As a mother, I had the opportunity to experience all the emotions that women go through when pregnant. Before that, over the years, I also had the opportunity to hear many birthing stories from my friends which all contributed to a kind of dread at the thought of being pregnant and giving birth. Although I didn’t know how at the time, I decided that my experience would be different, and when I became a hypnotherapist I knew that could provide an answer. The power of our mind is fascinating but very often we are not aware of it. Sometimes we go through life on auto-pilot, simply reflecting everything we have learnt by observing what is going on in our surroundings, and consequently expecting that we have to have the same experience. So if we think we are going to have the same dreadful experience as someone else, it becomes part of our belief system and consequently creates an expectation. As someone who broke away from the fear of giving birth and learnt about the amazing potential of our body and mind, I’d like to share some tips with you that helped me to have a calm and drug-free birth:
1. Remind yourself that giving birth is natural
Sounds so basic, doesn’t it? However, this is something we so easily forget. Birth is a normal and natural human experience. A woman’s body is designed to conceive and to give birth.In the past, when people lived in tribes, being pregnant and becoming a mother was celebrated and revered. Many works of art from that era depict serene and strong women giving birth easily and naturally, while standing or kneeling.
2. Read or listen selectively
So how did we get to this place of fear? There was a point in history when women lost their position as nurturers and healers and pregnancy was seen as a sin. Consequently, they were segregated during pregnancy and childbirth and often left to give birth in isolation, without the aid of medical staff. All of these circumstances have come to affect women’s feelings about birth and cause a lot of fear, tension and pain. Once anaesthesia was introduced it became overprescribed so women experienced a drugged birth as the experience was considered painful. This also involved the use of medical instruments. All in all, this enduring period in history established the belief that birth has to be painful. But is this really true? You will be pleased to know that before this shift in history there was no notion of pain in Hippocrates’ notes which pertained to cases of normal and uncomplicated birth. There were more cases where women describe birth as a deeply satisfying experience!
3. Build positive expectations
One of the pioneers of change was British gynaecologist, Grantly Dick-Read, who delivered a baby to a poor countrywoman who refused to have drugs. He was amazed to see that she was able to give birth in a calm and relaxed way. When he asked her how she felt, she said: ‘It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t supposed to, was it, doctor?’ This motivated him to further his research with other patients and brought about a realisation that a woman’s belief that she can have a calm and pain-free birth affects her birthing experience.
4. Imagine your birth as calm and manageable
Can you imagine your birth as calm and manageable? Great! Now do this, and engage as many senses as possible while practising your visualisations. Imagine yourself feeling calm, positive and excited about the arrival of your baby because positive thoughts build positive expectations. “Neurons that fire together – wire together”. If we dwell on negative images of birth and continue to worry, then our body responds by activating its defence mode, creating more tension. Tension creates interference with the workings of our uterus muscles and consequently, creates discomfort. As our brain cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality, it responds equally. So why not use it for our benefit and make our imagination work for us by focusing on a desired goal? As we practise it, these positive images become imprinted in our brain as a template and affect the way our body will respond.
5. Practice breathing techniques
Another way of preparing ourselves for birth is by practising breathing techniques. Abdominal breathing, when practiced regularly, conditions the body and mind for a successful birth. It is of vital importance as it provides enough oxygen to the baby and reduces tension in the body so the uterus is not adversely affected by tension coming from other muscles. Abdominal breathing is totally natural and it allows the birthing mother to stay connected with her primal instincts. Moreover, it helps the birthing mother to stay calm and work with her body. ” The mind masters the senses and the breath masters the mind.” There are three breathing techniques which you can practice throughout your pregnancy and birth and are very easy to learn. At first, it will require more conscious effort but you will notice that you are getting better and better with practice.
6. Release all negative emotions
Most pregnant women experience feelings they have never experienced before – different anxieties and worries which are completely natural. Being a mother can make you feel vulnerable but, at the same time, more perceptive of what needs to be addressed. It is good to identify the feelings that may be painful and to release them as this helps you to create a more harmonious self and also a happier and more relaxed pregnancy and birth. Accumulated negative memories and emotions adversely affect our overall wellbeing. The good news is that we can change the way we feel by changing the way we think. One of the best approaches, and also a very gentle one, is solution focused hypnotherapy as it looks into the future rather than the past and does not require an individual to relive past experiences in order to be able to let them go.
7. Enjoy being in the moment
Being pregnant is a magical and occasionally challenging time as your body is going through changes whilst, at the same time, the needs of your baby require more attention. People may sometimes make remarks about women having a ‘baby brain’ but nature has its reasons for it. Nature wants us to connect with our baby and be fully present in our role even before the baby’s birth. The demands of the outside world can be high, we may have many expectations of ourselves and try to continue the lifestyle we had before. Juggling too many things at the same time can make a future mum feel worn out, tired and even anxious. How about finding some special time in the day to practise being in the moment with your baby? You will find these special moments incredibly soothing for both and helpful for tuning into your instincts as a mother.
8. Find ways to relax
Easier said than done, isn’t it? Relaxing is something we all struggle with, no matter the circumstances. Practising being relaxed and calm helps you and your baby – mothers who have been calm throughout pregnancy had a calmer birth and also a calmer baby. Find time to do things that make you feel good and relaxed. These activities will encourage your body to produce more happy hormones which will naturally keep you positive. Physical activity, hobbies, reading a book or walking a dog – anything that works for you. If you feel any tension in your body – observe your thoughts. The way you think influences the way you feel. If you notice that your thoughts are taking you in the direction you don’t want to go – stop them and take a couple of deep breaths. Breathe in calm, breathe out tension.
9. Think of how you want things to be
When calm again think of the situation that upsets you but focus on how you want it to be, rather than how you don’t want it to be. If your anxiety is: “I don’t want to feel worried about giving birth” – rewrite it into something like “I want to feel positive about my birth.” Give it a go – see yourself feeling calm, confident, empowered. We all like the sense of being in control but we also know this is not at always possible. The only thing we can have control of is our thoughts. So if we say to ourselves – “I want to feel positive, calm and relaxed while giving birth” we are giving ourselves a task and our resourceful mind will naturally start working for us, finding new great ways of making it all possible!
10. Trust your body
The first thing some women do when they get pregnant, is to look into different options for pain relief. This is to be expected because of the widespread belief that giving birth has to be painful, so an easy way out would be to dissociate from any potential discomfort – by using drugs. When a woman is calm and confident in her ability to give birth, she is able to ride the waves of sensations and even enjoy working with her body. Despite the high levels of oxytocin that cause the tightenings, when a birthing mother is calm and relaxed, her body naturally releases beta-endorphins which act as pain-killers, so the levels of discomfort she may experience remain bearable. You may, of course, wonder why would someone want to experience discomfort in 21st century, now that the drugs are readily available? Benefits of having a natural birth are numerous and not only will you experience shorter and easier labour and a faster postnatal recovery. Women who opt for a drug-free birth actually find it empowering and satisfying as they feel in control of their body and are able to work with it. This is the reason why birth preparation courses that teach self-hypnosis, breathing and visualisations are so popular.