HypnoBirthing® (the Mongan method) is a unique, practical birth preparation technique that has been growing in popularity across the globe since its inception in 1989. The fundamental drive and philosophy of its many enthusiastic practitioners is that the manner in which babies are born deeply influences their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
The aim of HypnoBirthing is to work with the mind and body to enable mothers to birth their babies in a calm, peaceful and joyful manner, which results in calm, contented babies and closely bonded families.
What if all our babies are born feeling safe and self-confident, trusting and loved?
Unborn Babies Are Aware and They Do Remember Birth
A famous Jesuit quote says: ‘Give me the boy until age seven and I will show you the man’. This accurately reflects the ‘imprint’ period of development when the baby/child absorbs information like a sponge, without censorship or question.
Through the relatively new study of foetology, or prenatal psychology, excellently documented by Dr Thomas Verny in his book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, we have understood at least since the 1970’s that this imprint period starts almost from the moment of conception.
Unborn babies are aware, are capable of learning and will strive to make sense of what they are feeling and experiencing.
Verny’s interest was aroused as he noticed a pregnant friend sing a lullaby in the evenings. After the birth of her son the lullaby had a magical effect; no matter how hard he was crying that song quietened him immediately. Long before they are born, babies are thinking, feeling and even acting. They can learn and remember. The renowned conductor, Boris Brott, found that he knew a piece of music sight unseen. He was surprised to discover that it was a piece his mother, a professional cellist, had practised many times during her pregnancy. He had learnt it before he was born.
What happens during a baby’s time in the womb shapes his personality, drives and ambitions in many important ways.
How the mother thinks and feels is a major influence in how the unborn baby thinks and feels. After following 2,000 women through pregnancy and birth, Dr Monika Lukesch, a psychologist at Constantine University, Frankfurt, concluded that the mother’s attitude had the single greatest effect on how the infant turned out. The children of the mothers with the most positive attitude were much healthier, emotionally and physically at birth and afterward.
A recent review of 14 independent studies confirms a link between antenatal maternal anxiety/stress and cognitive, behavioural, and emotional problems in the child. A physician and hypnotherapist, Dr Paul Bick, treated a man complaining of severe anxiety attacks and hot flushes. During hypnosis, the client became agitated and panicked when he revisited the seventh month of his time in the womb. His mother subsequently confessed she had tried to abort him in the seventh month of her pregnancy by taking hot baths.
Findings show that babies react to external stimuli, and they are aware of the people who are their parents. A loving, calming external environment reinforces baby’s positive feelings of security.
What the unborn feels and perceives begins shaping his attitudes and expectations about himself. Whether he sees himself as happy or sad, aggressive or meek, secure or anxiety-ridden, depends on the messages he gets about himself in the womb and during birth.
Babies are aware and they do remember birth. How he is born – whether it is painful or easy, smooth or violent – largely determines who he becomes, and how he will view the world around him. Dr David Chamberlain in his book The Mind of the Newborn, states that the imprint of the birth experience is carried throughout our lives.
Unconscious birth experiences can be expressed in dreams. For several years a six year-old boy had fallen asleep thrashing and cursing beyond his years, yelling and screaming, talking of an odd light and speaking a foreign language. When his mother happened to think about the circumstances of his birth she realized his nightmares grew out of his birth memory: he was born prematurely and almost died. His swear words were those of the challenged doctors, and the foreign language the Latin of the priest that read the last rites. According to Verny’s research, how a mother delivers is enormously influenced by the way she feels at the moment of birth.
If she is relaxed, confident and looking forward to the birth of her child, chances are very good that her delivery will be simple and trouble free. If she is racked with doubts and worries, or is in conflict about the prospect of becoming a mother, the risk of complication rises accordingly.
This new understanding empowers medical professionals, parents and babies, by indicating ways to actively affect baby’s mental and emotional development for the good. This new knowledge points to the need for loving pre-birth parenting and gentle birthing methods.
What’s Wrong With Birth?
Is there scope for improvement in the manner in which we birth our babies today? What are first-time parents’ expectations? What is a typical birth experience?
Many birth preparation classes and approaches have been developed, particularly to meet the increasing demand for ‘natural’ birth. In spite of this, many women in civilized and educated societies – including Europe, the United States and Australia – approach birth with the expectation of a painful ordeal and proceed to birth their babies in fear and pain. Latest statistics for the UK indicate that only 46% of all births are ‘normal‘, that is without alteration by technological interventions. The rate of medical intervention is high, where 30% have an epidural, 21% are induced; 11% involve the use of instruments and 25.3% of births are by C-section. Over 80% of all women used some kind of chemical pain relief.
A review of the trends shows that since the 1990’s the number of normal births has been declining, and medical interventions increasing. According to the Birth Trauma Association, it is estimated that, in the UK alone, approximately one-third of women have some traumatic response to birth. In one to two per cent of new mothers (or around 11,000 women a year), the distress is so severe that it manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder.
These statistics do not directly indicate how calm and gentle the births are, how confident and trusting the mothers are, or how satisfied they are with their birth. But it is clear that many birth experiences could be much more supportive of mother and baby’s emotional wellbeing. Indeed, in a survey of 3,000 mothers and pregnant women across Britain (The Birth and Motherhood Survey 2005 commissioned by http://www.motherandbaby.com) the summary statement was: “Birth in Britain today is a terrifying, high-tech experience which leaves women in a state of shock.”
Certainly cultural expectation and anecdotal evidence indicate that birth is seen as a painful ordeal, and evidential stories that support that belief are passed from mother to daughter. The core belief is that ‘birth is supposed to hurt’.
Is Birth Supposed To Hurt?
It was the belief that ‘labour is painful by design’ that led the medical profession to work hard to find suitable and safe pain relief to rescue birthing women from their pain. In spite of this, women are still suffering in childbirth.
What if labour isn’t supposed to hurt? Renowned obstetrician William Sears states in The Birth Book that pain is not intrinsic to normal labour, but sensation is. If a sensation (e.g. pressure in the perineum) is perceived as dangerous, this triggers a stress response that magnifies the feeling to pain. If the sensation is perceived as normal, the sensation is perceived as merely discomfort. He further contends that with proper birth education, a C-Section can be avoided most of the time, and should occur in less than ten percent of cases.
Ask any midwife and she will recognize that in her practice at least 20% of mothers give birth easily, and comfortably, with no need for pain relief or intervention. In less developed countries this kind of natural birth is the norm rather than the exception. And interestingly, the same is being achieved today in the self-contained commune, The Farm, Tennessee, USA, which for over 25 years has been inspiring women to reduce the fear of childbirth by regaining confidence in their bodies, and empowering women to fulfil their desire for natural unmedicalized childbirth in a safe home setting. Founder commune member and midwife pioneer Ina May Gaskin documented the commune’s birthing experiences in her classic book on homebirth Spiritual Midwifery. The outcomes for 2,028 pregnancies 1970 – 2000 were: home births 95.1%, C-Sections an extremely low 1.4%, use of instruments 0.55%, and a minimal incidence of anaesthesia.
Gaskin’s philosophy is that birth is a beautiful natural spiritual event, and that given the right environment, women can take back their power to give birth without excessive and unnecessary medical intervention.
Dichotomous birth experiences such as these intrigued a Norfolk obstetrician, Grantly Dick-Read, who was practising in the early 20th century. He was a great observer and noticed that women who expected painful labours were very anxious and fearful, and endured the agony of a painful birth. On the other hand, women who had a trusting approach were relaxed and birthed easily and in comfort, even declining pain relief. As a doctor, he studied the effect of fear on labour, and witnessed in C Section the white, bloodless uterus of fear that persisted inspire of anaesthesia. He went on to study and describe in detail how the fear response of the Autonomic Nervous System impacts on the uterus during birth. When a woman births in fear, she becomes tense and the oxygen-deprived uterine muscles work in opposition to create pain. He called this the fear-tension-pain cycle.
When she(mother) is relaxed, there is no uterine pain, only pressure or tightening, and labour progresses so smoothly that mothers can experience joy and elation as they welcome their babies into the world.
Based on his studies, Dick-Read devised a Birth Preparation Programme for his mothers, which began at the start of their ante-natal care. He educated them so that they understood that pain is not a natural part of labour and trusted their bodies to birth in comfort. He trained them in the art of relaxation, and created an atmosphere of calm, confidence and reassurance as he attended their births. Using this approach he claimed that over 95% of uncomplicated births occurred naturally and without pain relief, and more than that, he received many letters of thanks for a positive, uplifting birth experience.
Dick-Read was delighted to have proved his theory, and also discovered a method of returning birth to the beautiful, peaceful experience that nature intended. As he published his findings in the 1940s he envisioned all birth preparation classes following his model within ten years. He continued to campaign throughout his lifetime, whilst recognizing the challenges ahead in this prophetic quote:
‘Pioneers pass on unheard and unlamented until the trail they blazed is followed by a few who believed. At the end they are discovered where their life’s work finished, mourned only by the wild flowers of the wilderness they loved.’ Grantly Dick-Read
His theory was that ‘the fear of childbirth‘ caused the pain that had come to be dreaded during labour. He successfully demonstrated that when you remove the fear and replace the tension with relaxation, pain is not a natural part of labour. The historical basis for the fear is understandable prior to the comparatively recent medical advances in obstetrics since the 19th century, which drastically improved safety in the exceptional incidence of complication. Today, however, the fear is primarily focused on the expectation of a painful ordeal. The fear of pain creates tension, and that tension creates the pain. We have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cultural beliefs, however, become firmly entrenched, and resistant to change. Another seven decades have passed by and the belief that labour is supposed to hurt has been ever more firmly reinforced, not least by our sophisticated methods of communication. Just think of the negative way birth is portrayed in any movie or TV show, whether comedic or serious. In fact, with the hypnotic effects of watching movie and TV, creating enhanced suggestibility, we are effectively hypnotized to accept that negative message many times throughout our lives.
The Unique Role of HypnoBirthing
To return birth to the natural, joyful family event that it was meant to be, and thereby provide an emotionally healthy start to a new way of being for our babies and their parents, we need to break the fear – tension – pain cycle identified by Dick-Read. HypnoBirthing is again proving that we can break that cycle – by changing the self-sabotaging, negative core belief to a positive one that supports trust that the body is built to give birth easily, and by releasing the fear that creates pain and replacing it with relaxation.
HypnoBirthing achieves belief change, and fear release easily and rapidly through the use of self-hypnosis, relaxation and visualization.
The received wisdom that has perpetuated the belief that labour is inherently painful has been a very successful form of mass hypnosis, reinforcing its negative suggestion in many different ways through many generations. Gradually, HypnoBirthing is installing a new belief in the birthing world, or rather re-installing an ancient truth:
… the body is designed for birth and it is nature’s design that normal function is painless.
It is dysfunction that is signalled by pain. Self-hypnosis is the perfect tool to replace that deeply held, erroneous belief with the truth. Self-hypnosis is used to achieve a profound state of physical relaxation and a focused state of mind, which is a learning state. Through birth education, affirmations and visualisation of the desired goal, a new view of birthing is accepted by the mind.
The positive benefits achieved through HypnoBirthing, even within a birthing environment that does not always share the philosophy, are significant. The small percentage of mothers requiring pain medication, and the minimal dosage used in these cases, is particularly indicative of a different birth experience for both mother and baby. Most studies do not focus on birth satisfaction, whereas this is a primary goal of HypnoBirthing and most report being satisfied or very satisfied.
Comment from a HypnoBirthing Mum:
“This was our second child and we have now used HypnoBirthing with great success for both births. The breathing and relaxation enabled me to get through early labour and stage one of labour (eight hours of it for our first birth; two hours for our second) calmly and without the need for any pain relief….The midwife was delighted and took away our HypnoBirthing book to read. We left hospital within hours with a beautiful, content baby girl. I think the HypnoBirthing philosophy is great – especially that birth is normal and natural. And the techniques really work.”
The remarkable growth of HypnoBirthing is turning the tide, ‘Taking the Birthing World by Calm’. An example is being set by parents seeking a better way of birthing. Their positive birth experiences and their better natured babies are creating new memories and beliefs which, like a pebble dropped into a pond, are beginning to have their own ripple effect, freeing women to enjoy the magnificence of woman’s most glorious achievement, the Miracle of Birth, and giving their babies the gift of deep positive patterns at the beginning of life.
Chamberlain D. The Mind of Your Newborn Baby. Berkeley. Calif. North Atlantic Books. 1998.
Dick-Read G MD. Childbirth Without Fear. Printer&Martin Ltd. London. 2004;
Mongan M M Ed M.Hy HypnoBirthing. The breakthrough approach to safer, easier, comfortable birthing. Souvenir Press Ltd. 2007;
Lukesch M. Maternal Attitudes. ‘Psychologie Faktoren der Schwngerschaft.’ Dissertation. University of Salzburg. 1975;
Sears W MD and Sears M RN. The Birth Book. Boston. Mass. Little Brown.1994;
Van den Bergh BR, Mulder EJ, Mennes M and Glover V. Ante-natal maternal anxiety and stress and the neurobehavioural development of the foetus and child: links and possible mechanisms. A review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 29(2):237-58. Review. PMID: 15811496 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Apr 2005;
Verny T MD. The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. New York. Dell Publishing. 1981.
Photos: yogabirthandbeyond.com, mindfulmum.co.uk, everydayfamily.com