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Easing pregnancy anxiety with hypnobirthing

Hypnobirthing practitioner, Shona Baxter, on how hypnobirthing can help expectant mums.

By Helen Bowman

Being pregnant brings a rollercoaster of emotions even in the best of times. But as the government highlighted pregnant women as being one of the vulnerable groups during the Coronavirus crisis, levels of worry can step up even more. The High Life North team has spoken to Shona Baxter, hypnobirthing practitioner and passionate warrior mamas advocate, to find out how hypnobirthing can help expectant mums get through the current situation.

Tell us more about you your business, Empowered Hypnobirthing

I’m Shona and I’m a mum of two gorgeous girls. I’m an avid researcher and must admit, I love being in control. When I fell pregnant with my first daughter, I found the whole antenatal process confusing and downright scary. I did my own research and found out there was so much more I wanted to learn.

My husband and I took an intensive hypnobirthing course over one weekend because I’d read that it helped women stay strong, confident and in control of their birthing process – perfect for me.

I set up Empowered Hypnobirthing two years ago to share my amazing experiences with hypnobirthing with other expectant mamas in the North East and deliver my courses in Northumberland, Newcastle, Tyne and Wear and the surrounding areas – at least I do when we’re all allowed out. During lockdown, I’m consulting with my clients over Zoom and telephone consultations.

It’s good that you’re still in touch with your ladies. Can you tell us a little bit more about hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is not nearly as airy-fairy as it sounds. It’s not just about relaxation and breathing, although both are part of the techniques I teach. It’s more about understanding the choices that each Mum has. It’s about feeling in control and doing what your body is telling you to do.

Lack of control during the birthing process has a profound knock-on effect and can lead women to feel panicky, stressed and frightened. That’s not what you need when you’re about to go through giving birth, so I teach my mums what to expect at every stage of the process. We work through the physiology of birth – how the uterus works, what happens to our bodies – and we explore the birth environment too. It’s important to feel safe and comfortable so that the good birth hormones have the chance to come to the forefront and make life easier. Those good hormones are shy – they won’t come out if they feel observed, if the room is brightly lit – so we run through choices that mums have in that area too.

Most of all, hypnobirthing is about changing our view of the birthing process. We’ve all heard horror stories from friends and family. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be a positive, enjoyable process – I know it was with both of my daughters and I was induced for both births.

My mission is to flip our view of the birthing process on its head. I want people to talk about their birth stories in a positive light, read about other women’s positive stories. We’re all designed to give birth comfortably, otherwise, humans would die out. We wouldn’t give birth if we weren’t meant to.

Yes, we cover breathing and relaxation techniques, but hypnobirthing is more about control and understanding. It’s a talking therapy around birth and I provide my Mums with a toolkit for birth – breathing techniques and physical tools to help them through.

We talk about the facts and figures, the possibilities of assisted deliveries and the pain relief options available. But we do so in a positive way to encourage feelings of control and choice. My processes are very realistic because I want my mums to be fully prepared for giving birth and welcoming their bundles into the world.

So how can hypnobirthing be used to help women during the Coronavirus crisis?

There are several hypnobirthing techniques that can help expectant mums if they’re feeling anxious and stressed because of what’s happening now.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, remember to stay calm. By nature, we tend to think about worst-case scenarios. We panic, stress and work ourselves into a cycle of worry that we can’t get out of. My view is that worrying is only useful if it helps to find a solution.

We’re still unsure about how vulnerable pregnant women are to the virus and the recommendation of self-isolation is very much a precaution, as for most of the rest of the population.

If we allow ourselves to panic, adrenaline builds up in our bodies and we become tense. We become constantly stressed.

As a pregnant woman, if you feel yourself becoming stressed, take some deep breaths to the count of four and then slowly exhale for the count of seven. Make sure you empty your lungs of as much of the oxygen they held as possible. This process triggers the calming reflexes in the body and helps alleviate stress.

Set a time on your phone and repeat this process for two minutes to allow your heart rate to return to normal. Once you get used to doing this exercise it almost becomes second nature. It’s particularly good during labour, if you find yourself having a wobble.

Secondly, I highly recommend relaxation techniques. Switching off and relaxing really does take practice, because it isn’t something we get chance to do a lot these days. But it’s best to try and switch off your mind to the daily distractions we all have.

Find a quiet, comfortable space, put on a peaceful, calming track, spray some nice room spray and settle in. Close your eyes and practise the breathing technique I mentioned earlier. Work your way down your body, from your head to your toes, releasing the tension you may be holding in your muscles.

When you practise techniques like this, the music and the scents you use become triggers for your brain to take you back to that chilled state, so don’t forget to pack the same music and room spray in your birth bag too.

If you struggle to relax on your own, I do have a guided meditation track written specifically for this uncertain time, if any mums would like to contact me for a free copy.

Thank you. Are there any other resources you’d recommend to expectant mums?

Yes, absolutely. The birth workers of the North East (Hypnobirthing, doulas, midwives, breastfeeding support etc.) have created a brilliant Facebook group for mums who need extra support during this time. It can be found at Antenatal and Postnatal Education and Support North East. It’s a great resource.

I have also been enjoying the information and advice from a website called Evidence Based Birth, which provides very impartial facts and figures. They have been looking at all things pregnancy and birth surrounding Covid-19.

Brilliant. How can expectant Mums reach you if they need your help?

Either through my website at www.empoweredhypnobirthing.co.uk or on Facebook and Instagram.

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