Today, Karolina Lewis is speaking to Jemma Leighton, passionate hypnobirthing and relaxation teacher, social media personality, Mum to Everley and Rory. Jemma runs a highly successful hypnobirthing school in London and Surrey - Stilettos to Strollers www.stilettostostrollers.com .
KL : Jemma, you are very passionate about giving women a positive birth experience. When I was pregnant 10 and 6 years ago, there was very little reassurance and not many alternative ways of thinking about birth. What has changed? Do women want to understand birth more?
JL: Hi Karolina, in short: so much has changed. The world of birth is ever evolving with new research and studies and slowly women’s views of birth are also adapting along with this. The first step was the development of birth centres or midwife led units and now this is where the majority of women in the UK would prefer to give birth 67% say their first choice is the birth centre. The home from home environment is recognised to help women to stay in tune with their body and many feel they have the security of being a stone’s throw from the labour ward should their circumstances change. Birth being over medicalised is also changing as women start to understand the physiological process of having their baby and starting to trust their own abilities more.
Due to the media coverage and many celebrities now being open about their birth experience and singing the praises of hypnobirthing, it is becoming more common for women to choose this route. Midwives support it and when it comes to having a baby - knowledge really is power. Without knowing our choices, you don’t have any. Many women associate birth with the movies where we see drama and a medical emergency (it’s better viewing) but once they become pregnant and start to look into it, the realisation dawns for many that it doesn’t need to be this way. I know I was like this with my first child, I went from ‘get me and epidural and when can I get back to work’ to having a water birth at home! It was my education on the process of birth that changed my view.
KL: Here at Bumpkyn, we are all about the Mum; how she feels, what she thinks, how relaxed, rested and prepared she is for the joys and challenges of motherhood – sleep is of course crucial!
Women are almost not allowed to relax these days and are expected to whiz through pregnancy and birth as if it was just a quick and painful stage of their lives... How do you change that mindset in your classroom?
JL: Pregnancy is something to be enjoyed – I know that for some women it can be really hard going especially if you are unwell, however it’s such a short period in your life and there is nothing quite like the feeling of your baby moving around inside you. In order to prepare for your baby’s birth you need to ensure you allow yourself to relax and to mentally get into the mind-set that your baby is going to be born in the way you’d like it to be. How many women go on diets and become gym bunnies before their wedding day? And just imagine If you rocked up on your wedding day, never having seen the venue, let your planner order the flowers and your mother choose the dress? Of course you’d be stressed about it. It’s the same for birth, you need to make that time to prepare and to know and understand what the day is likely to have in store for you.
KL: What are the benefits of hypnobirthing not many people know about?
JL: I think the main one is confidence, understanding how your body works and knowing the options that are available to you. Most people think hypnobirthing is about breathing, or just the relaxations and affirmations. But there is so much science and fact behind it, that’s one of the things I love about teaching you constantly astound people with facts about their bodies they never knew. We all biologically birth our babies the same way, but no two women’s labours will be exactly the same. Hypnobirthing is a way of retraining our brain so we view birth in a more positive way, which in turn can make it less painful and quicker.
KL: When they are not fully aware of their birth options, women seem to default to ‘maximum pain management’ during birth. Is it always necessary? Do hypnobirthing techniques help with this aspect?
JL: Many women have been conditioned to believe that giving birth is excruciatingly painful, but through hypnobirthing, mothers are given a way to birth calmly and confidently. It doesn’t remove the sensations, if only I could hypnotise you not to feel a thing….. but by knowing what the sensation is we are able to cope with it better. Understanding that the uterine muscles work efficiently together when the body is relaxed can help you stay calm, so just understanding how your body works and what to expect can make all the difference. Add this together with learning and practicing the relaxations and using affirmations and you have positive mind-set that can enable you to view pain differently, pain for a purpose isn’t like pain telling us something is wrong. We talk about breathing your baby down when you are in the second stage or pushing stage of labour, and yes the breathing techniques really can help, staying calm and relaxed does make it hurt less…. The visualisations can also really help with pain management, we refer to contractions as waves as they rise and fall like the crest of a wave, just visualising them like this reminds you that they come and go and you get a break.
KL: Does hypnobirthing suit everyone? Can someone whose mind is set on having a c-section be converted?
JL: This is an interesting question because it’s actually two. Firstly, hypnobirthing isn’t just for one type of birth, one of the incorrect preconceptions is that it’s only for women that want a natural birth, water birth or homebirth. Because of the knowledge and skills you learn on the course it’s actually for everyone because understanding the science and the choices you have is part of the course. Also if you decide to have an epidural then the breathing can help when this is inserted for instance, the stuff you learn is helpful for more than one day.
To answer the second part of the question, I don’t believe that someone needs to be converted. I’m pro-choice and for many women if they want a caesarean then there is normally a very good reason it’s by far the tougher way to have a baby in my view and not the easy way out. If someone is having a caesarean you can still use hypnobirthing, I have actually developed a course exclusively for women who are birthing their baby this way. It covers some of the same content and the theory behind hypnobirthing, but also goes in depth about your options (you still have loads) and how to maximise your experience and make it a positive one. You don’t’ have to revoke control of your baby’s birth because you are having a caesarean.
KL: Many birthing courses diminish the role of the birthing partner, how does hypnobirthing treat this subject?
JL: I have found that lots of couples come to me because they want their birth partner to have a role. It’s so important that partners understand how a woman’s body works as then they can create the environment she needs. It also converts lots of men who come as sceptics but leave loving what they have learnt. I was told recently about a guy that was telling anyone who would listen how a woman’s body works.
We also have whole session that focuses on the birth partner and how they can support a labouring woman. This is important as when in labour, a woman ideally needs to turn off the neocortex (as we don’t need to think, it’s all instinct, by thinking we try to control it and often slow the process down) therefore we want to keep this part of the brain quiet. In order to be able to do that, we need partners to be in a position where they are ‘stage manager’ of the birth, this means they are also aware of rights, they ask questions and they take charge of the room. Birth partners need the confidence to be able to do this and that’s what the course gives them.
KL: Thank you very much Jemma for this useful insight into how we can make birth a more comfortable and calmer experience. It really sounds like knowing and understanding your options is key.
Happy hypnobirthing everyone!