-Based? 5 Myths vs Facts

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I heard about hypnobirthing at the hospital where I was taking antenatal classes. Without even bothering to understand what hypnobirthing is, I immediately decided that I didn’t need it.

Women have been birthing naturally since ancient times, why should I pay someone to teach me how to give birth?

I was determined to have a drug-free natural birth without any help.

I swam regularly during my pregnancy; I did stretches and perineal massages dutifully every day; I researched on breathing techniques and memorised all the stages of labour; I knew the best birthing positions and how to minimise tearing.

I was so prepared and 100% confident I knew what to expect.

Long story short, my labour lasted three long, sleepless and painful days. I ended up getting Syntocinon via an IV drip to speed up labour, and then an epidural. Weeks and months later, the twist of events leading up to the birth of my child still haunted me.

I couldn’t accept the fact that despite all my efforts in planning and research to prepare myself for labour, everything spiralled out of control and I had to rely on a series of medical intervention to bring my baby into the world.

Weeks and months later, the twist of events leading up to the birth of my child still haunted me.

One year later, when I fell pregnant with my second child, I knew I needed answers. I wasn’t ready to give up on a drug-free birthing experience. I decided to enrol in an online hypnobirthing course and found surprising answers to my longstanding questions.

The result was a birth that I always wanted – drug-free, no medical intervention, very minor tearing, and established labour lasting only four hours.

Today, I’ll like to share these answers with you, while debunking common myths about hypnobirthing (some of which I myself once harboured), so you can decide for yourself whether hypnobirthing is worth a try.

Myth no.1: Hypnobirthing is a form of brainwashing and causes hallucinations or loss of consciousness and control

When you say hypnosis, I immediately think of dangling pocket watches, swirly eyes (like in cartoons), and people doing or saying things they don’t intend to. So it was definitely a concern of mine when I first delved into hypnobirthing.

Was I going to enter into a trance, start chanting and humming in a cult-like fashion, then wake up completely unaware of what had happened, with a baby next to me? As it turned out, hypnobirthing is quite the opposite!

Fact: Hypnobirthing is about being in control of your own mind, body, and childbirth

Hypnobirthing is essentially self-hypnosis, meaning you are in full control of the level of relaxation your mind and body enters. The idea is that with daily meditation practise during pregnancy, a birthing mother can condition her body to respond to certain phrases, visuals, or music so that she will be able to enter into a deep state of relaxation whenever she wants during labour.

Because this hypnosis is self-induced, she retains full awareness of herself and others, but remains unaffected mentally.

In fact, when I was hypnobirthing baby no.2, I had a surreal, heightened sense of awareness, almost like an omniscient narrator. I was very aware of everything that was going on inside and around me.

This was in stark contrast to my first birthing experience, when I was in so much pain and agony that I had no sense of time or space at all. I couldn’t recall how the time went by, and afterwards I had little memory of the comings and goings in the labour suite. Even after I had the epidural and there was no pain, I was in a daze and couldn’t recall much.

With that said, this leads us onto the next common myth…

Myth no.2: Hypnobirthing is a pain-free labour experience

Many doctors and midwives who have witnessed hypnobirthing would tell you how calm and gentle the process is. No screaming, yelling, punching or kicking the husband. That leads many into mistakenly thinking that those hypnobirthing mother feel no pain at all, that hypnobirthing somehow magically makes the pain disappear, like a spiritual epidural.

Fact: Hypnobirthing helps you deal with pain in a calm and positive way

Yes, there are indeed women who declare no pain when they use hypnobirthing, but I never attained that level of hypnosis (most likely due to my lack of diligence in daily meditation practise) and thus never truly achieved a “hypno” birth. However, hypnobirthing did teach me the importance of trusting in my body and letting go of fear.

Did I feel pain when I used hypnobirthing for my second baby? Hell yeah. And because I was using epidural with my first, the pain that I experienced with the second was something completely new to me. It was so raw and bone-breaking that I almost lost it at one point.

But I knew that the more I fight the pain and tense up, the more my body will respond to the stress by releasing hormones which slow down labour (more on this in the next myth we discuss). That was the mistake I made with my first baby.

Instead, I willed myself to remain calm, surrender myself to the contractions, and allow my body to go limp. Yes you heard me, go limp. That was the eureka moment during the course that I realised what went wrong with my first labour.

Sure, I was breathing and counting and pacing around to help labour progress as best as I could, but in reality every inch of my muscles was tense. My face was contorted, my arms were stiff and I was avoiding eye contact with everyone.

Letting my body relax during a contraction was completely counter-intuitive and required a great deal of willpower. But I focused on the breathing taught in the course and reminded myself that I only needed to get through one contraction at a time.

Myth no.3: Hypnobirthing is a hipster fad with no scientific evidence

Unicorn milkshakes, rainbow coffee, hypnobirthing, all the same, right? Pursued by the hippie crowd with disposable income. But I was a thrifty mum-to-be and the skeptic in me was telling me not to waste my money on this weird hypnobirthing thing that could potentially be a scam carried out by people pretending to be professionals.

Fact: Hypnobirthing has been established for almost 30 years and is supported by scientific research

Hypnobirthing is based on the work of Dr Grantly Dick-Read, an English physician, who in 1933 hypothesised that the fear and tension felt by a woman during childbirth caused blood to be redirected from the contracting uterus to other muscles that could be used to flee in a dangerous situation. As a result, labour would stall and pain intensify because the uterus had insufficient oxygen to contract efficiently.

His theory was validated in the 1980s following the discovery of a hormone called beta-endorphin, which is found to be triggered by stress or pain. The release of beta-endorphin reduces the level of oxytocin, the hormone that facilitates cervical dilation during labour, thus slowing down contractions.

The techniques of hypnobirthing aim to redirect fear and tension to something positive and empowering so that the birthing mother can relax and allow her body to naturally release oxytocin for a quicker and less painful birth.

If you’re a brainy person and would love to read scientific journals and findings on hypnobirthing, there are plenty of hypnobirthing e-books to give you a good rundown.

Speaking of scientific studies…

Myth no.4: Hypnobirthing practitioners are not qualified professionals

Most people without a doubt would entrust their birthing experience to an obstetrician rather than a shrink. And that was what I initially thought of hypnobirthing instructors – they are just trained in psychology, but had no background in the medical field.

Fact: Many hypnobirthing instructors are doctors, nurses, midwives, and other healthcare professionals.

While hypnobirthing is indeed a lot to do with psychology, many don’t realise that being a medical or healthcare professional is a prerequisite to being certified as a hypnobirthing instructor.

In Australia, certification can be obtained with CalmBirthHypnobirthing Australia or Hypnobirthing – The Mongan Method. Many of the CalmBirth instructors are based in women’s hospitals, such as The Royal Hospital For Women (NSW).

And in the case of Hypnobirthing Australia, it has a prerequisite of training in childbirth such as midwifery, doula, childbirth educator, doctor or nursing training.

Although the certifications by no means replace a medical degree, I think it’s safe to say that at least not just anyone can be a certified hypnobirth practitioner, and they do know what they’re talking about.

Myth no.5: Hypnobirthing is not suitable for me

Whatever your reason for believing you’re not suitable for hypnobirthing, I’ve probably had it too. I’m impatient by nature, I’ve always been a fidgety person from young, I have zero interest in zen-like activities like yoga, and I didn’t want to spend money on a program that potentially might not work.

Fact: Hypnobirthing is adaptable and suits everyone

Because hypnobirthing utilises a variety of techniques to achieve a calm birth, depending on your personality and preferences, you can easily modify the techniques to suit yourself.

For example, I didn’t use the birthing soundtrack provided by the course. Instead, I put together my own playlist comprising of songs that I have emotional connections to and found to be very encouraging.

I like how in the course they describe hypnobirthing as having your own personal birthing toolbox, where you can fill it with your own tools. At any point during labour, you can pick and choose which tool to use to get you through that contraction.

In terms of cost, hypnobirthing programs costs vary greatly, depending on whether you want take a group class, or have private lessons where the practitioner to comes to your home. Some practitioners even offer Skype sessions.

However, I personally would recommend first buying an e-book, which is the most economical solution. The Calm Birth Method, written by internationally acclaimed TedX speaker, Suzy Ashworth, is definitely worth a read.

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Does hypnobirthing work?

Well, how do you like your steak? Yes, hypnobirthing works, but to varying extent depending on the individual and circumstances. At its very best, hypnobirthing can be pain-free and drug-free, but achieving this is greatly dependent on the individual and how committed they are to the concepts taught in the program.

Here is a video of a hypnobirthing mum (I do have a video of my own hypnobirth but I’m too self-conscious to share it). Lots of smiles and serenity despite the hustle and bustle going on around the house. Skip to 11:06 to see the baby born with complete silence from the mum, absolutely amazing!

At the very least, hypnobirthing educates you on proper breathing techniques (which alone got me through the entire birth), the science behind labour, and gives you an insight into the power of psychology on the human body. I have yet to meet anyone who took a hypnobirthing course and regretted it. All in all, if you’re serious about having a drug-free birth that is calm and positive, give hypnobirthing a try!

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