I participated in an in-person Mongan Method Hypnobirthing parent class (although in full disclosure, class 5 of 5 was snowed-out). If you’re not familiar with it, Hypnobirthing is system of pain management strategies for childbirth that relies heavily on breathwork, visualization and relaxation. It strives to break the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle inherent to modern childbirth and allow birthing people to acknowledge their fears about childbirth, relax tension and interrupt the self-fulfilling prophecy that childbirth will be painful.
One of the Hypnobirthing techniques I have been most excited about is “breathing baby out”. Sometimes called “laboring down”, it’s a technique by which the laboring parent does not actively push, but allows the uterus to do the heavy lifting. Minimizing active pushing has a gamut of benefits for everyone involved, but I’m most interested in one in particular: since there is less pushing and pressure on the pelvic floor, this method may minimize pelvic floor stress and trauma relative to traditional forced pushing. This is super important to me after experiencing some pelvic floor trauma while delivering my daughter. I realize that it may be optimistic to expect not to push at all, but I do hope to at least reduce the quantity and intensity of pushing.
I have found so much power through intentional breathwork in my sports and fitness, I’ve been excited to learn more about how I can apply breath to a gentle(r) birthing experience. The course focused on three breathing techniques and a number of relaxation scripts. Here is my quick and dirty summary of the breathing techniques we learned (I recommend Marie Mongan’s book for more details). The three breathing styles are calm breathing, surge breathing and birth breathing. Calm breathing is based on an inhale to a slow count of 4, and slow exhale to 8. It’s meant to be used in between surges (contractions). Surge breathing, involves an inhale to a quick count to 20, and then equally long exhale. Surge breathing is meant to be a big diaphragmatic/belly breath used during…. surges. Finally the birth breath is a quick inhale and long exhale, coupled with visualization of baby’s descent and pelvic floor relaxation.
I see so much value in the breathing, the scripts, and the philosophy of the program. On the other hand, I personally have a super tough time with some of the specific strategies. As a little disclaimer, I’ll throw out there that I’m super Type A and relaxing does NOT come easy to me. I found the calm breathing a little anxiety provoking- turns out, I don’t like counting when I breathe. And while I have found that the scripts DO provide a great focal point that keeps my brain from wandering too far from home, I also found that they frustrate me greatly. I hate being told to constantly relax. And then to DOUBLE my relaxation. Because when I’m not getting to that spot as quickly as the script wants me to, I go straight to “Oh crap! I’m screwing up relaxing!” and it is pretty counter-productive. I also couldn’t imagine playing the scripts through hours of labor. I want to be able to be a little bit more present in between contractions.
While I was taking the course, I met a hypnotherapist who teaches her own, unbranded Hypnosis for Childbirth program. Curious, my husband and I set up a few sessions and I think it was a perfect counter perspective to our Mongan Method course.
First off, this independent hypnosis program was greatly simplified and a little more scientific. I didn’t have to change all the words I use surrounding birth (e.g. “surges” for “contractions”; something the Mongan Method encourages and another thing I didn’t love). Instead of learning a lot of new breathing techniques, we just used a pattern that I know to be calming in my body. We applied a few different relaxation cues simultaneously, including aromatherapy, relaxing music, touch from my partner and visualization and we applied these cues directly to practice contractions so I would know when and how to use them when I’m in labor. The therapist had her own hypnosis tracks, but I liked that they didn’t overuse the word “RELAX!” and were only meant to be a tool to learn the relaxation state, not necessarily to be used in labor. Her ultimate goal was to get me to find the relaxation state on my own, without the crutch of a script (no scripts during labor!).
So, despite all of these things that I preferred about this approach, I am still not convinced I have ever found a self-hypnosed state. Or even a state of very deep relaxation. But it was helpful in a one-on-one environment for me to hear that the therapist actually thought I was getting deeper than I thought. And that my expectations may be a little too high or off-base (a perpetual problem of mine). The bit that actually helped me the most was when we reframed “deep-relaxation” as “deep-focus”- because that I can do (finally, feeling like I’m finding some actionable strategies!).
What is my take away from all this? Well this baby is still firmly parked, so I haven’t been able to actually put this in practice. But my plan is to take my aromatherapy oils, my labor playlist and my best game-day focus to the big event. I’m also bringing what I hope are realistic expectations.
I’ve done everything I could possibly do to prepare for labor: My husband and I have been practicing our hypnosis routine every-other nightly or so (every night is recommended, but this was what I could do) and so I’m hoping that some of the ritual will kick in and help my brain remain calm and my body remain relaxed. I’ve been practicing the Flower Bloom breath and pelvic floor relaxation during our contraction practice and I hope that that will help me remain focused and relaxed when and where it matters. I’ve also been pretty diligent about incorporating bodywork and Spinning Babies body balancing exercises, and so I hope that Baby J will be in a good spot and my body will be cooperative. I do hope to breathe this baby down as long as humanly feasible. I’ve got a doula, a supportive partner and midwives to keep me calm when I need it. And mostly I’m just trying to trust in my body that it’s done this before and this time we can do it a little better. Ultimately, birth is unpredictable and all the prep in the world can’t guarantee that things go according to plan. But I’ve done everything I can to give myself the best shot possible at the birth experience I want.
I’ll check back in on the flip side with Baby J’s birth story. Please wish me some deep-focus, a relaxed pelvic floor and a little luck!
Learn how to dial in your breathing strategy to harness control of your pelvic floor and feel stronger in your workouts. Download a copy of The No B.S. Guide to Breathing for a STRONG Pregnancy and Postpartum.
My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.
Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I work with people locally (Seattle’s Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and online to develop personalized pregnancy and postpartum personal training plans. I also offer labor support (doula services) within the greater Seattle-Metro Area.