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Hypnosis for Childbirth Explained by a Hypnotherapist-Doula

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My name is Carole Thorpe. I have been active in the natural childbirth community for over 35 years. I assisted hundreds of women in childbirth long before we were known as doulas. I was a birth assistant to an MD/OB, who owned and operated a birthing center, and who also “caught” babies in couples homes.

I taught many hundreds of his patients preparation for natural childbirth classes. I taught them the anatomy and physiology of late pregnancy and the birthing process. I also taught them how to manage or cope with any discomfort during their birthings by using breathing techniques similar to those taught by both Bradley and Lamaze, and taught their birth partners to employ touch or verbal relaxation cues, and I taught moms how to create their own guided imagery scenarios to be read to them during their birthings in order to give them mental respite from their contractions, and how to use external focal points to distract moms and diminish any perceptions of discomfort. 

 

I encouraged them to trust their bodies and their baby’s journey through the birthing process. I personally assisted over 300 of those traditionally prepared women as they gave birth to their babies without drugs or interventions. I assisted women who were peaceful, physically relaxed and in control of their birthings, and who were empowered by the outcomes. I gave birth to four children this way myself. I’d venture to say that the majority of those who gave birth naturally this way, wouldn’t say that they enjoyed their baby’s birthing per se, or that it was physically pleasant. Maybe they were delighted that they achieved their goal of an unmedicated birth, and most of them were empowered by the fact that they endured, or that they managed or coped with the pain of childbirth. None of them said it was easy or comfortable, or that they enjoyed their babies’ births so much that they’d like to do it again the very next day.

Today I hear my doula clients say such things as, “My birthing day was the most amazing day of my pregnancy, NO PAIN!…I would do it again tomorrow”, (moments after giving birth to her first baby). One recent mom said, “THAT was IT? It was SO EASY…I so want one more!” (the instant her baby slipped out of her body and was brought up into her arms). And, I heard a high-risk OB say (with tears in his eyes), “In my 15 years of practice, I’ve never seen another woman give birth with such dignity, such grace and such control”. In this case the doctor I am referring to, was speaking to a 19-year old single mom. He had just witnessed her birthing her baby into her own hands. She held her own bottom to control the speed with which her baby came through her perineum, pushed when it felt right, waited, just breathing and allowing her body to push her baby when that was enough, holding her own labia open with her fingers, and watching herself in the mirror as she squatted on the hospital bed. Her baby’s head slid out, and the OB checked for a cord, and said, “It’s all you Allison, let me know if I can be of any assistance”, as she scooped her daughter up and into her own arms.

All of these incredible quotes are are in reference to the birthings of some of my recent doula clients. What makes for the difference between the experiences of the traditionally prepared couples I used to assist, and those whose incredible comments you read above? Simply put, it is the addition of post-hypnotic suggestions for releasing fears and creating hypno-anesthesia in the body, to a very thorough program of preparation for natural childbirth…Hypnobabies.

I am a DONA certified doula, a hypnotherapist, a lactation educator, and a childbirth hypnosis instructor. Over the past six years, I have taught the preparation for natural childbirth method called Hypnobabies “eyes-open” childbirth hypnosis. I have assisted at over 200 of my student’s births as their hypno-doula. The nearly 300 Hypnobabies births that I have attended have resulted in such statistics as, a 6 percent epidural rate, a 4 percent cesarean rate, no vacuum or forceps assisted births, an episiotomy rate of less than 5 percent, with only one non-emergency transfer from the home to hospital for ROM times 18 hours with no contractions. 97 percent of these births occurred in hospitals, the remaining 3 percent were midwife-assisted births in couples’ homes or birth centers.

Some of the women who take my classes cannot have epidural anesthesia for one reason or another, such as VBAC, or scoliosis with corrective metal rods attached to their spines, or spina bifida, or a severe reaction to anesthesia during a prior birthing; reasons which make them a slightly higher risk for complications and interventions, not lower. And, yet, my couples statistics are amazing even to me. These statistics are not my opinion; they are actual tallies from the birth records I keep for each doula client and from the birth stories my students send me. These births all occurred within a 50-mile radius of my home in very conservative, highly litigious Orange County, California, where the hospitals average an epidural rate of 95 percent, an induction rate of 40 – 60 percent, a cesarean rate of 30 – 50 percent, and where episiotomy is routine for the vast majority of first-time moms.

In light of my unique and extensive experience assisting with natural birth, and also assisting women with hypnosis for natural childbirth, and as an experienced hypnotherapist, I would like to clarify some misconceptions that many have about hypnosis and its use in childbirthing. The most common misconceptions are, that hypnosis is merely another method of coping with pain or that it’s pain management, or that hypnosis is just flowery guided imagery delivered in a monotone voice that induces deeper relaxation than other methods, or that hypnosis distances a woman from her body during her baby’s birthing and denies her basic physiological responses that others create through enduring pain, or that women won’t remember their baby’s births, or that moms must lie still and listen intently to hypnosis recordings…their birthings entirely scripted, for hypnosis to be of any use. None of these assumptions are true of real self-hypnosis, deepened to the level of somnambulism, which is the depth of hypnosis that one must achieve to create an anesthesia effect in the body.

When a birthing woman is profoundly relaxed and deeply in a state of self-hypnosis, she responds to pre-programmed post-hypnotic suggestions so profoundly that her body creates endorphins, seratonins, melatonins and other relaxing hormones and stress-reducing brain chemicals. This happens automatically and all the smooth muscles in her body, all the muscles controlled by the autonomic nervous system relax so powerfully, that there is a physiological response that is perceived by the woman as a lessening of physical sensations, or a profound diminishing of discomfort, and for the majority of them the elimination of pain entirely. Hypnotherapists call this phenomenon, “hypno-anesthesia”.

It’s common knowledge among those who teach clinical hypnosis for medical purposes, that hypnosis can slow pulse and respiration rates, and lower blood pressure, and eliminate pain entirely. Doctors and dentists use this type of hypnotic conditioning with their patients to create “hypno-anesthesia” for their patients who are allergic to medical anesthesia. These doctors and dentists perform surgeries with no medical anesthesia, with no pain and no side-effects.

Hypnobabies eyes-open childbirth hypnosis teaches the same medical self-hypnosis techniques that doctors and dentists use for their patients who cannot have medical anesthesia. Women listen to hypnosis scripts to learn a cue to instantly enter self-hypnosis, and how to deepen it to the level of somnambulism in order to create an anesthesia effect in their bodies. Hypnobabies mothers experience their contractions as “only pressure” or a pressing down sensation, or even like being squeezed or hugged tightly. Many of the women I have assisted have described the sensation of their contractions as being very much like the sensation of a tight blood pressure cuff…intense, even sometimes mildly uncomfortable, but not automatically painful.

Hypnobabies moms learn to create hypno-anesthesia at the drop of a finger, literally. They learn to deepen their ability to do so by listening to a script designated to this purpose. Then with practice and by listening to other scripts, these women learn to strengthen the effects of this hypno-anesthesia in their bodies. They regularly practice scripts with their birth partners during their pregnancies to instill these skills as an automatic response to the sensations of their contractions when their labor begins. Through repetition and the resulting compounding effect, women learn to do all of this with their ‘eyes open’ so that they can move around and respond to their birthing body’s cues and their baby’s cardinal movements.

Hypnobabies moms learn ONLY their self-hypnosis techniques and relaxation deepening cues by listening to, and practicing with, their hypnosis scripts. Their BIRTHINGS are NOT scripted, nor are their individual contractions. No one could script a birthing since no two are alike. If someone were to see a Hypnobabies mom in ‘eyes-open’ childbirth hypnosis, she would look the same as any other birthing woman, with the exception that she could talk to you all the way through her contractions if she wanted to. She could “remain comfortable while moving around and still be in a state of deep hypnosis”, with “all the muscles around her baby completely loose, limp, lazy and deeply relaxed”, all the while “creating a mental hypno-anesthesia in her body”; actually enjoying…not merely enduring, her baby’s birth.

She can recognize and respond fully to the “pressure sensations” of her body bearing down during second stage, experiencing “gentle stretching and pressure as her baby crowns and is being born”, turning even more inward to focus MORE intently on the sensations of birthing her baby. A mom in true hypnosis (not one listening to guided imagery scripts which are meant to distance and distract) is never out of touch with reality, she’s actually hyper-aware of her process because she is simply tuning OUT, “all the external goings on around her, tuning IN more fully to her body and her baby”. Caregivers are often fooled by the mom’s observed level of comfort…and often don’t even believe a hypno-mom is in labor until they do a vaginal exam, when they very often discover that she is in late first stage, nearing time to push her baby out, or even complete!

Besides learning their hypnosis techniques, Hypnobabies couples receive a minimum of 18-hours of thorough preparation for childbirth, over the course of a 6-week series. All hypnosis for childbirth classes are NOT created equal. One stands apart from the others as a thorough preparation for childbirth class. This is the reason that DONA recognizes Hypnobabies as the only hypnosis for childbirth course that meets the DONA certification requirement that doula applicants must observe a complete childbirth class series. For example, Hypnobabies moms learn how to stay healthy and low-risk through exercise and nutrition. Couples learn all of the signs of labor, what constitutes an emergency situation during pregnancy and birthing, and they learn guidelines about when to head for the hospital or to call their midwives to come to them.

They learn all about routine procedures in hospitals, and the risks, the benefits and natural alternatives to each. They learn the questions they’ll need to ask in order to create true informed consent. They create their birth preferences based on this information, and based on what they choose for their baby’s birthing. Nothing is scripted for them. They have plenty of opportunity to ask questions in classes and to receive answers to their questions about late pregnancy, birth and the immediate postpartum period…including breastfeeding, and newborn characteristics, and much more. They learn from highly trained instructors who must show that they have a background in childbirth education and hypnosis, and be throughly screened, before they can even apply to enroll in a Hypnobabies instructor training. The certification process is rigorous, more thorough than any other preparation for childbirth program that I have been certified to teach, including other birth hypnosis programs.

Hypnobabies moms are not “denied an opportunity to love and trust themselves and their babies”, nor are they “denied opportunity for self-discovery and growth” during their preparation for birth, or during the actual birthing process…quite the opposite is true actually. During the script practices, when their birth partners read the script for that week to the mother, the mother relaxes so deeply that she creates endorphins and other stress-reducing brain chemicals that occur only in a state of sleep or deep hypnosis. When this happens, their babies play and bump around so much that we have to add to the scripts, “every movement your baby makes as you listen here to my {the birth partner’s} voice, just relaxes you even more”. Mothers and their babies quickly learn to associate that happy, relaxing play-time with their birth partner’s voice. Because of this opportunity for prenatal bonding, I have seen more than one fretful newborn become instantly peaceful at a word from the birth partner. Our couples see this daily practice session as a time to connect and enjoy bonding with each other and their babies, not as hard work.

By using the kinder and gentler terms we substitute for the words “contraction”, “labor”, “delivery” and “transition”, and by eliminating words that women have been negatively programmed with all their lives via every scary story they’ve read, or heard, or seen in the media about birth, we eliminate the fear associated with those words and stories. I fail to see how we deny women anything by giving them a sense of confidence through positive reinforcement (affirmations), and positive wording for what should only be a positive event in their lives. We don’t teach women to be afraid of pain, they’re already afraid of pain. What we do teach them is that they can trust their bodies and be confident that they are capable of giving birth in the manner they choose.

By emphasizing that a woman’s “body was created for birthing”, that a woman should “go within to find her own power through her baby’s birthing”, that her baby’s physical cues deserve to be responded to during birthing by the mother “being so in touch with her body and so in tune with her baby”, and by giving a woman the ability to create comfort in her body at the drop of her finger, we allow her an opportunity to attune more deeply to childbirth’s cues than if she were merely coping with pain, or distracting and distancing herself from pain with busy breathing techniques, or traditional other-than-self-directed comfort measures. The more “power that flows through her, the more empowered she feels”.

By putting the mother fully in control of her own level of comfort with her self-hypnosis techniques, she is free to use all of her hypnosis techniques in whatever way feels right for her. Some hypno-moms never listen to one script during their baby’s birth, preferring to use their instant cues to create deep relaxation and hypno-anesthesia, so they can move around as they wish, while others prefer to listen to CDs and scripts and prompts from their birth partners. They ALL experience all of the thundering power of their baby’s birthing, all the intensity, just not all of the pain. Their babies are born in an atmosphere of comfort, joy and love, with endorphins bathing their senses as well as their mother’s. Why should it take hours and hours of pain-coping for a woman to build up to an endorphin state when it can be created automatically, instantly with the drop of her finger? I fail to see the superiority of eschewing a comfortable method of creating the endorphin state that is necessary for infant-maternal bonding, just so long as it happens. Most of the moms I have worked with were happy that they were able to do so without discomfort. I can’t imagine anyone given the choice, saying, “I choose pain thank you”.

As for my experience with being a Hypnobabies-doula exclusively, it’s much different and much more rewarding than other doula-ing for me. I prefer to help a woman to be truly physically comfortable during her birthing, not just merely calm and peaceful in the face of pain-coping. It is very rewarding to help a mom achieve her goal of a natural, unmedicated childbirth, and to have her say she was completely comfortable and actually enjoyed the process. I prefer to have tools that really work for my doula clients like the word cue, “release” which instantly helps a mother achieve a deep state of hypnosis and hyper-awareness just by hearing it or thinking it to herself. I love that I can help her to deepen her relaxation instantly, when she asks me to, by simply pressing gently on her shoulder and saying softly, “relax, deeper now”. What doula wouldn’t?! It’s so easy.

That’s not to say that I don’t also put cool cloths on her face when she’s pushing and getting overly warm, or that I don’t use aromatherapy to add to the atmosphere of calm in the room, or that I don’t suggest different positions to help with the descent of her baby, or that I don’t do all the things other doulas do. I do all those things, AND I help mothers use their self-hypnosis tools to have their babies in comfort, joy and love. They tell me that they felt empowered by their ability to create a birthing that was peaceful and comfortable for themselves, and unmedicated and safe for their babies, using ‘only’ the power of their minds.

I have never heard one Hypnobabies mom say, “I would never do that again”. All of the couples I have worked with, who have gone on to have more babies, become what I affectionately call, my sweet “repeat-offenders”, and most become lifetime members of my family of friends. I love my “work” and I am richly rewarded. It’s SO EASY to be a Hypnobabies-doula.

Carole Thorpe

Originally posted on October 7, 2008

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