How Can Pre-Natal Yoga Help with HypnoBirthing?

by Linette Landa of the Shanti Yoga Center for Harmony

Tools for a Peaceful Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting Experience

When bringing a child into the world, taking care of ourselves is our joy and our duty. We must learn, and put into practice, good breathing, exercise, diet, relaxation and positive thinking. These are the necessary foundations for our bodies and minds to be healthy and to work in harmony for a positive pregnancy, birthing and parenting. Yoga, a comprehensive, holistic, self-care system, offers guidance and methods in all of these areas. HypnoBirthing® complements yoga beautifully. It tells us very convincingly why and how to rid ourselves of the notion that birth is a dangerous, painful process to be feared, and teaches relaxation and natural breathing techniques to bring the baby into the world in the calm and gentle way that nature intended.

“Nothing disturbs the course of natural labor more than fear. That is a known and well-proved scientific fact,” wrote Dr. Grantly Dick-Read in Childbirth Without Fear, 1944. Dick-Read is the father of natural childbirth according to Marie Mongan who developed the HypnoBirthing Program in 1989 based on his work. Eliminating fear is the first step in the program, because couples learn where the fear of childbirth comes from and its effect on labor and the baby. “Tense woman, tense cervix; relaxed woman, relaxed cervix,” said Dick-Read. Fear releases catecholamines – constrictor hormones – as part of the fight/flight response of the body. That not only prolongs labor and causes pain while the uterus tries to pull open tight muscles, but can lead to fetal distress as the oxygen supply to the uterus is reduced, contractions become more violent and labor drags on.

HypnoBirthing mothers learn to be calm and confident during labor and birthing, and they learn skills in physical and mental relaxation. Not in a trance, they are very present, keen observers of the process that is taking place in their bodies. The hours of practice with breathing, relaxation and visualizations induce the release of endorphins (our body’s natural anesthesia), creating the conditions that allow the mother to open up first and then to quietly breath the baby down to crowning and into her waiting arms.

It’s not only about calm mothers and easier birthing – it’s about calm babies!

Yoga and HypnoBirthing practices “teach” relaxation to the baby by circulating endorphins and reducing stress during the pregnancy. Also, parents are encouraged to connect with their unborn baby so there is a strong bond of love even before the birth. There are plenty of ways to do this according to prenatal psychology experts. Singing, talking, playing music, reading, stroking, etc., all help mothers, fathers and siblings know that the baby is real and already part of the family. Imagining what it is like to be your baby in the womb is also very effective. For example, if you have had an argument or see a violent scene on the news and then realize your baby heard that, too, your best motherly instincts come forth to try to prevent future exposure to negative stimulation and to assure your baby that it has nothing to do with him/her. When this kind of connection is made, parents realize more profoundly how important this stage of life is, and become advocates for a positive environment for the pregnancy and birth of their child.

Bonding, conscious relaxation and a peaceful birth all contribute to baby’s consciousness leaving an indelible imprint on the psyche of this soul to whom life is being given.

The sooner we start the greater influence we have as parents

Yoga and HypnoBirthing both help develop inner awareness, healthy habits and ways to handle stress, large and small. All are critical for good parenting.

At conception, the state of mind and emotions of the couple, the environment and even the food eaten affect the constitution of the seed planted and the womb that will nurture the growing child.

The nine months of gestation are a critical time of development of the new life not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. The science of pre- and perinatal psychology has revealed the secret life of the unborn child, which is also the title of a book by Dr. Thomas Verny, founder of the Association for Pre and Peri-Natal Psychology and Health – APPPAH3. This field of study has blossomed since the 1960s, when scientists and psychologists were first able to look into the womb to register babies’ responses to stimuli. We now know how the mother’s feeling and environment directly affect the baby. In a nutshell, her happiness, contentment and love cross the placenta giving her baby these same qualities, which, when endowed at this stage of development, serve as a foundation for the child’s whole life. The child’s view of the world then reflects these qualities. The world is a place of happiness, abundance, harmony, cooperation . . . peace. Conversely, a negative womb experience and birth can lead to a fearful, discontented, disgruntled, contentious person who finds it hard to be happy in any situation in life or to give happiness to others.

“We have acquired the conviction that any violence which greets a baby in the womb and around the time of birth is a deep form of conditioning which acts like a template for relationships. This conditioning may well affect a person’s physical and mental health for decades to come,” said David Chamberlain, Ph.D., in the introduction to the section on “The Origins of Violence” on the website of APPPAH. “Babies do remember birth,” said Marie Mongan, founder of HypnoBirthing The Mongan Method. (Babies Remember Birth was the original title of Chamberlain’s book, now called The Mind of Your Newborn Baby) The experts are careful to point out that the most important thing for parents is that the baby is wanted and loved. Everyday stresses and strains will not negatively affect the baby’s psychological development, and even serious difficulties that may arise are overcome if the mother handles them reasonably well and the baby is showered with love and acceptance.

How can we create a positive pregnancy and birth?

Prenatal Yoga is an excellent tool for practicing proper breathing, relaxation, exercise, diet and positive thinking. Mothers should practice yoga regularly for the best results. A weekly or biweekly class gives the opportunity to learn the techniques, to tone and build strength in the body and to unwind on a regular basis. Home practice of any or all of the aspects of yoga help incorporate healthy habits into daily life. Yoga helps expectant mothers sleep better, breathe easier, feel more comfortable in their pregnant bodies, tune in with the unborn baby and, perhaps most important, build confidence and trust. Yoga also helps to heal more rapidly after the birth, to reduce or eliminate postpartum blues and to the have energy and stamina to cope with the demands of mothering a newborn.

Water Yoga deserves special mention as it is a superb way for pregnant women and new mothers to work with the body and breath. Water removes the extra weight of pregnancy yet is supportive allowing stretching and breathing beyond ordinary limits. After the birth, water yoga helps close and tone the body again and has “direct effects on the nervous system, both calming and stimulating.” New mothers feel soothed and supported as they strengthen and tone the muscles and joints of their postpartum body. Ideally, the water should be warm, above 90 but below 98 degrees, to allow for a slow paced workout and a deep relaxation at the end floating on ones’ back with supports. Water yoga is safe and effective creating an anxiety-free relaxed state for deep inner work and for connection with the baby who is in its own warm watery world. (Many birth centers now have warm tubs/Jacuzzis for birthing and in some places the birth can even take place in water.)

With regards to the birth, let’s first define natural birth. Natural birth means a birth free of drugs, free of medical intervention and free of unnecessary noise and disturbance for mother and baby. It means birth as the beautiful, peaceful experience nature intended – as we usually see in the animal world. Parents who desire this should do whatever is necessary to practice healthy habits, to educate themselves and to secure the best caregivers and environment for natural birth to tke place. Perhaps most important of all is to relax and enjoy the whole process, to not let little things or even big things upset you, to realize you are part of the sea of humanity doing what women have done and will continue to do forever and to connect with the wonder and mystery of the miracle of life.

To achieve a natural, comfortable birth, some work needs to be done. In ancient times, and even today in some cultures, women have experienced birth without pain or discomfort. In our culture and time, although there are some unique women to whom natural birth comes naturally, most need to overcome programmed ideas of pain and fear and to master relaxation techniques. This is best done through a class with an instructor certified in the Mongan method of HypnoBirthing. Of all the childbirth methods being taught now, HypnoBirthing is unique in its way of addressing fear – the source of pain – and bringing calmness to the whole pregnancy and birth experience.

Specifically, HypnoBirthing classes teach expectant couples how to release their programmed fears and tensions of birth from their conscious and subconscious minds by establishing a practice of simple relaxation, breathing and visualization. It is a natural form of pain management with no side effects for mother or baby (except peace). It can even shorten labor, eliminate fatigue during labor and effect a more rapid postnatal recovery. Other benefits are the integral role of the birth companion and, as we have said, a positive prenatal state, which often provides for a more calm and peaceful baby. What better investment can you make: in your child’s future, your future as a parent and in humanity?

Can giving birth really be pain-free?

Some HypnoBirthing mothers experience pain-free births. Most are able to manage whatever sensations they do feel without stress or worry. Aimee Adams, midwife at the Maternity Center in Bethesda (where about one-third of the clients use the method) estimates that about 70 percent of the women do well with HypnoBirthing. “Everything is calmer – the mother, father, everyone in the room compared to other birthing methods,” and “Babies born in a calmer environment tend to be calmer,” she adds. For others who might not do as well with the method when labor actually starts, the midwives simply help the laboring mother along just as they would with someone who hadn’t learned HypnoBirthing. Pain medication is always available if requested. Birthing is hard work, yes, but with natural childbirth, and especially the HypnoBirthing method, the mother becomes co-creator rather than turning her baby’s birth day over to others.

HypnoBirthing is growing in leaps and bounds nationally and internationally. For example, in less than a year, more than 100 practitioners have been trained in the United Kingdom.

Another boon is that all HypnoBirthing participants, expectant mothers and their birth companions, learn techniques that are useful in any stressful situation, such as driving in traffic, giving public presentations, dealing with difficult people, dental work and, of course, parenting!

In sum, women who practice yoga and couples who choose HypnoBirthing can look forward to the experience and watch the miracle of life unfold, be alert and active in the process, greet their baby who is also alert and active (if there are no drugs given during the birthing) and feel empowered as parents in the creative process. Natural childbirth enables the critical bond with the child before, during and after the birth. It is a holistic view of pregnancy, birth and life.

The HypnoBirthing logo says “taking the birthing world by calm.” Yoga gives us the tools to find the inner peace that is both our and our child’s birthright . Parents can put their drop of peace into the ocean of the world.

Linette Landa (Lakshmi) teaches HypnoBirthing, Pre-Natal Yoga, Women’s Water Yoga, and Mother/Baby and Family Yoga at the Shanti Yoga Center for Harmony in Bethesda, MD.