Preparing your mind for birth..?
Giving birth is a huge physical feat, but your mind also has a role to play. The power of the mind is a vast subject, but in this blog post we touch upon the power of the mind for labour and birth.
When a woman finds out she is pregnant, she may start taking vitamins, pay attention to her diet and stop drinking alcohol, to keep her body and baby healthy. But how many women think about giving their mindset a makeover?
Birth is a normal, natural event. It is certainly challenging and no walk in the park – but we are fortunate that in our culture it is no longer a life-threatening event, thanks to advances in hygiene and antenatal and postnatal care. However, I will take a bet that many women are absolutely terrified of giving birth – and it is no wonder, when you consider what we have been fed all our lives by media, friends and family.
Think about it. Have you ever seen a positive birth on TV, or in a film? Have you heard any positive birth stories from friends (great if you have!)?
When you consider how birth is portrayed on TV, you probably think of something like this: a woman’s waters break dramatically. She clutches her stomach in immediate agony. She is rushed to hospital, in great pain. She lies flat on her back in hospital, screaming, while she is shouted at to ‘Push! Push! Push!’. She is surrounded by people. The baby is ‘delivered’ by staff.
No wonder women are terrified of giving birth! This plus so much more fuels their fear.
The problem is that unless you have given birth positively before, these negative stories and images are the ones your mind will ‘go to’ when you are in labour, and this can dramatically affect how your body works. These images and birth stories (which are NOT your stories!) will stay in your background awareness and become your autopilot or habitual mindset when you think about your upcoming birth. This causes anxiety and worry when pregnant, and can cause issues when you go into labour too.
A woman in labour is a powerful being! But she is also vulnerable. If she has a lot of fear and anxiety when in labour her adrenalin levels will rise and the body will assume there is a threat to manage meaning she is more likely to tip into fight or flight mode. In fight or flight the blood will be diverted away from the non-essential organs and muscles when in an emergency situation – of which the uterus is one – and will instead be directed to the heart and brain to work out whether to freeze, fight or flight the legs ready to flee, and the arms ready to fight. This is of course perfect for a life threatening situation, but when in labour it will cause the woman to breath hold, panic breath and will mean the uterus will not have a good blood flow or oxygen supply, which all muscles need to work well. The woman and her body will tire more quickly and everything tenses up, causing more anxiety and unnecessary pain.
If this sounds concerning don’t worry as there is a lot you can do to help yourself, starting today! You can:
- Stop watching programmes that depict birth negatively.
- Watch positive births on YouTube (to do the opposite of the above!) – there are tons out there.
- Consider doing a hypnobirthing course
- …Or reading a book or two on this subject. How about starting with the book I wrote which includes 10 audios and a ton of useful information to help you relax and rethink birth.
- Read positive birth stories on sites such as ‘Tell me a good birth story’, or sign up to Hypnobirthing Facebook pages to have your news feed full of birth positivity.
- Close your ears to negative birth stories – don’t be afraid to stop someone in their tracks by saying ‘I’d love to hear your birth story once I’ve had my baby’ (unless it is super positive).
- Listen to a hypnobirthing audio – even if you are not doing a course. They are just positive guided relaxations. Get in touch to have a free breathing and positive affirmations audio sent to you 🙂
- Choose some affirmations that you like, or just make up your own. Pin at least one up where you will notice it each day. Say it out loud, say it in your head. Repetition is key.
- Use visualisation. All the top sports psychologists use this tool.
- Breathing – practise your breathing techniques every day, at random moments such as on a busy train or bus, or when you are feeling wound up by a colleague – as well as before you go to sleep or get out of bed in the morning.
- Learn about the different positions you can labour and birth in – reboot the mind so it knows you don’t have to be on your back! Practise them alone, with breathing techniques, with your partner.
- Attend a good pregnancy yoga class from as early as possible.
- Knowledge – knowledge is power! After all, if you don’t know your options, you don’t have any. Understand how your amazing body works. Learn what helps and hinders labour. My book will take you through all the labour, birth and hypnobirthing topics you need to help you practically and usefully both now and on the day.
- Mind your language. As Rudyard Kipling says ‘words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind’. Tune into how you speak to yourself. Are you talking positively to yourself about birth?
To illustrate the power of words, consider this example. You consent to a vaginal examination to see how far your labour has progressed.
Midwife 1: Oh you’re only 5cm dilated, you’ve a long way to go yet I’m afraid!
Midwife 2: Wow! You’re already 5cm dilated! And look how relaxed and calm you are. In no time at all you are going to have your baby in your arms! Well done! Just keep doing what you’re doing because it’s clearly working!
See how one could knock you off your perch and one could buoy you up?
Remember to practise and prepare. You cannot overdo this. You would spend time and effort preparing for a holiday, for a big event, or for a wedding: so why not spend time preparing for the biggest thing you will ever do – giving birth to another human being!
Jackie Kietz is a cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist and an experienced hypnobirthing and NCT practitioner. To join a Baby Bumps’ hypnobirthing course take a look at the course dates page here and read what others say about their courses here.