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You’re in Labor, and Getting Sleeeeepy
Susana Raab for The New York Times
Linette Landa, right, teaching hypnobirth techniques to, from left, Byron and Jaylin Bailey and Adrienne Pratt and Armando Guato, in Bethesda, Md.
Published: April 27, 2006
My parents definitely thought I was a bit crazy when I mentioned a hypnobirth,” Adrienne Pratt said. Ms. Pratt, eight months pregnant, and her husband, Armando Guato, gathered with two other expectant couples on Easter Sunday afternoon to learn a newly popular technique for helping women remain serene during childbirth.
For many, the word “hypnosis” conjures up an image of a swinging pendant lulling a hapless woman into a trance. But hypnobirth is not about inducing a trance; it is a combination of relaxation, breathing and visualization techniques to control labor and birthing pain, said Linette Landa, the hypnobirth teacher.
Slow, smooth breathing counteracts what Ms. Landa called “the fear-tension-pain syndrome,” the notion that women fear birth, so their muscles tense up, resulting in pain.
“We’re all about the subconscious mind,” said Ms. Landa, a tall, tranquil woman who teaches yoga. “The conscious mind is out of the picture.”
Move over, Lamaze. Today, many women are reaching out to a variety of other drug-free childbirth alternatives, including aromatherapy and birthing pools, according to experts on gynecology and obstetrics.
They are inspired by Web sites like Urbanbaby.com, reality birth television shows like “House of Babies” on the Discovery Health Channel and celebrities like Angelina Jolie, whose sojourn with Brad Pitt in Namibia spurred speculation that they would have their baby using water birthing. Tom Cruise caused a stir when he said Katie Holmes would give birth in silence. (He later explained that she could make noise, but that others had to be quiet for a calm delivery of their baby, a girl, born on April 18.)
While “silent birth” raised eyebrows, even the more widely practiced hypnobirth, with more than 2,000 instructors nationwide, still draws its share of skepticism.
“When you hear ‘hypno,’ you think weird, hippy, earthy type stuff,” said Kelly Yeiser, 31, of Ashville, N.C., who had her first baby last August using the technique. “But it’s really more about meditation and getting yourself into a calm, relaxed state.”
Byron Bailey, a government worker in Washington who attended the hypnobirth class with his wife, Jaylin, said, “The idea of someone swinging a pendant — that’s the sideshow aspect.” The couple are expecting their first child in May.
The women attending the class said a big appeal of hypnobirth is that it builds confidence. Mothers-to-be complain that people are quick to share their worst childbirth stories, in excruciating detail, at the first sight of someone else’s pregnancy, feeding worries about labor and delivery.
Ms. Pratt, 36, a project specialist with the Inter-American Development Bank, in Washington, said hypnobirth helps banish such fears because it focuses on the positive.
She was practicing its deep, distinctive breathing — no Lamaze-style panting. The mother “breathes the baby down” and out instead of pushing, according to the tenets of HypnoBirthing. (The name was trademarked in 2000.) During sessions over several weeks, and daily home exercises, the mother also practices visualizing the baby easily descending and leaving her body so often that the image becomes imprinted in her mind; a CD is available for practice and for last-minute guidance. A birthing companion — husband or midwife — tries to keep the mother in a positive, totally relaxed state of mind.
HypnoBirthing mothers even use a different vocabulary. For example, a contraction is a uterine surge or wave, pushing is birth breathing, and false labor is practice labor.
Getting used to all this takes practice, admitted Jennifer Stanton-Brand, 38, who was attending the class with her husband, Stephan, a sales manager in Baltimore. They are expecting their first child next month.
Ms. Stanton-Brand has not yet developed a routine that is second nature, as the method recommends, but said the exercises “have helped me become more inward.”
“When something gets tense, I breathe and go inward to a place I can control,” she said.
Obstetricians interviewed said that expectant mothers are more focused on finding new ways to reduce, or even eliminate, labor and birth pain.
At one end of the spectrum, women are opting for Caesareans in record numbers. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the combined percentage of women who had C-sections or used drugs to induce labor was about half of the 4.1 million childbirths in 2004.
Of the remaining women, many fear that drugs will hurt their newborns and want a way to avoid them as well as to control the pain.
Contact Linda Alexander www.hypnotherapy-glasgow.net
Tel: 0141 632 1440 or 07875 493 358 also firstname.lastname@example.org