Today, more than 50 percent of women giving birth in hospitals choose to have an epidural during childbirth, a testament to just how many women are terrified to go through labor and delivery naturally. Sure, many hospitals recommend new moms take Lamaze classes before their babies are born, but much of that education flies out the window when the first really painful contraction hits. Another lesser known birthing method, hypnobirthing, could help those women who'd like to have a natural childbirth but are just too scared. The method is based on knowledge that fully accepts and acknowledges those fears.
Hypnobirthing operates under the concept that muscles under tension create the experience of pain; conversely muscles that are in a relaxed state do not. "It's like when you lift your arm without holding anything in your hand – it doesn't hurt," explains Rivkah Estrin, childbirth educator and postpartum doula, who herself practiced hypnobirthing successfully though five deliveries. "But if you're holding something extremely heavy in your hand and then you try to lift your arm, then you feel it."
So how does hypnobirthing work?
The method allows you, over the course of your pregnancy, to practice relaxation techniques that allow your uterus to function as it's intended to. "The first part of the process is just about releasing your own fears and understanding the mechanics of the labor process," Estrin says. "The more you know and the more you educate yourself, the more confident and relaxed you are."
You can either take a local class or if one isn't offered near you, buy the book "HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method" together with the guided meditation CDs. "You practice every night — either by doing guided meditations with your partner or alone. The more you use those meditations, visualizations, and affirmations, the more you end up really believing them, and the more empowered you become," Estrin says.
Then, during labor itself, you create the environment that is most calming for you. For Estrin, it was dimmed lights with candles lit. She found that place within herself where she was most relaxed and allowed herself to breathe through a contraction — or a surge as it's referred to in hypnobirthing. "I felt pressure but no pain," Estrin says. "I still feel like that labor and delivery was the most amazing thing I've ever done."
There are two kinds of hypnobirthing — the Mongan method (named for Marie "Mickey" Mongan, who pioneered hypnobirthing) and HypnoBabies, which uses the same method for hypnosis used by people preparing for surgery without anesthesia (called hypno-anesthesia).
What advice would Estrin give to new moms interested in learning more about the method? "Absolutely pursue it, learn about it, educate yourself, and become your best advocate," she says. "It's about advocating for yourself. Don't be afraid of asking questions or changing providers, who will allow to have the birth be what you want. It's with any learned skill in life — once you're educated and empowered, the fear really goes away and you focus on what you can do to assist your body in its natural process, rather than get in the way."
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