Why we need hypnobirthing and antenatal education now more than ever
Birth is one of the most powerful, moving and monumental moments of life. Those who choose to have children will likely only experience it two or three times in their lifetime. But it’s impact cannot be underestimated. I’m not solely talking about the transformation that comes from raising a child but also the day of birth itself. I can remember what time my contradictions started, how the air smelt, what I watched and listened to and exactly how the room I gave birth in looked. I have a terrible memory, but this one is so clear. And, so, what happens on this day matters hugely.
And currently, the world is making it harder to ensure this moment is as positive as it can be. This is why it matters more than ever than pregnant people have the tools they need to feel in control and educated in birth. We need hypnobirthing and antenatal education now more than ever.
Within the last year, several shock waves have hit maternity. Primarily the pandemic, which has meant many hospitals have changed their policy for maternal care. Many hospital Trusts have restricted partners attending scans, parts of labour and throughout much of the postnatal recovery time in hospital.
But we know from the findings from the Ockenden inquiry and MBRRACE-UK report that concerns around maternity care already existed. They both highlight pregnant people’s coercion into uncomfortable, and potentially life-threatening, birthing situations. And the latter tells us of a vast racial inequality in care, resulting in black women being five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This year, the healthcare regulator reported that four in 10 maternity services do not meet the safety threshold of care. If we weren’t already in a health crisis, I believe it’s fair to say these combined findings would, and should, have resulted in one being declared.
How can we make change?
But the focus of this piece is not on policy changes or procedural implementation at a Trust level. And, to the midwives and obstetricians who are over-worked, under-staffed and panicked by the current situation, you have my full support. Your work is so gratefully received. But instead, I want to talk again about control and the positive, practical actions antenatal practitioners and pregnant people can undertake to help the situation.
It is a cliché, but birth is the one place where knowledge provides unmitigated power. What I’m talking about here is not that everyone suddenly needs to become a medical expert in labour. Instead, it is about unpacking what you think you know about birth and having a re-education. A recent NHS report suggested that attendance of pregnant people at its free antenatal classes was less than a third in 2019. That’s a lot of couples learning about how birth works from what they see around them.
And the reality is that every image or video we see of birth shows us pain, discomfort, and it displays a woman on her back on bed, pushing and screaming with all her might. In many ways, the most realistic depictions of childbirth happen in David Attenborough documentaries. Those moments when lionesses tuck themselves away into sheltered spots, stand up, sway and move their bottoms and birth their cubs.
What is hypnobirthing, and how can antenatal education help solve these problems?
Those who have never been pregnant or have no interest in birth are unlikely to have heard of hypnobirthing. Put simply it is the combination of mind and body working together to birth a baby effortlessly. It fuses simple hypnotherapy techniques – through affirmations and relaxations – with in-depth knowledge of how the birthing body works. It’s not witchcraft; it’s not turning you into a mouse on stage; instead, it’s about getting to know yourself better and trusting the body’s instincts. Antenatal teachers equip their students with the same tools to embrace and work with their body in labour.
An important note to cover about antenatal education is that there is no one ideal of a perfect birth. Your baby can arrive calmly and positively vaginally, with assisted delivery or through a caesarean section. One of the stand out findings from the Ockenden inquiry was the focus on a ‘natural’ birth. There are numerous reasons why birth may not happen vaginally. And a woman or pregnant person should never feel a failure for delivering in any other way. The most important thing is that they feel in control, know what their options are, and choose the outcome.
Antenatal education is needed now more than ever
And this is why antenatal education is so important now. The pandemic is raising a whole new set of questions and concerns for pregnant couples. They need to draw on an educated opinion to find their answers. In a crisis, the default mode for hospital Trusts will be to divert for what seems like the most obvious option. But that may not truly be the right decision for the mother. In hypnobirthing, couples use the BRAINS tool to help make their choices. It is a technique which allows couples to decide the best course of action for them. At times of heightened anxiety, it enables them to think rationally and clearly.
Antenatal education holds the key to ensure positive births are still happening during lockdowns and health scares. And it’s why I’ve created a digital course for antenatal and hypnobirthing teachers to build and promote their businesses. We need to equip as many couples as possible with the tools they need for a calm, controlled birth. Let’s spread the word together.