A pregnant woman anticipates few things more than bringing her baby into the world.
Entertainment media largely portrays this process as traumatic — a tense, painful ordeal that must be suffered through. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Hypnobirthing is a technique that can help moms-to-be feel confident and prepared for the birth experience. It reinforces birth as a natural, normal process.
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“Birth is something that women are meant to do,” said Terry Engelman, a certified nurse midwife at Sanford Health who offers hypnobirthing. “We teach these relaxation techniques to help women realize they can do birth. It’s a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be painful.”
The five main pillars of hypnobirthing are:
- Breathing techniques
- Relaxation techniques
The relaxation techniques aim to help moms-to-be overcome any feelings of fear, tension and pain associated with childbirth.
“In a world full of stress, hypnobirthing encourages moms to take time each day to relax and work on their breathing techniques,” Engelman said.
Staying calm and relaxed during labor is especially important to maintain good blood supply and oxygenation as things progress.
“If a woman perceives labor as a threat — because of the pain — her body is going to tighten up, and that makes it harder for everything to work appropriately. We give them tools to stay relaxed so they can let go and let the uterus do its thing,” Engelman says.
Getting ready for labor
Practicing hypnobirthing techniques throughout pregnancy helps mentally prepare moms-to-be and their partners for when the labor process begins. Practice includes shifting some of the negative language surrounding labor, such as referring to contractions as surges instead.
Tarah Nolan worked with a midwife at Sanford Health and used hypnobirthing for both of her pregnancies.
“There’s a lot of practice that goes into it,” Nolan said. “It’s a lot of breathing and redirecting your thoughts. You work on viewing anything you would typically call pain as progress toward meeting your baby.”
Nolan credits hypnobirthing with making her excited to give birth.
“It just made the journey a lot more peaceful,” Nolan said. “When I had my first surge, I was at home, it was in the middle of the night and I didn’t even wake up my husband. I just had a moment of peacefulness knowing it was starting and my daughter was going to be here soon.”
Medication still an option
With her first delivery, Nolan was two weeks overdue, and after labor progressed, she eventually had an epidural — a decision she made when it was the right call for her baby. Hypnobirthing helped Nolan stay in tune with the natural flow of what her body and baby were ready for.
“Using hypnobirthing does not mean that you’re totally against medication,” Nolan said. “It just made it so that the epidural was a tool in my toolbox, but not necessarily the first thing I went to.”
Even as she progressed through a natural delivery with her second child, Nolan still used hypnobirthing to stay calm and focused.
“I don’t remember in those moments feeling like I needed to scream out in pain,” Nolan says. “It was just exciting to know that soon she’d be there for us to meet.”
Engelman enjoys witnessing moms as they progress through labor with hypnobirthing techniques.
“They just listen to their bodies and go with the labor,” she says. “They feel like they are one with themselves and the baby — it’s kind of spiritual.”
Hypnobirthing also lets the birth partner be very involved in the delivery. After attending class with mom-to-be, they are ready to provide encouragement and even physical comfort. With hypnobirthing, the birth partner knows in advance the techniques that can bring mom-to-be the most relief.
“I think it allows the birth partner to play a bigger role in the process. My husband didn’t get to sleep any more than I did during labor,” Nolan says.
Hypnobirthing class is offered every six weeks at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. And whether or not a woman wants to use hypnobirthing during labor, Engelman encourages taking the class as a way to develop useful techniques for life — and especially parenthood.
Now raising two daughters, Nolan still uses the relaxation techniques of hypnobirthing in chaotic moments. She’s still grateful for the skills she feels many women before her have called upon in labor and in life.
“It’s empowering to think of all the women throughout history who have had babies without any medical intervention and to be able to tap into how they did that,” Nolan says. “I think there’s a bond all women who have given birth share.”
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