Hypno-birthing a soothing alternative for parents on labor day
After three painful labors, Jennifer Retsch decided to do something different with her fourth: a self-soothing technique called hypno-birthing.
Retsch and her husband, Bill, attended hypno-birthing classes in the weeks leading up to last year's birth of Levi. As her labor progressed, she was surprised at the lack of pain because of the hypno-birthing exercises.
“I was very calm, very relaxed and very restful,” says Retsch, 43, of Allison Park. “It was incredible. ... The baby comes out, you do it and you want to get up and walk around, you feel so good. ... I would recommend this to anyone.”
Hypno-birthing — a practice that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is reportedly planning to use for the July birth of the royal baby — comes from the idea that anxiety and fear make labor longer lasting and more painful. The practice involves weeks of rehearsal for the big labor day, as the baby's mother and father listen to soothing music, learn visualizations and deep-breathing techniques, and learn mantras they can say during labor that lead the woman into a deeply relaxed state of hypnosis.
Although evidence is largely anecdotal, everything Dr. Amy Crawford-Faucher has seen looks like hypno-birthing works well for women in labor.
Crawford-Faucher, an Oakland family physician who has spent years delivering babies in low-risk obstetrics cases, remembers a patient who, while in labor, “would put herself in a trancelike state.” The mother wasn't unconscious — she was watching the contractions on the monitor — but she was “very calm and peaceful.”
“It was remarkably peaceful,” Crawford-Faucher says. “What I saw was a woman who was in charge of her body.”
Kim Young, a Sewickley childbirth educator and massage therapist who specializes in pregnancy massages, travels all over the country teaching doctors and midwives about the “nice, healthy, gentle, easy birth” that's possible with hypno-birthing, at least to a point. The practice can eliminate the need for labor-pain treatments, she says.
“You're going to feel something, of course, .. but it's not the eye-popping pain you've seen on television,” says Young, who worked with Retsch.
“The hypno-birthing teaches women to get back in touch with their bodies,” she says.
Birth, Young says, “is the final step in a very beautiful process. ... Being calm makes everything else easy.”
Young, owner of Body & Birth Wellness Center (www.bodyandbirth.com), teaches mothers-to-be and their husbands in five weekly hypno-birthing classes, for a total of about 12 1⁄2 hours, for $395. She recommends that couples take the course at the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy.
Mothers learn to say hypnotic mantras like “Each surge (contraction) brings my baby closer to me” and “I accept any turn my birthing will take.” She learns to mentally go to her “happy place” — like thinking about sitting on a beach.
The husband learns ways he can help the mom-to-be relax, particularly by speaking soothing mantras and gently touching her.
The husband's supporting role is important, Young says.
Retsch's husband was skeptical at first.
“At first, he thought I was crazy, but then he saw it works,” Retsch says. “It was the best thing for us, too. It brought us really close.”
Retsch listened to the “Comfort Zone” CD every night before going to bed, and she had it on in the delivery room. She still listens to it, and so do her children — Levi, and Ava, 11; William, 8; and Isaac, 3 — because the New Age-like music is soothing and relaxing, she says.
When a woman is doing hypno-birthing, she remains conscious and aware of her environment, but she is deeply introverted and relaxed, similar to the closing relaxation portion of a yoga session, Young says. Her adult daughter, Rachel Krino of Michigan, had two babies with hypno-birthing and swears by it. Doctors are often skeptical about the practice initially, but they note how it calms their patient during a time when many are anxious.
Hypno-birthing is not new. New Hampshire hypnotherapist Mickey Mongan founded the practice in 1989, when she wrote her first book, “HypnoBirthing — A Celebration of Life.” Young says that it has become popular in the past several years, but neither she nor Crawford-Faucher have observed a recent trend inspired by Middleton. The UK-based magazine Grazia reported Middleton's plans in June.
Sara Miller, 31, of Baden, had such a positive experience with hypno-birthing while delivering her son — Lucas, now 9 months — she is recommending it to her friends and others. She and her husband, Jesse, had planned to use hypno-birthing with her first child — Wyatt, 3 — but he was premature and she had to have an emergency C-section. When Miller went into labor the second time, it went quickly and smoothly.
“The techniques really help you. ... They're calming and relaxing techniques,” Miller says. “It really helped me, and my husband, as well. I think that helps you to ease the pain but also makes the whole process a lot calmer.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.