WORDS: Hannah Willsmore, Registered Midwife, Lactation Consultant and Childbirth Educator
As midwife and childbirth educator I have had the privilege of supporting hundreds of women as they gave birth to their babies. I truly have the best job in the world and am so lucky that I get to work with families during such an exciting time in their lives. It was really by chance that I came across hypnobirthing, but I am so grateful that I did!
Almost a decade ago I was working a night shift on the labour ward and was caring for a woman who was using hypnobirthing. I had never experienced hypnobirthing before, and prior to this shift thought that it all sounded a bit hippy and too good to be true – how wrong I was! The woman I was caring for used many different tools in labour and birthed her baby calmly with no medical intervention or medications, she didn’t even look like she was in labour! Her partner was so supportive, and seemed to know exactly what to say and what to do to help. I left this shift on an absolute high, and couldn’t believe birth could be like this. This had absolutely piqued my interest in hypnobirthing, and I wanted to help more women have a birth like this. I decided to complete my hypnobirthing training and have been teaching hypnobirthing to women and their birth partners for the past 8 years. I’ve worked with over 750 families as they prepare for their birth and get to hear the magic of hypnobirthing every day in the birth stories from my clients.
This year I got to put the techniques into practice myself as I gave birth to my first baby Archie. I had an incredible birth which truly was the best day of my life. I practised the hypnobirthing techniques with my partner in the lead up to my birth, and then used them throughout labour.
My labour was quick, free of medical intervention or drugs, and I birthed my big 5kg baby completely naturally. Hypnobirthing played a huge role in the safe arrival of our baby boy and achieving the birth that we desired.
This has made me even more excited to continue sharing hypnobirthing with families as I now know firsthand the impact it can have.
Hypnobirthing essentially means the use of hypnosis during birth. Self-hypnosis is a fantastic technique to help us stay calm in labour. There are many different options for learning hypnobirthing, including group courses, books, or sessions with a hypnotherapist. The antenatal course I have created combines self hypnosis, active birth techniques, and all of the little tips and tricks I use as a midwife to help my clients have a positive birth. Women and their birth partners complete the course during pregnancy and then use the techniques during their labour and birth.
The hypnosis that we use in the course is all self-hypnosis and very similar to a meditative or deeply relaxed state of mind. In this relaxed state our brain waves slow down, moving from beta and alpha states to theta. In the theta brainwave state bodily sensations are less intense, it is easier to handle difficult situations and we feel calmer overall. There are no swinging watches here, and I promise that the hypnosis that we use isn’t scary or like anything you may have seen on TV! You’re not asleep or in a trance during your birth, and are still able to make decisions and have discussions with your partner/care provider. The reason I love self-hypnosis and find it so effective with my clients is because it allows us to get into that focused, calm state more easily, and also to be able to maintain this mindset in different scenarios. It is also fantastic for helping to release and let go of negative thought patterns that can impact our birth experience. Often what we hear about birth and see in movies can be quite scary, so it is really normal to have some fears or worries about birth. I love seeing my clients go from fearful to excited about their birth. Many midwives and obstetricians often suggest hypnobirthing to their clients because they see the positive impact that it can have.
Everyone can use Hypnobirthing, and we know that everyone does have that ability to enter a hypnotic state.
For some this is easier than others, but it all comes down to practice. During the course it is always emphasised how important practise is in really becoming comfortable with the hypnosis techniques. By practising the techniques during pregnancy we can create new neural pathways in our brain through repetition. This then means that the techniques are familiar and easy to use in labour. This is a key part of hypnobirthing and why I recommend beginning a course from 20 weeks of pregnancy so there is ample time to practise.
What does a hypnobirthing course entail?
In most hypnobirthing programs you will also learn a variety of other tools in addition to hypnosis. In my courses I teach breathing, visualisation, massage, acupressure, mindset strategies, yoga, active birth techniques and much more. These techniques are all evidence based techniques and help you work with your body during labour, rather than against it. We focus on techniques that help your body to release endorphins because they provide natural pain relief in our body and can decrease the discomfort that we feel during labour.
We also use the techniques to help stay calm and keep adrenaline levels low. This is important because when our body secretes high levels of adrenaline this can actually slow down the birth process. We want to reduce any fear, stress or anxiety around birth during our pregnancy so that we can keep adrenaline low during the birth. Often we just think of hypnobirthing as a way to work with the pain/intensity of birth, but one of the biggest benefits I see is how it can help support our physiology and the birth process.
A hypnobirthing course also provides:
- Information on the physiology of birth including what your hormones are doing, the different stages of labour and what exactly is happening during a contraction. I always say that it is hard to relax and work with your body when you don’t know what to expect or what is really happening. Teaching the physiology of birth is one of my favourite parts of the course.
- The practicalities such as signs that labour is starting, when you may want to consider heading into hospital and how to write a birth plan.
- Birth partners also learn how they can support you during labour, they learn exactly what to expect, their role and what they can do to help. So many partners feel unsure about how to help their partner in labour, and often become overwhelmed by the intensity which is why this is such a big focus of the course. Many partners become raving hypnobirthing fans after their birth which is so lovely.
What are some myths surrounding hypnobirthing?
A common misconception I hear is that hypnobirthing is just for women wanting a ‘drug free’ or ‘natural’ birth. For many women coming to my courses this may be the case, and the techniques are fantastic for those wanting to avoid medical pain relief, but they can also be used by women who may choose an epidural, induction or caesarean birth. I focus on preparing families for all births so that no matter what path their birth may take, they have techniques and knowledge to make it a positive experience.
I have specific modules on induction of labour and caesarean births in my hypnobirthing course as we know that for some women this is the best option. During a caesarean birth women can use techniques like breathing, relaxation audio and partner touch to stay calm during the procedure. They may also like to consider options such as having skin to skin with baby or photos taken to help create a more positive experience.
I am passionate about families understanding their options and choices so that they can make decisions that align with their values and the type of birth experience that they are working towards. This is of course different for everyone and one of my favourite parts of this work is really getting to know a couple and how they would like to bring their baby into the world. Hypnobirthing isn’t ‘one size fits all’ and I believe that anyone can use hypnobirthing no matter what journey their birth takes.
Birth truly doesn’t have to be scary! It is the day that our baby is born – it should be a positive experience that we can look back on with happiness.
Unfortunately for many women this is not the case – birth trauma is on the rise, and this is something I hope to impact with my hypnobirthing courses.
I absolutely love that hypnobirthing is growing in popularity and more families are hearing about the benefits. The vast majority of my clients have come from recommendations from family or friends which I think shows just how powerful it is. With the right knowledge, tools and support, birth really can be an empowering and positive experience.
Hannah Willsmore is a Registered Midwife, Lactation Consultant and Childbirth Educator based in Adelaide. With her background working as a Midwife in multiple hospitals over the past decade she knows the ‘ins-and-outs’ of the maternity system here in Australia, and is all about helping women to achieve a positive pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience. She has a passion for education and holistic, evidence based care, and strives to support women to achieve a positive transition to motherhood. She currently offers a variety of midwifery and lactation services as well as her hypnobirthing courses, and is host of the podcast ‘Changing Birth’.
Hannah offers a variety of options for learning hypnobirthing for your birth.