Ask many expectant mums how they envisage giving birth, and the answer will most likely take in a hospital stay, a lot of painful pushing and no little stressfulness.
But practitioners like Clare Moore believe an agonising labour isn’t necessary - and that giving birth can actually be a ‘positive experience’ for mum, dad and baby just by learning simple techniques.
Clare, from Wath-upon-Dearne, teaches HypnoBirthing, a process recently the subject of much discussion following press rumours that the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was learning the techniques in preparation for the Royal baby’s arrival.
However, the notion that hypnobirthing involves mothers being lulled into a strange trance as contractions take hold is a misconception, said Clare.
Instead, the programme teaches mums-to-be how to relax, control their breathing and arm themselves with ‘the knowledge and tools to allow their bodies to get on with the job at hand’.
“When fear does not play a part, the body has all the resources it needs to give you a much more positive experience, rather than an ordeal to be got through to get the wonderful prize at the end, the baby,” Clare said.
“Hypnosis is very different to its portrayal in stage-show hypnotism - it’s the same as being absorbed in a good book or daydreaming, a relaxed, tranquil state.”
She said pain during birth is a product of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, inherited from our ancient ancestors.
“It’s a primitive physiological response when we’re not confident about something, so when labour starts, we’re naturally on edge.
“The mind’s message to the central nervous system that it isn’t safe causes the production of stress hormones, reducing blood supply to the uterine muscles resulting in a build-up of lactic acid during contactions or ‘surges’.
“That’s what causes the out-of-control pain.”
Clare continued: “When the body is very relaxed, endorphins are released, which are the secret weapon for all birthing mammals, including women.
“Blood circulation is then at its optimum and the muscles are working unhindered to open the cervix with every contraction or ‘surge’. There’s a feeling of significant pressure, but not awful pain.”
Clare’s course is suitable for both home and hospital births, depending on where parents feel most comfortable, and consists of five classes of two-and-a-half hours each, usually taught weekly.
The sessions cover the physiology and practical aspects of birth and parenting, as well as the vital hypnobirthing breathing techniques. There are different styles of breathing used during contactions, labour and delivery itself.
“It’s like a toolkit for whatever stage they are at. Mums have just enough to master, so it becomes as natural as swallowing and breathing. The key is practice.”
Clare said birth partners play an important hands-on role, too, as support and ‘advocate’ for the birthing mother.
“Straight after birth, the skin-on-skin contact with their mum and dad is a very natural, gentle process, rather than the baby being rubbed down with a towel and weighed straight away.”
Former HR manager Clare, aged 39, has two sons, Jacob, six, and Zachary, three, with husband Carl, also 39, who works as an accounts director for a logistics firm.
“I felt as though I had really gone through the wringer having Jacob in hospital, and I stumbled across hypnobirthing by chance when I was pregnant with Zachary.
“I decided to do the programme with my husband, and we had such a good experience with it I decided to put my skills to use and become a practitioner. It’s so fulfilling.”
Clare said she has even noticed subtle differences in her two sons’ personalities.
“Jacob is far more prone to getting stressed and Zachary is a lot more laid-back. I’m absolutely sure that’s not an accident. I do put it down to the gentle start that HypnoBirthing provided.”
But she added that the programme ‘does not set women up to fail’.
“We cover special circumstances, and the fact that no-one can predict the perfect birth. Sometimes things happen that are beyond their control, in 10 per cent of all births there’s a need for medical intervention. I’ve had quite a few enquiries as a result of Kate Middleton being linked to hypnobirthing. As part of her preparation for a positive birth experience, it would make complete sense for her to have done it. ”
Clare runs sessions across South Yorkshire. Visit her website - www.birthfreedom.co.uk - for more information.