After a traumatic Caesarean section birth three years ago Magan Hall of Rosebank in Cape Town could not imagine herself going through another childbirth.
Her disappointment at not giving birth naturally to her daughter Holly, now three, left her feeling powerless and to a certain extent like a “failure”.
“I was so looking forward to having a natural birth and I went through 16 hours of labour thinking that eventually the baby would come down. When the midwife told me that I was going for an emergency C-section as the baby wasn’t coming down, I felt so aggrieved. I was so disappointed with how things turned out that I constantly blamed myself for everything. The experience left me with this fear of giving birth,” she said.
But after much contemplation, Hall decided to try for a second baby. This time, however, she wasn’t going to let her first birthing experience get the better of her.
She started doing research on birthing options, having decided that a C-section would not be an option.
After a visit to her midwife she was advised to try hypnobirthing. It was the first time that she heard of this birthing method, but decided to give it a go.
“I remember attending my first class and thinking how will this help me give birth naturally? Because of my bad experience with my first birth I had become very sceptical of everything,” she said.
Little did she know she was in it for the long haul. She attended the full antenatal course and used the techniques in
November last year when she successfully gave birth naturally to her son Huw within two hours of going into labour.
While Hall feels the second birth was probably just nature taking its course, or plain luck,she feels she was helped by the techniques she learnt through hypnobirthing.
Hypnobirthing is described as a childbirth method that uses self-hypnosis to help expectant mothers manage the tension caused by fear and anxiety during labour, through visualisation and relaxation.
It uses different breathing techniques to help the body reach a deep, relaxed state similar to “daydreaming”, thereby allowing the expectant mother to manage her labour pains. The techniques are also taught to birthing companions, who learn to help the mother reach deeper levels of relaxation.
Still a relatively new method in South Africa, hypnobirthing was developed in the US by Marie Morgan, a hypnotherapist who said she uses self-hypnosis on pregnant women to help their body’s muscles work the way they should during childbirth.
Today it is widely used in countries such as the US and UK, with available research suggesting that it can reduce the standard first labour from 12 hour to eight hours.
According to Kim Young, a hypnobirthing childbirth educator in Cape Town, the “horror stories” that pregnant women are told by friends, family, and other sources, including the media, about childbirth has resulted in many being scared of giving birth even though many are physically capable of giving birth comfortably.
Young, the only hypnobirthing instructor in the city and one of five in the country, said many women “failed to enjoy the experience of giving birth, (and) instead get so overwhelmed with fear”.
”The body’s response to fear is to release adrenaline. This causes the muscles to tighten, therefore diverting the oxygenated blood from the uterus, where it’s needed the most, to the major survival organs such as legs and arms to prepare them to run. This causes muscles that help with the birthing of a baby to work against each other and cause pain. The release of lactic acid due to the lack of oxygenated blood in the uterus increases the level of pain even further,” she said.
Young, who offers classes in both the northern and southern suburbs, said hypnotherapy techniques were taught while expectant mothers were fully conscious and aware in class, and then practised at home to help the mothers prepare for birth and to bond with their newborns.
Describing hypnobirthing as a philosophy of labour rather than a technique, she said although the method was not completely pain-free, it helped expectant mothers achieve easier, faster and more comfortable birth without unnecessary medical intervention such as painkillers.
“It’s about a mother and baby getting the best experience and this includes being relaxed and calm. When you are relaxed your body releases endorphins, which is the body’s natural relaxant. These endorphins, which are released at the onset of labour, help the birthing process as they act as a supplement to hormones that are specifically released to allow a woman to birth the baby easily,” said Young.
Hall believes that had she not used the hypnobirthing techniques during her second labour, she probably would have had a C-section.
“This time around I refused to be distracted by people telling me negative stories about birth. Somehow I was very involved with what was happening inside me and I wasn’t frightened of the birth. I had the attitude that I’d been there and done that, but I also accepted that it might not work. It gave me a sense of satisfaction about myself,” she said.
While the idea of hypnobirthing is largely supported by midwives, some doctors have also come out in support of it.
Dr Douglas Dumbrill, a gynaecologist at Vincent Pallotti Hospital is one of them.
Dumbrill, who works with several independent midwives, said he supported “any technique that makes labour manageable”.
“I haven’t seen many hypnobirthing clients personally as they mostly deal with the midwives I work with, but I know that many moms who engage in it are generally very happy about it. As a gynaecologist, I believe it should be a woman’s choice to choose birthing options that are suitable for them, and I think every woman in labour should have access to pain relief – be it hypnobirthing, acupuncture or water birthing.”
Dumbrill said with the shortage of staff and trained midwives in hospitals, any intervention that strived to make labour more manageable was welcome.
“Many of the mothers I deal with always feel they don’t get proper support in a hospital environment. So if using relaxing techniques makes their pain during labour more manageable, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t support that.
“Surely that goes a long way in easing the workload of midwives and other support staff.” - Cape Argus