Hypnobirthing & Psychotherapy: Why You Need Both

By 
Dr. Meghan Downey

Combining Hypnobirthing & Psychotherapy

As a clinical psychologist, I love working with new mothers and moms-to-be, because it’s one of the most unique experiences women will ever go through.  Pregnancy is both beautiful and really hard at the same time.  That’s a difficult dialectic to hold.  Pregnant women become vessels for new life.  Truly, one becomes two.  Women’s bodies have the capacity to create new life.  Their bodies make an entirely new organ (how cool is that?). 

Women navigate extraordinary body changes, the birthing process, and motherhood.  There is so much change in such a short period of time: birthing a new baby and a new identity all in a new body. As a way to navigate all of these changes, hypnobirthing is an extremely powerful philosophy and technique that can aid mothers in combating stress and fear related to the birth process. 

However, often the fear of birth is in many ways representative of the life changes that will occur thereafter. Addressing the mental health aspects at the same time as teaching these techniques offer mothers a holistic approach to managing and celebrating this new life transition.

What is Hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is both a philosophy and a technique developed to support the birthing parent and their support person through the child birthing experience. The HypnoBirthing Institute describes it as a “rewarding, relaxing, stress-free method of birthing that is based on the belief that all babies should come into the world gently, in an atmosphere of calm and joy.” 

Per the Hypnobirthing Institute, hypnobirthing is intended to prepare the birth mother and her partner physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, with the intention of reducing stress, anxiety, and pain while also increasing comfort and relaxation. It encourages women to trust their “innate wisdom” of their birthing body and their baby. Many at the institute describe it as the “safe, beautiful, peaceful experience that Nature intended.”

Fear of childbirth is very common and is particularly prevalent amongst first time mothers.  The collective experience of women has included hearing negative stories of labor.  We know that throughout history many women have died during childbirth.  The very definition of labor is “hard physical work.”

Many women have become conditioned to anticipate their birthing experience to be associated with extreme pain, which contributes to the fear of childbirth. This fear, coupled with the desire to have a less scary and more relaxed labor has led many women to seek out hypnobirthing. 

Though that’s not the only reason: women have also increased their interest in hypnobirthing after hearing other negative birthing stories, having had previously challenging labors, and/or distrust in hospitals and medical providers.

Why Hypnobirthing is Important for Mothers

Birth hypnosis has many advantages.  According to the HypnoBirthing Institute, hypnobirthing can support mothers in the following way: 

  • It can help reduce fear, tension, and pain during labor.  
  • Birth hypnosis often lessens fatigue during labor and improves alertness. 
  • It can shorten labor, and thus reduces likeliness of pelvic floor damage. 
  • Hypnobirthing can lead to improved emotional and physical postpartum recovery.  

Mental Health & The Perinatal Period

The fear of birthing is hardly the only concern during this time.  It’s not unusual for mothers to have other worries as they prepare for this major life transition. The stress of pregnancy, childbirth, and a new baby can be enormous. 

Maternal mental health conditions are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting 1 in 5 women. Common mental health conditions include: anxiety, depression, OCD-like symptoms, PTSD-like symptoms, substance use, and suicidal ideation. Roughly 75% of women who experience perinatal mental health symptoms go untreated. 

 

A variety of factors may contribute to mental health symptoms during the perinatal period.  This may include relationship challenges, physical symptoms from pregnancy, work-related challenges, and financial distress. Factors such as fear of miscarriage, genetic defects, and childbirth may also contribute to stress during pregnancy.

 

The most common mental health challenges experienced during the perinatal period is postpartum depression (PPD), which impacts 1 in 7 women. PPD may include the following symptoms: depressed mood, difficulty bonding with one’s baby, challenges with sleep, fatigue, fear of not being a good mother, severe anxiety and panic attacks, feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy, and fear of harming oneself or one’s baby.

Psychotherapy can help relieve symptoms of PPD.  Psychotherapy gives women an opportunity to work through their experiences of grief, including changes to one’s sense of self and identity, relationships, and/or more specific losses, including role transitions, social, relational, and career-related changes, interpersonal difficulties, and attachment challenges.

Societal Pressures and Internal Stressors of Motherhood

Being pregnant and giving birth is hard enough, but becoming a mother also means being subject to a plethora of pressure and judgment.  It may come in the form of societal expectations, pressure from one’s partner or family members, or self-judgment. Expectations, pressure, and judgment can wreak havoc on one’s mental health. 

It’s not unusual for a pregnant woman to walk into a room and find herself pulled into war stories: 

  • “Good Luck, my labor lasted 24 hours!” 
  • “Mine lasted 36 hours!” 
  • “I had a 10 pound baby!”  

No wonder moms are scared to give birth!  Combine this with the pressure of doing it all “the right way.”  I’m sure many moms can attest to hearing things like:

  • “Are you going to get an epidural or have the baby naturally?”
  • “Just have a C-Section: you’ll know exactly when the baby is coming.”
  • “Whatever you do, don’t have a C-section, the doctor just wants to get home to dinner!” 

Not to mention the parenting expectations thereafter:

  • “I’m assuming you're breastfeeding, right?”
  • “Just give the baby formula: this way your husband can have some bonding time and it gives you a break!” 

It seems like it’s part of our culture to throw out negative colloquialisms at pregnant women and new mothers.  Many pregnant women have heard things similar to:  

  • “Sleep now.  You’ll never sleep again.” 
  • ''Good luck losing the baby weight!”
  • “You’re worried now?  You don't understand true worry yet - just wait until they're teenagers!”

Pregnancy and emergence into motherhood may feel like a right of passage.  Along with it being a great change, it’s also a grand departure from the life moms were once familiar with. Psychotherapy and birth hypnosis create a winning combination to celebrate new life and identity shifts with less stress and more ease. 

Why Psychotherapy is Important for (New) Mothers

The Washington Post argues that psychotherapy should be a routine part of perinatal care. Cindy Lamothe writes, “Experts agree that therapy can be an effective way to help monitor a woman’s mental health, note shifts in her mood and anxiety, and ensure that she gets additional support as needed both during pregnancy and after delivery.” Many mothers may not consider psychotherapy during their pregnancies, as they suspect psychotherapy is only useful if they are having difficulties with their mental health. 

Moms, I want to be clear in delivering the message: you do not need a diagnosis to go to therapy. Accessing psychotherapy doesn’t need to be about mitigating an illness, it can very well be founded in creating a platform to honor and prepare for a major life transition.

Why Combining Hypnobirthing  and Psychotherapy is Extremely Impactful 

It’s not unusual for mothers and moms-t0-be to seek out hypnobirthing, though not necessarily psychotherapy. Sometimes fear of birthing is easier to speak about than fear of motherhood. Sometimes moms feel like they *have to* be excited and happy and anything other than that is *wrong.* And frankly, sometimes it’s easier to focus on the excitement of the new baby rather than all of the other areas of life that need work.

The reality is, so many pregnant women feel like they're alone: alone in their feelings, alone in their experiences, alone in their fears. While each mother or mother-to-be is unique, collectively, they share their desire to have a relaxed birthing experience and easy adjustment into motherhood.  That’s why hypnobirthing and psychotherapy compliment each other so well.  

As a clinical psychologist, I blend hypnobirthing techniques into psychotherapy because I believe mothers largely benefit from both.  Psychotherapy is a powerful tool to support mothers in navigating the distress, fears, grief, excitement and reflections that accompany the perinatal period. 

Psychotherapy alone may be lacking in that it often does not come with expertise in women’s anatomy or skills, techniques, and interventions that support women in birth planning, birth, and bonding. Similarly, birth hypnosis supports mothers to have a more relaxed childbirth, however, it may be lacking in offering mothers support in navigating emotional distress surrounding this major life transition. Together, psychotherapy and hypnobirthing offer a winning combination for mothers. 

Dr. Meghan Downey is trained as a clinical psychologist and is a certified HypnoBirthing Educator. In her work, she combines her knowledge as a perinatal psychologist with her training in women’s anatomy, birth-planning, hypnosis, birth, and bonding to provide mothers holistic care and treatment during the perinatal period. Click the link to learn more about how Dr. Downey combines hypnobirthing and psychotherapy at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy.

Dr. Meghan Downey is a Clinical Psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. For questions or to learn more about how mindfulness & hypnotherapy can help you, please contact us here.

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