A recent study indicated that mindfulness practice during pregnancy helped women have more positive experiences during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. (read the findings here or the Times write up here) My recent experience with my third pregnancy, labor and delivery are evidence of this study’s findings.
Leading up to my third pregnancy I had a lot of fears surrounding childbirth and pregnancy. This was in large portion due to the fact that my last experience with pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum was very challenging. I knew going into this pregnancy that I would need a new method of preparation for the birth if this was going to be a positive experience for me.
I had heard of Hypnobabies and Hypnobirthing before, but honestly I felt a little freaked out by the name. The “hypno” part of the title immediately brought to mind a picture of a man with a twisted mustache and a top hat, swinging a pendulum in front of someone’s eyes, or the creepy guy at Senior grad night who hypnotized the shy kid into riding a blow up pool toy around the room as if he were a rodeo cowboy. Hypnosis? Weird. No thanks.
But I had several friends who had used Hypnobabies to prepare for their birthing experiences and every one of them had really great reviews. They had also clarified for me that it is not some kind of creepy hypnosis, but is rather a course that teaches you how to deeply relax all your muscles and relax your mind. The person doing the exercises always maintains complete control. As my pregnancy progressed and the big day drew nearer, my anxiety began to mount. I knew that I needed to find something to help me and decided to give Hypnobabies a try.
For clarification – hypnobirthing refers to the use of deep relaxation and mindfulness during pregnancy and labor. You will find several books by different authors on hypnobirthing and there are surely classes in your area along these lines as well. I read a couple of these books and they were helpful for understanding the mind-body connection during pregnancy and labor. What you will read or learn from different books or classes will vary from one to another as hypnobirthing is not a branded method, and each author or teacher has their own specific techniques and take on things.
What I highly recommend for anyone who has anxiety or fear related to pregnancy and labor is the Hypnobabies method (and no, nobody is paying me to endorse this method. I just had such a wonderful experience with it that I want to share.)
I bought the materials used through our online community yard sale site and paid $80 for the six CDs, textbook and companion book. Best eighty bucks I’ve spent all year. You may even be able to find it at your local library and check it out for free.
I honestly did not use the textbook a ton. I skimmed it but I did follow the schedule they give of what tracks to listen to (a lot of the textbook content is pregnancy education information that I already felt familiar with.) But the CD tracks were enormously helpful for me. They recommend that you listen to two tracks daily. One is the Positive Pregnancy Affirmations track and the other is whichever relaxation track you are on that day.
Guys, this daily practice proved hugely beneficial for me. I had struggled somewhat to maintain an emotional balance during my pregnancy. While some of this was surely due to hormones, I feel confident that a lot of it stemmed from the underlying anxieties I felt about the upcoming birth.
Words have incredible power and so do our thoughts. The things we say to ourselves internally really shape how we view our lives and the world around us. The positive pregnancy affirmations are basically empowering statements that you repeat aloud or in your head. They are positive messages about your ability to have a healthy and positive pregnancy and a beautiful birthing experience. I noticed after just one week of listening to these affirmations that my whole attitude about my pregnancy had changed. I felt great. I had more energy and mental clarity. And I felt happier. I listened to this track in the car while I was driving to preschool pickup or on errands. It is safe to listen to the affirmations while driving because they do not involve relaxation.
The other part you do every day is one of the relaxation tracks, in the order laid out for you in the textbook. The tracks are each about 30 minutes. I would do this practice when my kids were in their “quiet time” each day and if that didn’t happen I would do it at night before bed. The woman on the CD coaches you through deep relaxation, teaching you step by step how to gradually relax all the muscles in your body and also to clear your mind of distractions. When I first started these exercises I fell asleep every time because I became so relaxed. By the end I had learned how to deeply relax my body and mind with my eyes still open and could even walk around if I needed to while maintaining the relaxation.
I started preparing with Hypnobabies at the beginning of my third trimester. They recommend using it your whole pregnancy and I think I would have felt better earlier in my pregnancy if I had. Because I listened to the positive affirmations while driving each day, I really only had to invest 30 minutes a day into my mindfulness/relaxation practice. And it was so worth it, guys.
When my labor started I used the breathing and relaxation techniques during contractions. When the contractions intensified I turned on my Hypnobabies track (there is one specifically for Birthing Day that helps coach you through your contractions.) I labored at home until I recognized that I was soon heading into transition labor and we left for the hospital.
I listened to the track on my phone on the way to the hospital and put my earbuds in when we got there so I could continue listening. This helped me remain relaxed and “in the zone” as my contractions intensified. When we checked into triage I am sure the nurse thought she would be sending us home. I was so calm (at this point in my previous labor I had definitely not felt calm.) I would simply breathe deeply through the contractions but was keeping my body relaxed the whole time. She asked me skeptically “When was your last contraction?” Then when she checked me and saw how far along I was she looked up and said “Wow, whatever you’re doing is working.” She then made arrangements to get us checked in to a delivery room.
The staff at the hospital was awesome. They were extremely supportive of letting me labor the way that I wanted to. They arranged for me to have a room with a labor tub and they gave me the space to do my thing. We had brought an ipod dock that we used to play the tracks and honestly the whole thing went so smoothly. It was a really beautiful experience.
Hypnobabies does not set you up for a pain-free birth. I don’t think there is such a thing. More manageable? Yes. Beautiful and powerful? Yes. But you will experience a good deal of discomfort. I had delivered twice previously without pain medicine. With my first I used the Lamaze method which focuses on breathing and imagery. That was also a beautiful experience. With my second I thought I would be able to call on the skills I had used for the first and I did not spend much time preparing for the labor. She ended up being posterior and in a rather stuck position that caused me to labor (at a nine and 100% effaced) for several hours. That labor and delivery was traumatic for me. While I had had one positive and one negative experience with childbirth, I found that this third time I handled the labor more calmly than either of the others. I was much more capable of maintaining a calmness during the contractions because I was just so relaxed. This baby was also posterior and man, those transition contractions were crazy intense. But the experience was so much more positive than my previous posterior labor had been. I felt happy and at peace throughout and would even say that the majority of the labor was pleasant. If I were to do it again, I would spend some time preparing for the pushing phase as I feel like I lost my relaxation at that point. But thankfully the pushing phase was quick – like 7 minutes quick.
Whether you plan to have pain medicine or not when you give birth, I highly recommend mindfulness practice as preparation if you have any fear or anxiety about pregnancy and childbirth. It will improve how you feel during your pregnancy and help you manage your labor more calmly. According to the study, you will have a better postpartum recovery period as well. My daughter is only one week old, but so far I feel great.
*A quick note on where we deliver: During my pregnancy I had considered delivering at a birth center, as some midwives I was familiar with had recently opened one. We decided just to follow through with our plan to deliver at the same hospital where the other kids were born. They are a “baby-centered” hospital and are extremely respectful of a mother’s wishes during labor.
When my labor actually kicked into gear and I had labored at home for a few hours I remember thinking: “Man, I wish I could just finish my labor here where I am so comfortable.” I am not a big fan of strangers poking and prodding me and was thinking it would be so neat to have a baby at home.
I am so grateful that we delivered at a hospital. Delivering there really did not change my labor experience much at all. The staff was incredibly non-intrusive and allowed me to labor how I wanted. They were encouraging, helpful and supportive. I would have used my birthing method whether I delivered at home, at a birth center or at a hospital. But my daughter’s experience could have been entirely different. When our daughter was crowning, it became apparent that the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around her neck and was strangling her. Her face was white as a sheet and she was unresponsive. The medical staff quickly clamped and cut the cord and rushed her to the pediatric staff that was in the room. My husband asked the OB “Is she ok?” and the doctor responded “They are assisting her.” He quickly uttered a desperate prayer and we waited. The staff administered oxygen, pumped fluid out and did who knows what else. After a few minutes (that felt like hours) we heard her first cry. They monitored her the rest of the day and night and she was doing well enough that we were able to go home the following day.
When we took her for her first check up with our pediatrician, the doctor commented on how skilled the OB and staff were that took care of her on the morning of her birth. She has seen a lot of similar situations that did not end so well where the baby had immediate brain damage or passed away. She was surprised that our daughter didn’t even have to stay at the NICU. I feel so deeply grateful to those people who assisted her quickly and skilfully and am also thankful for the amazing facility where she was born.
Deliver wherever you feel good about. That decision is yours alone. But I am incredibly grateful for the immediate medical assistance that our daughter received in a situation where every second counted.
*Photo credit: “Little Piggies” by Kai Balbin, Unsplash Photos