It would be fair to say that for most women in pregnancy, excited as we are about the prospect of our new arrival, the process of little one getting from the inside to the outside world is perhaps something we choose not to give much thought to. We may even find ourselves judged by others because of the way we decided to deliver our babies or even judge ourselves if this didn’t go according to plan.
Whether you are an advocate of inhaling as much gas and air as the NHS can viably provide before moving onto the ‘hard stuff’ or alternatively wanting to experience childbirth fully with no pain relief – what we forget is that women have been delivering babies since humanity began. We are after all no different to other mammals who find a quiet space and deliver often multiple living creatures – so what has set us apart to the point where this natural process has become one we often dread so much?
The answer is quite simple: Fear.
Years of media portrayals of excruciating childbirth, horror stories from our nearest and dearest and perhaps the aftermath of when childbirth presented greater risks for mother and child fills us with fear of the process. We all know that fear has a physiological effect on our bodies, triggering the response commonly knowns as ‘fight or flight’. The ability to manage this fear and hence stop this response, is the main principle behind hypnobirthing.
The Science behind Hypnobirthing
The theory behind the use of hypnobirthing relates to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response that we are each programmed to choose between when we consider ourselves to be in danger. This response dates right back some 250,000 years when our survival depended on this choice. In the context of a woman giving birth, it is safe to say that in most cases this causes us to consider the birthing experience at the very least with some calculated caution – more often, sheer panic.
This fear response causes the mother’s body to release adrenaline and cortisol. These cause blood to rush to the extremities needed in situations of danger – hands to fight, feet to run – and away from organs that would under such conditions not need it – crucially in this case, the uterus. A lack of blood and oxygen in the uterus interferes with how it is intended to function and as such, the contractions experienced are much more painful. And when in pain, what does our mind do? It floods with fear. It tells us that this is not a good situation to be in – further reinforcing the fear response, releasing more adrenaline and cortisol…and so the cycle continues.
But what if we could break this cycle? Cue the friendly hormone and best friend of birthing: the endorphin. Yes, that hormone that makes us feel just wonderful and fluffy when we are in love – and in fact the very hormone our bodies are programmed to release in the final stages of labour (and possibly the one that got us in this position in the first place!). Endorphins can break this cycle and are released when we are feeling happy, relaxed and calm. Easy to say – these are pretty extreme circumstances – but with practice, with a strong focus on breathing patterns and relaxation, it is completely possible to break the cycle and invite in your happy hormones.
So, in essence, hypnobirthing techniques promote relaxation, relaxation promotes endorphins and endorphins are your new best friend in childbirth! (and a very useful friend during and after pregnancy as well!)
If you would like to know more about how to have an empowered and calm pregnancy and birth, you can find out more at Mind the Bump.
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