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Hypnotherapy and birth

Hypnotherapy and birth

How does fear affect the birth?

As any Doula. Midwife or mother knows, when a labouring women is frightened her labour will be more intense, more painful and more likely to lead to intervention.

Imagine a women labouring in the jungle. Suppose she saw or even thought she saw a tiger lurking in the nearby shadows. What do you think would happen? Would she have a conscious choice on what happens next? She may think she could control the situation, but her body would already have made the decision.

Simply believing there is danger in her birth space would instantly stimulate a healthy "fight or flight" mechanism. Labour contractions would slow down or stop and would not resume until she felt safe.

A woman's body is so beautifully designed that if there is danger, fear or anxiety a series of chemical reactions take place to enable her to stop or slow down her labour to give her the time, strength and energy to deal with the danger of to run away.

This fear activates the nervous system to produce adrenalin (danger hormone), which gives her the "umph" or power to prepare to fight or to run away. Her cervix tightens (to prevent her baby from being born where it is not safe) and the increased level of adrenalin neutralises the Oxytocin (the hormone responsible for stimulating her uterus to contract) and endorphins (pain killing hormone), so that her body naturally slows down or even stops the birthing. Experiencing fear during labour leads to her heat rate increasing, her breathing becoming shallow and faster (so reducing the amount of Oxygen in her body and her baby), her heart pumping blood faster around her body so raising her blood pressure and blood being directed away from her Uterus (and her baby) to her limbs, essentially to prepare her for action.

All this "fight or flight" preparation uses a great deal of energy. As our bodies were only designed to be in this heightened sense of preparation to fight or flight for a few minutes at a time, you can imagine that staying in this state for prolonged periods of time will be extremely draining on a labouring women.

You may be asking, "So what does a woman giving birth in a jungle have to do with my clients?". This is essentially about fear - fear of pain, fear of dying, fear of tearing, fear of loosing control. A woman's nervous system does not know the difference between real or imagined danger or fear and so will respond in the same way to both - ever felt the rush of adrenalin and fear when watching a horror movie? Is the threat real or imagined?.

If she goes into the birth feeling and being frightened, her system will respond accordingly. This fear will lead to increased adrenalin in her body, which leads to increased tension in her muscles and her cervix, with less Oxytocin or "contraction" hormones being produced, so that her uterus is having to work much harder to flex and tighten. This subsequently makes contractions far more painful, in the same way that if you tense up when you are in pain, the pain becomes far greater.

All the while that there is fear or anxiety in childbirth, a woman's birthing body will not be allowed to flow easily through the natural progression of labour. In addition, the minute you introduce artificial hormones from induction or augmentation, the body stops producing the right amount of natural hormones, including the wonderfully powerful endorphins or natural pain killers.

So how does being relaxed and calm make a difference?

By being relaxed during labour, a womans body responds in a very different way to the fear scenario described above. When she is relaxed, her breathing is even and rhythmical; ensuring a high level of oxygen is entering her body. This oxygen goes through to her baby, ensuring that her baby remains calm and stable. Increased oxygen stimulates the production of Oxytocin (hormone responsible for contraction) and endorphins. Her blood pressure remains at a healthy level, and as her body is soft and relaxed she conserves her energy, with all excess energy being channelled through to the muscles that are really working hard, namely her Uterus. As the Uterus has no resistance or tension from surrounding muscles, the contractions are more effective and more comfortable. As the labour progresses un hindered by artificial hormones, other natural hormones kick in including relaxin which allows the cells of the birth canal to relax, soften and stretch, so making the babies descent easier and more comfortable.

So how does Hypnosis work?

Hypnosis is a natural state, which we all experience many times a day. It is a time when your conscious, (analytical, rational mind) takes a step back and your subconscious (feelings, memories, emotions) comes more to the forefront. For example when you are day dreaming, reading a book and realising you have read the same thing over and over again, driving on a long journey and not remembering anything about the journey etc.

With intended Hypnosis, you purposefully take herself into a daydream like state using music, soothing images and guided visualisation. Once the critical and analytical part of her mind also relaxes, you become more receptive to positive suggestions and affirmations. As the mind does not know the difference between imagination and reality, the more times you give yourself positive suggestions, the more real they become.

by Maggie Howell, creator of the Award Winning Natal Hypnotherapy CD Series.

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