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Hypnobirthing Explained on BBC Woman’s Hour

Katharine was honoured to appear on BBC Woman’s Hour today (7th September), and discussed Hypnobirthing with presenter Jenni Murray, Midwifery professor Soo Downe, and Hypnobirthing mother Michelle Ollie.  You can listen to a recording of that interview below:

Stream the podcast here:


Jenni: How justified are the claims that hypnobirthing will give you a calm delivery over which you have complete control. Soo Downe is Professor of Midwifery studies at the University of Central Lancashire and joins us from Blackburn, Michelle Ollie used the technique for the birth of her daughter 11 days ago, she is in Ipswich. And the voice you just heard belongs to Katharine Graves, the author of The Hypnobirthing Book.

Jenni: Katharine are you seriously saying a woman can choose the length of her labour, 8 hours, 3 hours or 2. Because if you can surely everyone would go for two.

Katharine: I didn’t say she has complete control because nobody can ever say how labour can pan out, but I am saying that her mental state will very much effect the length of her labour and what you focus on is very often what you get.

Jenni: Michelle, how in control of your labour did you feel using this technique?

Michelle: I felt pretty in control really, I felt more relaxed and was in a really good mental state which allowed me to zone out and focus on what was important. Obviously opening up and birthing my baby as quickly and calmly as possible. So I never thought I am going to do this in 2 hours or 3 hours because mine was a 12 hour labour but the time went so quickly because I was in the zone and I was in control and very relaxed so time was not a big thing on my mind.

Jenni: What had you learnt in the training sessions that you had?

Michelle: We learnt, I say we as my partner and I, we both attended, learnt a lot of relaxation techniques and different breathing activities, some visualizations, thinking about when you have a surge which is the name we give a contraction. To think about something that is going to take your mind off it and get you through. Counting down and just breathing and being as calm as possible.

Jenni: How painful was it? On a scale of 1 to 10.

Michelle: It is really difficult to say as obviously there are so many different stages to labour. I would say the first part of labour before I was bearing down and pushing the baby out was not really too painful. It was quite manageable, I had a bit of gas and air and my husband played a huge part in it and he was counting me through surges and really helping me stay focused and calm. That first part was not too painful at all. The second part when she was actually making her way down was more amazing really as I felt like this is what I am designed to do. It was painful at times but it was at the back of my mind.

Jenni: How important to doing it successfully is this idea of, this is what I am designed to do and I am going to go into a kind of zone?

Katharine: I think it is a change of attitude before the birth rather than the idea at the time of birth. Most women have an appalling painful experience so when I say you can, not will, have a comfortable experience, they want to shout me down. I absolutely acknowledge that most women are in that situation, but in the world I live in I don’t see that. The real problem is fear, stress, worry. Every sportsman knows that, if your mind is not in the right place you do not win Wimbledon, you have a sports psychologist. Hypnobirthing is a sports psychologist for giving birth.

Jenni: Soo, you have studied hypnobirthing, what have you found out about the claims it can help with pain and controlling the length of the birth?

Soo: We actually looked at hypnosis as opposed to hypnobirthing as a whole package, as Katharine says hypnobirthing has a range of components when it is produced commercially. We were particularly interested in the hypnosis component as well as this fear, anxiety reduction and what we found is when we put women by chance randomization into different groups. 680 women in total in 3 different hospitals it didn’t actually make a difference to their experience of pain or to their use of epidurals or to a whole range of other things. But what it did do, women who had the experience, said they were less fearful and less anxious about child birth. So it did seem to have an effect on that particular component. When we asked individuals some of them said very strongly that it did help them. That suggests some individual women are helped by hypnosis but if you apply it to a whole group of women you don’t necessarily see the differences across the whole group.

Jenni: Katharine, how do you reckon it works differently from the breathing techniques which you were taught some years ago when your children were born which is supposed to help relax you?

Katharine: It does relax you and it is all good stuff, but this takes it further. You see the course we teach in KG Hypnobirthing is a 12 hour complete antenatal training. When Soo did her research, which was excellent research, it was quite short, it wasn’t the complete hypnobirthing course and the biggest difference is the work to release fear. Just like the princess and the pea, however many mattresses you put on top of the pea the princess could not sleep. The pea is like the fear, you can do all the breathing, all the relaxation, all the visualisations but if you have not removed that stress and that concern the body is tense. It goes back to work of Grantly Dick-Read, the English obstetrician in the last century that came up with the premise that fear causes tension, your body doesn’t work and you get pain. So remove the fear and your body will work in the way it is designed to.

Jenni: So what sort of risks did you encounter in the studies that you did?

Soo: Well the only thing that came out, this indicates that for some women it is very effective, is that some women said they looked so relaxed when they turned up at the labour ward that the midwives did not believe they were in labour so sent them home. One particular woman was sent home and 45 minutes later she came back and had her baby. So clearly for some individuals that had an effect.

Jenni: Did the midwife not check how delated she was before sending her home.

Soo: Normally you would do that but I think if somebody comes in and looks like they are not at all in labour then you would not necessarily do it. So one of the things that we have advised is if hospitals are going to introduce hypnobirthing or hypnosis then the midwives are pre-warned that for some particular individuals they are need to pay special attention if they say they are in labour but don’t look like it at all they need to ask are you using hypnosis or hypnobirthing just to check.

Jenni: You are not a clinician or a midwife Katharine. What role do you expect a midwife to play in this and what happens if there are complications?

Katharine: Hypnobirthing works whatever turn the birth takes. Perhaps there is some sort of complication, everyone rushes into the room, and there is panic going on all around her. And she will say ‘I felt so calm’ and that means she is producing different hormones which will affect her baby. We look at hypnobirthing as far as a woman’s point of view but the most important thing is how the baby enters the world. Hypnobirthing babies are more serene, poised, it is difficult to define but everyone comments on it. They often sleep through the night better, even 5 years later mothers say ‘she takes everything in her stride, nothing phases her’. That is going to effect the child for the rest of her life.

Jenni: Michelle, how is your little girl getting on?

Michelle: Yes she is getting on really well. I am not sure quite about the nights sleeping. She is very calm she is very good about being passed around. She sleeps and feeds really well. I am breastfeeding really well. I do think hypnobirthing has helped her become a very calm baby.
Jenni: You have come up with no hard evidence with the length labour and the pain, why do you suppose a number of NHS trusts seem to be keen to encourage hypnobirthing.

Soo: Most women when asked would prefer not to use drugs during labour to help them with their pain and most women are fearful of labour. So most trusts recognise that they have to offer something to help women in those circumstances during labour and it is a relative cheap option and in our case it was about £4.32 per woman. So why not provide it if it might help people.

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