Hypnobirthing and the Physiology of Birth

Being in a relaxed state, triggers the relaxation response, hypnosis supports the physiology of birth.

How does the presence of Adrenalin make labour harder and more painful than it needs to be?
Remember our caveman and how the fight or flight response made his heart beat faster to drive blood flow into his extremities, caused his muscles to tense, his breathing to become shallow and his mind to become super alert?

Now imagine if this was a cavewoman in labour.

  • A faster heartbeat increases blood pressure which means she is more likely to lose too much blood i.e. haemorrhage, especially as the placenta starts to separate.
  • In addition, blood flow directed towards the extremities i.e. away from the uterus, means this vital muscle is being deprived of fuel and it is going to run out of energy far quicker than is ideal.
  • Muscle tension, which is so necessary to fight or run away from the sabre-toothed tiger, is causing her to hold herself rigid and the stomach muscles, which separate during pregnancy, are creating a wall of tension either side of the uterus. This means as the uterus contracts, it needs to fight the tension of the surrounding muscles, causing the contractions to be much more painful than they need to be.
  • Shallow breathing which would be necessary if the cavewoman was moving quickly, is depriving the uterus of oxygen because the breath is not getting deep enough to fuel it. This means toxins such as lactic acid will build up in the uterus making the muscle feel crampy and even more painful.
  • The uterus will also tire much earlier and cease to be efficient and of course the baby is not getting the oxygen he or she needs.
  • She is hyper alert, looking for any further danger – again, this is positive when running away from something that can kill you, but detrimental to the birthing process because it floods her system with more and more adrenaline, making labour increasingly and consistently more painful.
  • Her jaw is tense and tight because of muscle tension but this has a knock-on effect on the cervix – generally, if the jaw is tight so is the cervix.
  • She could also be screaming, increasing her fear, and that of those around her and consequently wasting a lot of energy, hers and everyone else’s.
  • She has got herself caught up in what we call the fear-tension-pain cycle. The pregnant woman is frightened, causing tension in the muscles, which makes the contractions more painful than they need to be.
  • This cycle also causes labour to slow down or stop completely – a physiological reaction which makes sense from a mammalistic/primitive brain point of view:
  • If the mother is in danger, it makes no sense for her baby to be born into that danger too.
  • The slowing down or stopping of labour is due to Adrenalin flooding her system which causes the cervix to close, therefore minimising the risk of her baby being born into danger.
  • She can then fight or run-away from the perceived predator, enabling both herself and her baby to get away from danger. Once she had reached a place of safety, the Adrenalin would leave her body and the birthing hormones would start to do their job again.
  • Remember, anything a birthing woman perceives as not ok (cold, loud noises, strange environment etc.) is going to perceived subconsciously as a predator producing exactly the same effect as if a sabre-toothed tiger was standing in front of her.

In modern birthing society, if labour slows down due to the above cycle, she is likely to have her labour augmented (speeded up chemically) or she may be sent for a Caesarean.
In these cases, she may see the initials ‘F.T.P.’ written in her notes.
‘F.T.P.’ means ‘Failure To Progress’ – it’s not a coincidence that these initials are exactly the same as ‘Fear, Tension, Pain’.

Now, if our labouring cavewoman was under the influence of the relaxation response which she would be if she felt safe and in no danger from any predator:
Her heartbeat would be regular and calm, meaning she is less likely to lose more than the normal amounts of blood after the baby is born (usually about 500 ml.) and because she is calm, all the blood flow is directed to the uterus, this fuels the muscle and keeps it going for as long as it needs.
Her muscles are loose and relaxed. This means she can also move and rock and sway with the contractions, helping the baby to negotiate the pelvis and move its way into the birth canal.
The repetitive movement encourages the release of Oxytocin and Endorphins (labour hormones), helps relax the mother even more and deepen the naturally hypnotic state she gets herself into.
Relaxed muscles also mean relaxed stomach muscles, so as the uterus contracts it does not have to fight against any additional tension, making each contraction far more comfortable and manageable.
Being so relaxed means that she is in a hypnotic state, she is breathing deeply and slowly which means the uterus has all the oxygen it needs to keep working efficiently and energetically, allowing any toxins to be flushed out of her system – again making contractions more manageable.
The baby is also getting plenty of oxygen which helps it copes with the physical effects of labour on its system more positively.
The natural hypnotic state induced by relaxation allows her to focus internally on what her body and her baby are doing, meaning she will instinctively and intuitively be responding to what her body is telling her to do and therefore she will become more and more deeply relaxed and focussed.

Her jaw is loose, reflecting the opening cervix and any noises she makes will be low, directing the energy where it needs to be.
The relaxation cycle i.e. the para-sympathetic nervous system or relaxation response, is a much calmer, positive and effective place to be in for labour.
Through the use of hypnosis and the post hypnotic suggestions, we can remove (or at the very least, massively reduce) any fear that may have been felt about childbirth before going into labour.
We can direct your attention to positive stories, increasing your confidence in your body’s ability to give birth.
We can also ensure your calm response to contractions, to changes of environment, even to changes of birth circumstances, becomes learnt behaviour and automatic.

A note on ‘the breathing’ as mentioned previously, there are various hypnobirthing methods in the public domain. Many of them refer to specific types of breathing, depending on where a woman is in her contraction.
Let’s keep this SIMPLE –  you have been breathing since you arrived earth side and YOUR breathing changes according to what you’re doing – again this happens automatically. To give a physiological function specific steps, gives you something to ‘think’ about which makes the process very cerebral. Birth requires you to be responsive and instinctive – thinking will bring you back into the realm of the neo-cortex which is exactly where you don’t want to be. You can become confused as to what type of breathing you should be doing and this can lead to panic in a state of heightened emotion, causing Adrenalin to rush in and making labour harder work than it needs to be. I encourage my clients just to focus on their breathing, it does not matter whether they are breathing in and out through their mouths or their noses, they should just do what comes naturally. Focusing on the process of breathing naturally causes their breath to slow down and become deeper. If you find you need a little extra help the emphasis should be on the out breath.

“If in doubt….breathe out!”

When in a state of panic, we tend to breathe in shorter, sharper breaths and ever more rapidly, perversely making it harder and harder to take in any oxygen. By encouraging you to direct your attention to breathing out, your shoulders drop, your muscles relax and the relaxation response is triggered – simple! Muscle tension is released, carbon dioxide is expelled and the muscles tend to relax even more during this part of the breathing cycle. By focusing on breathing out for as long as possible (note, not necessarily counting although you can do that if you find it helps) the in-breath will naturally take care of itself and go as deep as it needs to (a fact that is very reassuring to a pregnant woman whose lung capacity is restricted due to the growing uterus.) This technique is also very useful to remember if you find themselves in an adrenalised state for whatever reason. Breathing out a few times can re-set the balance and help take you out of the ‘Fear, Tension, Pain’ cycle. Focussing on the breath is one of the methods used in hypnosis to take a person into a hypnotic state. It can also be used as a method of self-hypnosis.