what is hypnobirthing in south africa and how does it work: pregnant belly holding a heart

HypnoBirthing® – The Mongan Method is a complete, evidence-based antenatal course for parents who desire a natural childbirth. It is as much a philosophy as it is a technique, and it teaches you that, in the absence of fear and tension, or special medical circumstances, severe pain does not have to be an accompaniment of labour.

When using HypnoBirthing® techniques, you will experience birthing in an atmosphere of calm relaxation, free of the fear that prevents the muscles of your body from functioning as nature intended them to. In this calm state, your body’s natural relaxant, endorphins, replaces the stress hormones that constrict and cause pain.

How does HypnoBirthing® work?

Much of HypnoBirthing® is based on the work of a British obstetrician called Dr Grantly Dick-Read who, after witnessing three painless childbirths, came to realise the huge role that fear plays in birth. The fear-tension-pain syndrome was discovered! When you understand how to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and deactivate your sympathetic nervous system, your labour and birthing journey is made easier. Through a well-thought-out programme of deep relaxation, special breathing techniques, visualisations, affirmations, and education, HypnoBirthing® prepares a birthing couple – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – for an easier, more comfortable birth.

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Can you use HypnoBirthing® only for natural births in South Africa?

Not at all! Although HypnoBirthing® is traditionally used by parents who wish to experience a natural childbirth, the breathing and relaxation techniques and the decision-making tools you learn during the course will benefit you when preparing for a caesarean birth, too – and any other life event, for that matter! One of the affirmations used in HypnoBirthing® says: “I am prepared to calmly meet whatever turn my birthing may take.”

In addition to the tools you learn in HypnoBirthing®, you are also taught a lot of additional information that is relevant to all forms of birthing, for example how to bond with your baby, what they experience in the womb, pregnancy nutrition and body toning, how to support your partner through birth, delayed cord clamping, breastfeeding, and the fourth trimester. We even have some special relaxation scripts especially for caesarean births, partners, and breastfeeding.

Does HypnoBirthing® make the birth painless?

With HypnoBirthing®, what you put in is really what you get out. The longer the course is and the more you practise relaxing, the less fear, tension, and pain you will experience. This is also in line with the research studies that have been carried out on the efficacy of HypnoBirthing®. Of course, every birthing parent is different, and if special circumstances arise, they may well lead to pain (which is the body’s way of alerting you to the fact that there is something wrong). In the words of the founder, Marie Mongan: “We do not promise a pain-free or painless birth. We say easier, shorter, more comfortable. But there are many, many who do birth painlessly. I was one of them. I never felt a smidgen of pain.”

what is hypnobirthing in south africa and how does it work: newborn baby holding its mother's finger

Can I still have an epidural or other pain relief during a HypnoBirth®?

Yes, you definitely can. HypnoBirthing® lessens and often eliminates your need for pharmacological pain relief, and we teach additional non-medical comfort measures, too, but the two methods are certainly not mutually exclusive. HypnoBirthing® parents are just less likely to want or need additional pain relief because they know and understand how to use their bodies’ own natural relaxant to bring about a more comfortable birth.

What if someone has tried to hypnotise me before and it hasn’t worked?

All hypnosis is actually self-hypnosis, thus you need to allow yourself to be “hypnotised”. If it is not in your best interest to be hypnotised, or the suggestion you are receiving does not align with your wishes, it won’t work. Hypnosis is simply a state of consciousness – one that many of us actually enter into on a daily basis. If you have ever driven on “autopilot”, become engrossed in a movie, prayed, meditated, or daydreamed, you have been in a state of self-hypnosis or – as I prefer to call it – focused relaxation. Many parents who do HypnoBirthing® are pleasantly surprised to find how easily they can enter into this wonderful state of relaxation, and they find it becomes easier and easier over time.

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I’m worried about all the weird things I’ve seen hypnotists do on stage etc. Is this the same thing?

If you think you’re going to be clucking like a chicken, you have nothing to worry about! Stage hypnosis is very different to the form of self-relaxation you will find yourself doing in HypnoBirthing®. During stage hypnosis, the person being hypnotised is a wiling participant, and it is done purely for entertainment purposes. During HypnoBirthing®, the intention is only to relax yourself so that you can reduce your fears and calm your body and mind in order to allow them to function as they should during the birthing process. When you have your baby with HypnoBirthing®, you will not be in a trance or asleep. What you will experience is similar to the daydreaming, or focusing, that occurs when you are engrossed in a book or staring into a fire. You will be conversant and in good spirits – totally relaxed, but fully in control. Awake throughout, you will be aware of your body’s surges and your baby’s progress; but because you will have trained yourself to reach complete relaxation, you will be able to determine the degree and the manner in which you will feel the surges.

Can I only do HypnoBirthing® if I have a doula or midwife? Or are obstetricians in South Africa open to hypnobirthing?

Generally, your care provider would be open to any method of coping with labour that can lead to a calmer, more pleasant experience. During the course, you will receive a handout for your care provider so that, even if they have never heard of the method before, they can learn and understand the logic behind the method and how to support you in your wishes. As the majority of women in South Africa still find themselves birthing at hospitals, and considering the increasing popularity of the HypnoBirthing® method, it is likely that your care provider would have heard of it before. As HypnoBirthing® childbirth educators, we are also happy to have doulas, midwives, and obstetricians join our classes so that they can learn about the method. After witnessing HypnoBirths®, many care providers actually become advocates for the method!

How will HypnoBirthing® affect my baby?

Much of the second class in the course is actually dedicated to this topic! Thanks to the field of foetology studies, we now know how much the environment and mother’s state of mind impacts her baby’s development. When a mother is in a calm, relaxed state during her pregnancy, her baby receives endorphins and oxygen and their brain is able to develop optimally. Through HypnoBirthing® childbirth education, parents are taught how the environment impacts their baby and they learn a variety of techniques to bond with their baby and gently welcome them into the “outside world”. When a mother is labouring in a calm state, her baby receives more oxygen and endorphins and is less likely to go into distress, thus we generally see more alert babies with good APGAR scores – and they do not cry as much. I have even received videos from clients a few days after birth, showing how their crying babies instantly calm down when they hear the familiar relaxation track playing; they associate the track with the relaxation they felt in their mother’s womb! We also cover the fourth trimester in the course.

How will HypnoBirthing® affect my recovery?

Thanks to a more gentle birth, we tend to see a reduction in pelvic floor damage. Additionally, because of the educational aspect of the course, mothers are better equipped to select care providers who support their birth wishes, which in turn leads to a greater satisfaction with their birthing experience. We subsequently find lower rates of postpartum depression and increased self-confidence. Lastly, as a result of how involved the birthing partner is in the course, we also find that familial bonding is increased and the birthing parent experiences better support from their partner during the recovery period.

You can find out more about the HypnoBirthing® course HERE.

Tamryn, an internationally certified HypnoBirthing® childbirth educator and WOMBS birth doula, is the founder of Shakti Births. She discovered her passion and calling for birth work after calmly birthing her daughter using HypnoBirthing methods. Upon completing her doula practicals and volunteering at local government birthing facilities, she realised that her heart lies in supporting new parents during their birth journeys. Shakti Births is based in Gauteng and offers doula services, HypnoBirthing classes, birth equipment for hire/sale, and breastfeeding support.