We are on to part 3 of our Hypnosis for Birth series! In case you missed it, check out part 1, where we detail what hypnosis really is. In part 2, we talked about the benefits associated with using hypnosis for birth. And today in part 3, we are going to talk about the crux of using hypnosis for birth: How to use hypnosis for labor and birthing.
In short, the message is that the words that you use when you speak about pregnancy and birth have a tremendous impact on your birth outcome.
We often take for granted the power of words in our modern world. Particularly with the invention of texting, communication has been reduced to rudimentary acronyms for blurbs that we wish to communicate on a whim. It’s a shame because language matters a great deal!
And in birth, language is how we communicate with our subconscious and with our bodies to accomplish the greatest and most heroic feat of all mankind: bringing forth life.
So, what kind of language is used in our culture today to discuss birth? Grab any book off the bookstore shelf for expectant mothers today, and what kinds of terms will you find?
What do these all have in common? These are medical terms. Yes, they are anatomically correct. But they are all somewhat detached from the human element and they are medical and physical in nature. For the purposes of medical study and physiological understanding, these are fine.
But from within, as a birthing woman, birth is about so much more than simply the sum of interrelated anatomical parts and their respective roles.
What effect does it have on our psyches to refer to a perfectly normal and healthy process that involves the mind, body, and spirit, using only its anatomical and functional terms?
We come to see ourselves as only a function of medicine, and we therefore think we are dependent upon it in order to birth.
And our subconscious mind comes to see medicine as necessary for healthy birthing.
While it’s absolutely true that medicine has a place in rare complications, it is not a requirement for birthing to be healthy or safe in most situations. In fact, evidence supports physiological birth as the safest option for both moms and babies.
Consider this. Every other branch of medicine has common, everyday terms for organs as well as their processes. For instance, you wouldn’t tell your friends that you had a myocardial infarction. You would say you had a heart attack. Similarly, you wouldn’t say that you had pyrosis. You would say you had heartburn.
Why is it that we do the opposite in birth? A woman is not a vagina who births a fetus. She is a whole human being whose mind, experiences and spirit are all in this birthing experience together! And the words that we use to communicate everything about the experience impact all of those parts of her.
So, how can we change our language in birth to better reflect and communicate with our minds and bodies?
Take a step back – and examine the language we’re using to communicate with our subconscious mind.
Rather than saying “I am dilating,” use the phrase “I am opening.”
Rather than saying “I am effacing,” use the phrase “I am softening.”
Rather than saying “My baby is at a zero station,” use the phrase “My baby is moving down.”
It’s a pretty big difference!
The word “contraction” is one in particular that is neither accurate nor useful. Because you see, the uterus is not actually contracting! The uterus and cervix are not, in fact, two separate organs – they are one organ doing several separate and distinct jobs! The word contraction means to tense up and to make hard. During a “contraction,” the uterus and cervix are actually doing the opposite! They are pushing, softening, opening, and moving the baby!
Furthermore, a “contraction” involves more than just the work of the uterus and cervix. A “contraction” demands the entirety of a woman including her mind, the movement of her body, and the willingness to surrender to a process that feels bigger than herself.
In hypnobirthing, the term “contraction” has been replaced by the term “surge.” So rather than saying “I’m having a contraction,” use the phrase “I feel a surge building.” The term “surge” more accurately captures what is happening within a woman – both mentally and physically.
In addition to the types of words that we use, the way they are communicated has a huge impact. For instance, imagine the way a woman would experience these two phrases from her provider:
“You’re only 6 cm.”
“You’re doing great and you’re at 6 cm!”
One plants a seed of defeat, the other of encouragement. The facts remain the same. But the language used to communicate those facts portray opposing mindsets.
Which one do you feel would be more productive for a laboring woman?
I can speak from experience as a doula, as can thousands of other doulas and midwives, that what a woman thinks about in her pregnancy is nearly almost always exactly what she gets for her birth. For instance, say a woman decides she wants to have a natural birth, but she keeps thinking she’s going to need an epidural. What ends up happening? She has an epidural.
What was she thinking about while she was preparing for her birth? The epidural.
Now hear me: This is NOT to say that epidurals are bad. It’s only to illustrate that what your mind fixates on is ultimately what leads to your experience. What you think about is what you are unintentionally telling your body to do.
So, what are you thinking about as you prepare for birth? Are you thinking about what you DON’T want? Or are you thinking about what you DO want? Are you visualizing your cervix opening, your baby moving down easily, your being in control of your surges, and holding your baby in your arms after it’s all done?
Or are you staring down your impending labor with a terrified longing?
Because what you fixate your mind on and the messages you give it will ultimately determine the way your birth plays out. The subconscious mind does not judge what we give it. It only receives and acts accordingly.
So how do you train your subconscious mind to be ready for birthing?
Practice visualization. This gives your mind the exact messages you WANT it to have as you prepare. Visualize your cervix softening and opening easily, your surrendering to the process of birth, and your surges peaking and subsiding. Visualize and practice deep belly breathing every day during the entirety of your pregnancy so that your mind and body are already practiced in the art of relaxation.
Use intentional language that creates a positive expectation for your birth. “I’m terrified to give birth” is the general feeling in our world today. “I’m confident in my body’s ability to birth” is much more productive.
In conclusion, simply being aware of the language and messages that you are taking in during your pregnancy can go a long way toward creating a healthier and more satisfying birthing experience for both you and your baby.
How Can Hypnosis Help You In Labor?Of the most popular birthing approaches today, hypnosis is gaining ground as an effective tool to use during labor. While anyone can use general hypnosis, the method that teaches how to use it in labor is called Hypnobirthing. I am not a hypnobirthing instructor, but as a doula I have worked with women who have used it in labor and found it helpful.
In my last post on hypnosis for birth, I described the foundational psychology behind hypnosis. Before reading on, I encourage you to take a look at it! You can read it here.
So, how can we utilize this tool in labor?Well, to start with, consider this: a woman is already experiencing a type of hypnosis in active labor anyways – without even trying to be!
You see, when a woman starts active labor, her thinking brain shuts off and the primal brain takes over. It’s one of the ways that birth professionals can identify that a woman is in labor: can she answer a basic question? If the answer is no, or if it takes considerable effort for her to do so, she’s likely in active labor.
Her mind is already in a sort of hypnosis – it’s deeply relaxed and the subconscious is at the forefront.
How do I mean?
Hypnosis is essentially just a mental state of being. In hypnosis, your mind is deeply relaxed, and your subconscious mind is especially vulnerable to suggestion. This is exactly what is happening in labor as many women can attest!
Women who have experienced natural labor report that labor feels very mentally hazy – like a fog of sorts. They have no concept of time, they cannot hold a conversation, and they don’t know what they want. As soon as they start pushing, the fog lifts a little bit and they can converse and engage a little better. Then, as soon as the baby is born, it’s all over and instantly they are back to being themselves.
A woman’s subconscious mind is highly receptive during labor. In a very real way, intentional language and messages can go a long way toward sustaining a labor. The body responds to the mind – and the messages that we give it truly matter. The impact that these messages have is heightened when in hypnosis and deep focus.
A woman can give her mind specific messages about labor that help her with the entire process. We call these affirmations.For example:
And these messages can carry a mother through her labor.
The big question most mothers have is: Will it help with the pain of labor?
Well, it certainly can. I’ve seen it be a great tool for this use. However, it’s important to note that a mother should never feel that she has somehow “failed” if she prepares to have a pain free birth through hypnosis and ends up feeling the intensity of her contractions.
That said, does hypnosis help a great number of women with pain management?
Hypnosis for labor is most effective if a mother has been practicing its use as long as possible during her pregnancy. She can intentionally give her mind the message that birth is safe, normal, and attainable. As she practices saying affirmations,listening to relaxation scripts, learning to intentionally read her body for areas of tension, and visualizing her birth, she prepares her mind and body to relax in the same way during labor.
Furthermore, it’s entirely risk-free. Hypnosis in birth is simply strengthening, taking advantage of, and honing in on a natural process that is already in place during labor: deep focused relaxation. There are no risks associated with that!
In order for hypnosis to be truly effective in labor, the choice of one’s words matters quite a bit. We will cover that in our next installment on hypnosis for birth.
Hypnosis For Birth: What IS It?
In recent years, a number of birthing “methods” have come into vogue. Clients ask me all the time about my thoughts on the Bradley method, Lamaze, and hypnobirthing all the time.
The last of that list usually strikes a chord of curiosity with most people. Hypnobirthing = hypnosis and birth? It certainly sounds intriguing and trendy, doesn’t it? But what is it really – and does it even work?
Furthermore, what does it mean to say that a birthing method “works?”
First, let me preface by saying that I do not believe there is any “one method” of birth that is best for every mother. No single method will work for all women.
But all methods will work for some women.
And herein, education is critical. You see, I believe birthing women should learn as much as they can before and duringpregnancy in order to prepare for birth. This is because you do not know what is going to work best for you until you are in the middle of labor! And that’s decidedly NOT the time to try and educate oneself!
So with that in mind, education is my primary intent with this series.
I am not a hypnobirthing instructor, and I’m not affiliated with the Hypnobirthing organization at all. Still, I have worked with mothers who chose hypnosis for birth as their preferred method of birthing, and it has several wonderful benefits, and for that reason, I think all pregnant women should learn about its benefits as a part of their childbirth education.
So with that in mind, let’s start with some background: What IS hypnosis?
Or rather, what is hypnosis NOT? It’s not surrendering of one’s will, it’s not manipulation, and it does not involve losing control over oneself.
Rather, in the most basic of terms, hypnosis is simply a normal state of being. It’s intense focus. It’s tapping in to our mind’s ability to direct thoughts to influence our body and subconscious mind. Really, that’s what it comes down to.
You see, your mind is an unspeakably powerful thing. In particular, the subconscious mind is the driving force behind all that we do. We may think our thinking mind is in charge, but in reality, it’s our subconscious mind that shapes our reality. And yet, our thinking mind is what gives our subconscious mind all the tools and information it needs to do just that.
The subconscious mind is incredible because it does not discriminate. It simply receives messages and drives our actions (and bodies) accordingly. And it affects what happens to us WAY more than we even realize.
In addition, the subconscious mind does NOT work in negatives. It only receives the messages it sees and / or hears. Let’s use a non-birth example to illustrate this. If you tell your mind NOT to think of a pink elephant, what image comes to mind?
That’s right: the pink elephant! Now try this: Picture an orca. Did the pink elephant disappear? Yes it did. So it is with the messages that we send our brains.
If you are preparing for your labor, and you intentionally think about NOT having pitocin during your labor, what is going to happen? Conversely, if you picture having a normally progressing labor and a healthy contraction pattern, there is no room for pitocin!
In hypnosis, as well as any other childbirth preparation method, intentional focus on the desired outcome is encouraged rather than fixation on fears. Because when you’re fixating on the fear – let’s say it’s the pink elephant – that is the only message that your mind is being given about your birth!
That’s not to say you shouldn’t talk through your apprehensions or concerns – it just means that you should also be intentional about the messages that you are giving your mind! Because the mind controls the body – and there is no greater place that this is proven true than in birth!
For instance, I know a doula who told me a story about a client of hers. The doula noticed that this particular client was rather self defeating with her speech about her upcoming birth. Though the doula tried to encourage her, the client would consistently say things like:
And every single one of those things came true. Every one of them, down to the last detail.
Conversely, we’ve seen scores of mothers who have had intentionally positive self talk experience birth exactly the way they envisioned with tremendous outcomes!
The body is only responding to the messages it’s been given. And there is no place quite like birth where the unity of the mind and body are so apparent to observers.
Now, please understand that hypnosis is far more than self talk. But it’s most effective as a birthing method if it’s started long before the birth even arrives. Mental preparation for birth is over half the battle, and nothing can quite prepare the mind for birth as much as intentionally visualizing what you want from your birth, and giving your mind and body the exact messages you want it to have.
Also, please understand that sometimes things don’t go the way we intend, and that is okay too! But you’re sure setting yourself up for success by going in as prepared as possible.
Hypnosis is preparation, but it’s deep relaxation and focus as well, and we will touch on that in Part 2 of our series on hypnobirthing: How Can Hypnosis Work During Birth?