Hypnotherapy, hormones and childbirth: how does it all work?

Or: how hypnobirthing can help you reconnect with the perfect system your body is.




The words “hormone” and “hypnotherapy” are not often put together in the same sentence. So when you add “pregnancy” or “labour” to the mix you can be sure to raise a few eyebrows! However it makes for a nice summary of hypnobirthing.


Nowadays, in western countries, the rates of obstetric intervention have increased tremendously. In fact, very few mothers and babies experience labour and birth without drugs and procedures to assist or hasten the process. Which begs the question: has evolution got it so wrong that modern women have lost the ability to give birth?


The truth is that a woman’s body is perfectly orchestrated to give birth under the safe and efficient guidance of highly experienced conductors: hormones.


The superhero of labour is a hormone called oxytocin. When a mother is in a place of calm (also called the parasympathetic system), oxytocin is produced steadily. Oxytocin enhances the work of the muscles of the uterus so that each surge (hypnobirthing word for the harsher word “contraction”) is more efficient. In that place of calm, beta-endorphins are also released. Beta-endorphins are basically the body’s natural pain relievers. They are in fact opiates, with properties similar to morphine and fentanyl! This means that when mothers are in the calm system, their surges are more efficient and the work more comfortable!


Remaining in that calm system is thus paramount, and to do that the limbic system needs to take precedence over the neocortex. Where the neocortex is newer and more rational, the limbic system is more primitive and emotional. It is in that system that the adequate cocktail of hormones for pregnancy is produced.


This shift in consciousness is the focus of hypnobirthing as it can be aided by hypnotherapy in several different ways:


  • By listening to relaxation scripts and practicing specific breathing exercises, mothers can learn to switch off the noise of the rational brain and focus internally on their body and their baby. That almost trance-like state is the definition of being in the emotional primitive brain where the hormonal cocktail is released.

  • As discussed in a previous post here, hypnotherapy is used to embed therapeutic suggestions in the subconscious mind to change your mindset about specific situations. In the case of labour, the pre-embedded therapeutic suggestions focus on creating a relaxed and confident mindset around labour. That shift in perspective makes it easy for mothers to switch off the worries of the rational mind when the time comes.

  • By providing an understanding of circumstances that increase alertness: bright lighting, conversation, and expectations of rationality (e.g.: having a long conversation about whether or not to choose a given intervention). Any of those situations require the involvement of the mother’s rational mind, ultimately inhibiting the release of birthing hormones.




References

  • Buckley, SJ (2009) Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. Celestial Arts Buckley

  • Graves, K (2017) The Hypnobirthing Book: An Inspirational Guide for a Calm, Confident, Natural Birth. Katharine Publishing.

  • Uvnas-Moberg, K (2011) The Oxytocin Factor : Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing. 2nd edition. Pinter & Martin Ltd.