Hypnobirthing – The Neuroscience

Hypnobirthing, a load of hippie waffle, or is there something more to it than that? Well I am, as always, interested in the science behind any practice that I teach. Having an understanding of how our bodies work to safely deliver a baby and an understanding of what is occurring at a neurological level gives me the confidence to tell you that Hypnobirthing can help you to feel calm and confident about your birth. It will teach you techniques that will help you to remain in control throughout your pregnancy and labour, reducing or removing fear entirely to enable your mind and body to work together in the way that nature intended.

When we are fearful of birth, we will trigger our fight, flight freeze response, we will produce stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, and our brains and our bodies will be preparing itself in a way that it thinks will help to keep us safe. This will result in our muscles tensing and consequently the flow of oxygen around our body and to our baby will be restricted. With muscles so tense it makes it very difficult for labour to progress without pain, add to this that our pain sensitivity will be heightened, and we end up in a fear/pain cycle. We have experienced pain, so we are encouraged to remain in a state of fight, flight, freeze, leading to more pain and so on.

A bust symbolising functions for different regions of the brain

The neuroscience behind using hypnosis during pregnancy and birth shows us that when pregnant women use particular breathing patterns, positive visualisations, and self-hypnosis, the brain can learn to associate giving birth as something that is not to be feared, but is a natural and normal process that a woman’s body can achieve. These techniques help to produce our body’s natural hormones oxytocin (responsible for efficient labour) and endorphins (the body’s natural analgesia) working together these can help to create a shorter labour with less pain.

How we breathe has an important connection to our nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system is engaged when we are in fight, flight, freeze mode. This results in the afore mentioned tensing of muscles, an increased heart rate, shallow breathing and production of stress hormones. Our parasympathetic nervous system is engaged when we are relaxed and feel safe. The parasympathetic system can bring great benefits to labour. As well as helping you to stay calm and relaxed, it produces anti-stress enzymes such as acetylchloline, prolactin and oxytocin. The vagus nerve is key to the parasympathetic nervous system. When stimulated it will kick start the parasympathetic system into action.

The Vagus nerve is connected to almost every major organ in the body and is one we do not consciously have control over. This is why we can breathe without having to concentrate on it and our heart will beat also independent of our conscious thought. Even though we cannot control our parasympathetic system, we can ‘manage’ it by indirectly stimulating the vagus nerve ourselves. Slow, rhythmic breathing from the belly is one of the simplest ways to achieve this and is thus one of the things I will teach all of my hypnobirthing clients.

Hypnobirthing will help you understand how to prepare your mind and body so that when labour starts you can instinctively do what feels right for you. Your birth partner will also learn ways of supporting you, helping you to feel safe and assured that the person with you can help you to deliver your baby in the best way possible for you.

A pregnant woman's stomach

I was fortunate enough to experience my own labour using hypnobirthing techniques. It helped me to remain calm and in control throughout a labour that did not go to plan and resulted in an emergency caesarean. Although this was not part of my hoped-for birth plan I still felt as though I had a positive experience as a result of the techniques I practiced. I listened to my relaxation tracks and practiced my breathing techniques throughout what turned out to be a very slow progression through labour. After 24 hours from when my waters first broke I was having contractions around every 8 minutes and this continued for the next 40+ hours or so. My baby was back to back, they sometimes call this back labour and it is considered to take longer, cause extra pain and require extra pushing.

I can certainly vouch for the extra time, but with each surge (contraction) I breathed my way through, remaining calm and rational. I was most comfortable in water or on all fours, I listened to my body and moved as and when I needed to. I stayed at home for as long as I could, and with my journey to hospital I continued to practice my techniques. I can remember my husband stopping off at Tesco because we had eaten our way through our snack pack by that point and he wanted to re-stock. I stayed in the car in the car park by myself just focusing on how fantastic it would be to finally meet our baby. We were on our way to hospital because I was booked in for an induction that I didn’t want to have. I was hopeful that I would be dilated enough by the time we arrived to not need one and I was relieved to learn that I was.

I had hoped to be able to use the birthing pool, but it was not available and the midwives were concerned that using the birthing pool would increase the risk of infection. The midwives were concerned that my waters had broken and my progression had been slow, there was an increased risk of infection to my baby and myself. I was happy to be monitored to keep an eye on this. After 72 hours I was 8 cm dilated, but by that time both myself and my baby had developed an infection and the medical team felt it was best to get her out at that point as quickly as possible.

Although I was disappointed that things were not happening in the way I had imagined, my disappointment did not affect my focus. I was still calm, and I was still managing each surge by myself. Although the midwives advised I should have a caesarean, I very much felt as though it was my choice to make and based on all the information I had, I felt it was the right choice. The most important thing to me was my baby’s health.

For me, one of the most helpful elements of Hypnobirthing is that you can feel empowered to make the right choices for you and your baby, no matter what direction your birthing journey takes you. The skills enable you to remain in the right headspace to have rational thought and make the best decisions. For some this will take them through a natural delivery, for others this might include pain relief, and for some of us in other directions. Either way you can feel good about how your baby came into the world, knowing that you did what ever you needed to do in each given moment.

A content sleeping baby

I now feel very honoured to be able to work as a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist helping pregnant women and their partners as they make the transition into parenthood themselves. I provide private Hypnobirthing courses that are tailored to the individual’s needs. I can support first time mothers, experienced birthers and those who have previously experienced a traumatic birth. I will help you to prepare for the big day or night emotionally and physically. I will also help you to find ways to have the best birth in any birthing situation as life doesn’t always go to plan.

The course is informal, informative, very relaxing and fun with plenty of time to practice the techniques. It will take place in my comfortable, home based clinic, in Stanwick, Northamptonshire. You will be given the Solution Focused guide to self-hypnosis for childbirth handbook, and 8 relaxation recordings to listen to until your baby is born. It is suitable for everyone expecting a baby no matter how, when or where you plan to give birth, and I always make time to discuss anything that is of special interest to you.

Following the course, I will happily stay in touch until your baby is born and beyond to give any further support if needed. I also love to meet up afterwards to find out how you got on and to have a cuddle with your baby.

I look forward to meeting you and having the privilege of sharing time teaching you all about Hypnobirthing and how to have the best birth possible. If you have any questions about the course, please contact me so we can have a chat.

Leanne Leanne Astalos

About me

I have been working with children, adults and families for over 15 years, providing a range of therapeutic services and relaxation classes designed to create positive changes for the mind, health and self.

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Here you will find articles written by me that are my own thoughts influenced by the most up to date neuroscience, research and my experience as a therapeutic social worker and a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist.

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