Maggie Howell is the founder of Natal Hypnotherapy which she has used to successfully birth 5 sons, at home, quietly and peacefully. Based upon hypnosis scripts she wrote herself, Natal Hypnotherapy has helped over 100,000 women equip themselves with self hypnosis tools that will enable them to have a relaxed, calm and positive birth experience.
Natal Hypnotherapy is a safe, effective and simple programme for women to use during their pregnancy and birth to help them overcome fear, be more relaxed and so have a better pregnancy and birth. Women listen to self hypnosis CDs at home which teach them deep relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques coupled with positive suggestions to help them work with their body. They can also choose to attend more in depth workshops with their partner.
When I was pregnant with my first son in 2000, I was keen to help myself have as positive a birth as possible. My husband was an NLP practitioner (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and had studied how hypnotherapy could be used to help with pain management. Back then there were no hypnosis for birth programmes in the UK and so I attended a general two day self hypnosis course (I was the only pregnant person on the course) at Regents College. I learnt basic techniques to put myself in to a deep state of relaxation and then to give myself lots of positive suggestions about the thing I wanted to achieve / change.
I then went away and wrote my own script for a calm, relaxed birth. At the time almost everyone thought I was nuts as the term hypnosis was even more misunderstood then than it is now. Anyway, I went on to have a very long (so normal and OK for first time births) but very calm, quiet and peaceful birth. My midwife was the one who put me on this path as she said that in her eleven years experience she had not seen a first time mum handle a birth so calmly. Now, I am no “earth mother” type or a naturally calm person, so the only thing I could attribute this to was the hypnotherapy.
After six months of telling others about my birth and realising how unusual it had been compared to others, I decided to retrain to become a clinical hypnotherapist to understand what it was that I had done and with a view to helping others achieve the same. The training lasted almost eighteen months, after which I did my doula training, attended lots of birth related study days and masses of reading and then in 2003 I produced my first CD and the rest, as they say, is history.
In some ways it is difficult to say exactly as I have not attended or listened to any other approaches. However from others feedback and talking to birth professionals who have worked with women using both HypnoBirthing (the main other approach) and Natal Hypnotherapy the main differences seem to be:-
- The Natal Hypnotherapy approach is very UK based. The language, voice and philosophy is British and based on helping women give birth in the UK maternity system. I have developed, changed and adapted the scripts and content of the workshops as my knowledge and involvement with the NHS has increased. I have not seen the need to change or avoid words for example HypnoBirthing use words such as “surge” instead of “contraction”.
- The Natal Hypnotherapy approach is first and foremost a “home study” approach. I wanted to make this as accessible to women as possible so made the CDs and the book the core of the technique, after, all I did not go on a workshop for my first baby – I just read lots and listened to my own CD. Therefore, all women doing Natal Hypnotherapy will use the CDs as the core of their practice and techniques. They may then also do the workshops to learn more in depth techniques and learn more about the physical, emotional and mental preparation for birth, however they will still use the CDs after the workshop.
- Workshops – As I learnt more about the maternity system and the needs of couples, I developed the workshops in 2005 as a way to extend the knowledge and techniques that women get from the CDs. The format and content of the workshops have, and still are developing organically. This has been in response to feedback from couples, plus from what I have learnt from our practitioners and the midwives I work with. This again differs from other approaches which have a more static syllabus / format.
- The main philosophy behind Natal Hypnotherapy is that the techniques learnt are a tool – not a magic wand to take away the pain or guarantee a natural birth – but a tool to help women feel more in control, more empowered and more trusting in their body to birth their babies. There still seems to be an underlying message from other approaches, that if done “properly”, the use of hypnosis will lead to a pain free experience. I hear this so often from midwives I train and from couples who have done other approaches and then come to us second time around. I agree that for some women, they experience the sensations of labour as pressure and not pain, however, I do not feel it is right or fair to lead women to expect this.
- Women practicing Natal Hypnotherapy have all the skills and techniques within themselves and so they do not need to rely on anyone else to help take them into hypnosis during labour. Women do not need to have any scripts read to them during labour as all the techniques are in place before she goes into labour. It is wonderful and helpful for her birth partner to understand what is going on and to give him tools and techniques to help keep her calm, but the hypnosis element is completely “self hypnosis”. I believe this is a different approach to others.
I believe that the mind and body are one – not two entities. All our fears, emotions and memories are stored within our body. If you stop for a moment and think of a sad or frightening event in your life…then place your hand where you felt it, there is a good chance it is on your body and not in your mind.
Natal Hypnotherapy uses the natural state of hypnosis, deep relaxation and the power of suggestion to prepare you both mentally as well as physically for pregnancy and birth. Learning hypnosis and all the associated techniques enable a women to overcome her fears (which are in her mind as well as her body), feel and be more confident (again these present themselves in your body as well as your thoughts) and of course learn to physically relax her body and calm her mind. Using and applying hypnosis techniques can therefore greatly reduce, if not eliminate the fear, anxiety and subsequent tension which leads to severe pain and often unnecessary intervention during the birthing process.
When you practice hypnosis, you are communicating directly with the subconscious part of your mind. This is the part of your mind that is responsible for all your bodily functions including your heart rate, hormone production and elimination system, as well as the part which stores your emotions, fears and anxieties.
The subconscious mind does not know the difference between reality and imagination (ever had déjà vu or a dream that felt as if it was real?). Therefore through hypnosis (similar to guided visualisation) you have the opportunity to “experience” a calm natural birth over and over again in your mind. In this way, once the actual birth begins, your body is familiar and comfortable with the rehearsed responses and so reacts accordingly. During the birth you remain relaxed, involved and in control, being conversant and alert of the experience. You will be aware of your body’s contractions and will flow through the sensations using deep relaxation, breathing and your natural ability to tap into your body’s own pain killers (endorphins). Being able to enjoy the experience in a calm and relaxed way leaves no room for tension and fear which are the main causes of pain.
The Natal Hypnotherapy Birth Preparation CD guides mothers into a deeply relaxed state using breathing techniques, guided imagery and visualisation. Once she is in a deeply relaxing day dream like state, the CD continues with a detailed visualisation of giving birth from a physiological perspective. It is like she is going through a dress rehearsal of giving birth in a calm, natural way. This way she is practicing how she would like to feel and respond to the sensations and changes during labour. The CD also includes “triggers” such as “each new face you meet reminds you of the confidence you have in your body… each contraction encourages you to relax… the sights and sounds of the hospital float over you and allow you to remain wonderfully relaxed”. This way you are using the things which may otherwise have caused you some anxiety and turning them into something positive and useful.
By listening to the CD over and over again before labour your body and mind become more and more familiar with the processes of a calm relaxed birth, so increasing your confidence and reducing a lot of the anxiety associated with birth. As the mind does not know the difference between imagination and reality, once you go into the labour for real, all the suggestions just kick in as the body recognises the sensations and triggers and says “Oh yes, we have done this before – this is a sign for me to relax, stay calm etc..”.
So by listening to the Natal Hypnotherapy CDs, a woman is effectively training her mind and body to overcome fear, be more confident and stay calm and relaxed so keeping levels of anxiety and adrenaline to an absolute minimum. Be keeping relaxed, focused and breathing steadily and rhythmically, your body will have the best chance of producing the right birthing hormones to enable you to birth your baby calmly and positively.
In our current culture and maternity system, fear is without doubt the overriding emotion that the majority of women have when thinking about birth. And yet nearly all the books, internet sites and antenatal courses do not address this factor. Most are focused on the practical, intellectual and physical elements associated with labour rather than helping women trust their bodies and feel confident that they can work with their body to birth their baby. If a women has not prepared in this was she is most likely to go into labour with fear and anxiety as the predominant emotion which we know makes birth more painful, often more difficult and another statistic to fuel the fear of birth.
Natal Hypnotherapy is an antidote to the “one born every minute” culture – Over 100,000 women have used the techniques with 97% of women and 2300+ birth professionals recommending it.
Yes – I have five sons – all born at home using Natal Hypnotherapy
The transition to motherhood was such an amazing journey that in hindsight I can not think of anything that was “hard” about the transition. I had done so much in my life before babies, I was in a wonderful loving relationship and I felt so completely prepared, ready and excited about motherhood. I chose to follow an attachment parenting style so my babies came with me wherever I went and so my life did not feel curtailed in any way.
Now that I have five young sons, with all the different demands and needs that they have, my role as a mother does have elements that I would consider “hard”. Having enough time for each child is the biggest challenge – I chose to have lots of children but they only have one mummy and I have to be enough of a mummy to each individual child – that is my hardest challenge.
My best friend had a son when we were eighteen. She was my best teacher as I had been through her journey with her. She always said she just did what felt right! She took him everywhere – went traveling to south America, lived with nomads, joined a band…. he was always with her. And he grew up to be such a sorted, considerate, loving young man.
Another friend who also followed an attachment style of parenting echoed this when my first son was born by always saying, “what does your instinct tell you?”
Take time to relax and enjoy your pregnancy. Avoid the horror stories and watching discovery health or One Born Every Minute. Fill as much of your time and mind with positive, uplifting, enjoyable thoughts and activities.
As above – always stop and think – what feels right? Also I always say “what would Mr and Mrs Stone Age have done?” Our baby’s needs have not changed in thousands of years. Yes we live in beautiful homes and have all the mod cons but our babies still need the same things – cuddles, security, warmth, milk, your voice and heartbeat etc. Babies were not born with clocks or time tables – they only feel and live in the absolute moment , they do not cry to annoy or frustrate you – listen to them and respond.
The amazing love that you feel and receive from your children.
Absolutely. The mainstream approach has gone so far from the real and overriding needs of women. Sadly we no longer live in communities where pregnant women receive huge amounts of nurturing and caring during their pregnancy. The antenatal “care” women receive is so heavily based on all the “what ifs” and risks with women almost needing to prove that they are low risk. To coin a phrase from Michel Odent, the system is more focused on antenatal scare than antenatal care.
However there are pockets of change. More and more NHS trusts are looking for more “caring” approaches to antenatal education for example Natal Hypnotherapy workshops are now being run in NHS trusts. At one hospital I was in the other day they were running “singing for pregnant women” evenings! How wonderful is that!
So much of what I have already said answers this question. The unhindered rise of fear from both women and the medical profession has led to intervention being used in cases where time, love, releasing fear and confidence would have helped a woman birth her baby naturally.
No, I do not think so. We are essentially mammals and mother nature has a very powerful way of dealing with threats to her system. There is a growing swell of people (all of whom are on this site) plus thousands others who are working tirelessly to change the system. Together we will reclaim birth back from the medical monolith.
Yes – for many women this is the case – but more and more women are finding other ways to approach birth. Just today I had a call from someone who was petrified of birth and was hugely sceptical of hypnosis. She used the Natal Hypnotherapy CDs as a “last resort” and went on to have an amazing, empowering birth. So with more websites like this, more word of mouth, more birth professionals seeing the difference it can make, women will have increased awareness that they can help themselves have a better birth experience.
Every midwife who dedicates herself to helping women birth their babies. Yes there are the greats out there from who I have learnt so much – Ina May Gaskin, Shelia Kitzinger and Michel Odent (thank you!), but on a day to day basis, it is those midwives who work tirelessly to help women within a system which can often make it so difficult.
Every birth is unique – every woman’s body has everything she needs to birth her baby. No matter how many births I see or stories I read or hear, it is amazing that I still love everyone – even after twelve years!
There are so many wonderful women and men working to reclaim natural birth. I feel honoured to be a part of this group and know that woman by woman we are all making a difference.