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The Function of Hypnosis in Obstetrics

by Kate McEwen(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 191 - February 2012


Obstetrics is the branch of medicine which deals with the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Recently the idea of pain-free childbirth has been gaining recognition, largely due to evidence, seen by midwives, of increasing numbers of labouring mothers who, having benefited from preparation for the birth with hypnosis, arrive in the labour ward in a calm and relaxed state. Indeed there are now numerous anecdotes recounting disbelieving consultants trying to send women home, with the warning that 'they will know when they are in labour' but subsequently discovering that the patient is indeed well on her way to deliver their baby in the way that nature intended.

Hypnosis in Obstetrics

More and more midwives are now training to utilize hypnotic techniques to support women through the experience of childbirth, but the field of obstetrics is still strewn with judgemental ideas, perpetrated by those, who should perhaps know better!

"More women should endure the pain of childbirth because anaesthetic drugs undermine the mother's bond with her baby", said Dr Denis Walsh, associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University (as reported in Femail 13th July 2009).  

Whilst I cannot disagree that the less anaesthetic the mother has the better, I find his argument that, the agony of labour should be considered a 'rite of passage' and a 'purposeful, useful thing' not only outdated but also, somewhat, naive.  Apparently, Dr Walsh claims, "Pain prepares women for the demands of motherhood".  The logic in that statement evades me!

Even where you might expect support, you could be mistaken.  After reports of two successful births using hypnosis (Mail on 9th April 2010) citing the experience of Victoria Parrott who 'dozed off' because she was so relaxed and Mrs Walker who was assisted by another hypnotist on the ward, Maureen Treadwell, director of the Birth Trauma Association was dismissive.

She is reported to have stated that "The pressure put on women these days to have a 'natural' childbirth is horrendous" and refers to it as a 'fashion statement'. She continues "women are being indoctrinated with the idea that childbirth can be painless, which is simply not true." (Author's emphasis)

And here we come to the nub of the matter; culturally we accept as 'fact' that childbirth is painful.  Listen to any discussion of the subject and this 'fact' is inherent within the discussion.  Young women are brought up surrounded by the horror stories of others' experiences.  Over the last 50 years or so, with the advent of TV, they have been further subjected to many screaming deliveries on the small screen.  Little wonder then that the average woman is anxious, if not terrified, at the thought of giving birth.

Recently I witnessed a cartoon in which a 'Mummy Mammoth' was supposedly giving birth and you should have heard the hollering!!   The cartoon was designed for pre-fives - what message does that give at a very impressionable age?

Imagine for a moment that you are about to give birth (men could try this too!).  You have only ever been told that this is going to be one of the most painful experiences of your life, but that you will 'forget the pain' once it is all over.  You just have to get through the next bit.   A baby is inside your body and has to come out.  The first contraction comes.  What do you think?  

I bet it might be something like 'Oh my God!  It's started'.  What emotion do you think that person is feeling?  It wouldn't take much of a guess that the predominant emotion would be fear.

What is the direct corollary of fear?  Tension.  What happens when one tenses? The muscles tighten and, in the case of childbirth, they tighten against the flow of the baby.  When the muscles tighten, pain is experienced.  As the baby progresses through the birth canal it is meeting resistance all the way, but the baby is now on an unstoppable journey.  As pain increases, fear mounts, increasing pain in a perpetual fear-tension-pain cycle.

Now, let's step back from this scenario and think first about a basic principle:
Fact - the female body was designed to give birth.  Indeed it is a miraculous piece of engineering!  What is required is to work with it, not against it and the first step to achieving that end is to eliminate the fear. Now, this is no small endeavour given the inherent acceptance of the inevitability of pain and this is where hypnosis becomes useful.

For those who are not aware of what hypnosis is, it is, simply put, a natural, altered state of awareness, but a state in which the subject becomes more open to suggestion.  The hypnotic state, in therapy anyway, is usually induced through relaxation and controlled breathing (coincidentally both ideal states for birthing).  

What happens when one enters this altered state is that the critical faculty of the analytical, rational part of the mind is diminished (though the client remains in control at all times), and suggestions which might otherwise be rejected in the conscious waking state, become more easily absorbed into the subconscious part of the mind - that part which is largely responsible for 'natural' birthing.

In the hypnotic state, the client can be encouraged to let go of the fear and to absorb a much more relaxed approach to the birth.  Through guidance as to the workings of the body, the client is also taught how to work with her body utilizing breathing techniques to encourage the baby's passage to birth.

It should be noted that all clients using hypno-birthing style techniques are reminded that if any 'special circumstances' occur, the medical practitioners should be allowed to re-take the initiative.  In my experience working with expectant Mums however, even in the 'special circumstances' the 'mother to be' retains a calmness which makes them much easier to work with.

It would be wrong not to mention too that hypnosis is extremely useful for working with clients at all stages of conception (fear of childbirth can actually be so severe that it prevents a woman from becoming pregnant in the first place) and pregnancy. It can be used to help the client visualize themselves undergoing a healthy pregnancy, reducing or eliminating any morning sickness, providing a blueprint for healthy eating and exercise and preparing the new Mum for breast feeding.

Under hypnosis the client can also be taught pain management techniques which, though hopefully not required, will help to eliminate any residual fears.  Obviously to learn all these approaches takes a number of sessions.

Finally, in some cases, the client may benefit from the application of hypno-analytical techniques, but that is a subject best left for another day.  

Further Information
Obstetrics is only one of many conditions / presenting problems and complaints which we address during the practitioner level hypnotherapy training which is offered at the Scottish School of Hypnotherapy Ltd.  For further details please visit www.learn-hypnosis.co.uk 

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About Kate McEwen

Kate McEwen BA(Hons) - Director & Principal Trainer has been in practice as a hypnotherapist, in partnership with John McEwen, since 1999 during which time she has been privileged to work with thousands of clients. Firstly as a partner at Corsebar Hypnotherapy Centre, Paisley, Kate currently practises as a partner in B9 Hypnotherapy, Argyll. In 2004, with a back ground in lecturing in further and higher education spanning 22 years, Kate took over the training remit for the National Society of Professional Hypnotherapists and is the principal trainer at the Scottish School of Hypnotherapy. She is a Member of the National Society of Professional Hypnotherapists (MNSPH), Senior Qualified Hypnotherapist - General Hypnotherapy Register (SQHP), Member of the National Council of Psychotherapists (MNCP), Member of the Hypnotherapy Association and Member of the Advisory Council of, and Postgraduate trainer for, the NSPH. Kate may be contacted on Tel: 01369-820172;  info@hypnotherapyargyll.co.uk     www.hypnotherapyargyll.co.uk

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