Hypnosis helped me have control over my own labour

Catherine Steven

After an agonising first birth, Carol Johnston opted for alternative pain relief the next time round

The memory of giving birth to her first son, Alexander, still reduces Carol Johnston to tears. “My labour was induced by pessaries and an oxytocin drip, which meant I had strong and incredibly painful contractions from the start,” she recalls. “I was so tense and frightened I needed gas and air, pethidine and an epidural to numb the pain.”

Twelve hours after labour began Alexander was delivered by forceps in front of an audience of student midwives and doctors. “It all left me in a state of drugged panic with no control over what was going on. It was so bad that I knew I could never go through another birth like that,” says Carol, 30, from Essex. So when she found out she was pregnant again, she began worrying that history would repeat itself. “I started reading up about alternative methods of childbirth and decided on a water birth,” she says. The only way Carol could have this locally was through a doctor who also encouraged mothers to consider a short course in self-hypnosis to prepare them for the delivery. “At first I was sceptical, but I wanted a water birth so much that I agreed,” she recalls. Carol was taught hypnosis at the Jeyrani Health Centre in South Woodford, Essex. Her therapist there, Dr Gowri Motha, also works as an obstetrician at Whipps Cross Hospital where she arranges water births. The technique she offers can be used not only by mothers who plan a water birth, but also by those who want a conventional delivery as it can help cut labour time by up to a half.

“I was shown how to hypnotise myself instantly which is really like a state of deep relaxation,” explains Carol. “Training sessions were held in a darkened room perfumed with oriental fragrance. We’d be told to relax, close our eyes and imagine we were going down into a beautiful garden to a safe, secure place. Once in the ‘safe area’ Dr Motha started to talk about the birth, telling us our babies would arrive on the expected date of delivery and would be born smoothly and easily.” Carol’s attitude to hypnosis changed as the course progressed. “I learned to relax whenever I wanted and the more I practised, the better it was,” she recalls. When she went into labour the second time, Carol was rushed to the hospital. “Despite everything I was still worried that it would be as painful as the last time,” she says. “I was put on an antenatal ward because nothing was happening and all I could hear were women talking about the horrors of childbirth. I started to tense up but realised I could either join in the discussion or do my hypnosis. So I began to relax and think deeply about opening up my body and after about an hour, when I eventually told a midwife that things were starting, she found I was already 6cms dilated. The doctors couldn’t believe it. They’d only just sent me off to the ward for the night and had been talking about inducing me in the morning.” Kieran, now aged 20 months, was born three hours later and there was no need for any pain relief. “Hypnosis changed my perception of giving birth from something bad to something which was really good,” says Carol. “It actually gives you control over our own labour.”

How to teach yourself

  • Set aside a regular time twice a day to relax.
  • Empty your mind of distractions, then repeat a set phrase about 20 times.
  • ‘It is passing’ can be used to overcome pain; ‘I am at peace’ eases anxiety.
  • Try daydreaming and visualize something enjoyable.
  • Consult your GP first.

Our Expert replies: ‘Hypnotherapy simply helps tense people relax’
Dr David Ryde, MB, BS, FRCGP, practicing medical hypnotherapist

The popular image of stage or theatrical hypnosis suggests to many people that members of the audience are in some way subject to the power of the performing hypnotist. This is not the case, and in reality the technique is simply a way of helping tense people to relax. Conditions associated with tension or stress, such as phobias, anxiety attacks, minor injuries, smoking, insomnia, waiting for an interview or dental appointment, can all benefit from hypnotherapy. Tension can be eased by slow, controlled breathing. This in itself is a basic form of hypnosis. Carol’s severe labour pains were associated with her fear and uncertainty about the birth of her son. This made her tense, causing her pelvic muscles to tighten, so delaying the progress of the labour itself. During the birth of her second son, Carol used hypnotherapy to control this tension and to relax. By being calm in mind and body, her labour progressed more quickly and smoothly. The self-hypnosis technique Carol used is one of many available. Most differ in method only slightly and if like Carol, you take them seriously and are motivated enough to practise regularly, they may well produce similarly effective results.

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