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hypnobirthing

noun [uncountable]

the process of giving birth to a baby using hypnosis techniques rather than conventional methods of pain relief

hypnobirth

noun [countable/uncountable] verb [intrasitive/transitive]

'As she prepares for the arrival of her first child, supposedly Kate Middleton is considering hypnobirth as a means of delivering. According to sources who talked to Grazia, "Kate has researched various birthing methods. She wants it to be natural, so hypnobirthing is one option that appealed …"'

The Stir 22nd May 2013

In case you hadn't heard, there's a royal baby on the way – The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and Kate Middleton, are expecting their new arrival in mid July. As the days draw closer to the eagerly anticipated due date, there's increasing speculation regarding every detail of the new heir to the throne's entry into the world. Kate, it's now reported, is planning to eschew conventional pain relief methods in favour of hypnosis techniques, a revelation which has abruptly launched the term hypnobirthing into the public radar.

hypnobirthing uses a combination of techniques [which] all work together to eliminate stress, fatigue and anxiety, leading to an easier, calmer, and ultimately more 'comfortable' birth experience

Hypnobirthing is a childbirth technique whose basic premise is to remove fear. The claim is that this will considerably reduce, or even eliminate, pain, since this is thought to be caused or exacerbated by fear. Towards this goal, hypnobirthing uses a combination of techniques, including breathing methods, positive thoughts/language, deep relaxation and visualization. These all work together to eliminate stress, fatigue and anxiety, leading to an easier, calmer, and ultimately more 'comfortable' birth experience. Practitioners claim that the technique helps women experience contractions as 'surges' which they can learn to move with rather than fight against. It's also thought that when a woman is relaxed, her breathing is even and rhythmic and so she gets plenty of oxygen, which stimulates the production of oxytocin and endorphins (natural painkillers).

In addition to the benefits to the mother, hypnobirthing is thought to be good for the baby, who with its calm entry into the world is a more relaxed, settled infant. Another significant aspect of the technique, which is sure to feed the media frenzy surrounding the royal birth, is the importance it places on the role of the father in the birth process. This, it's claimed, brings couples closer together and deepens the father's relationship with his newborn child.

To my mind, (and as someone who has given birth twice and been happy to accept all the pain relief on offer!) this all sounds a little too good to be true. Though I'm sure I'm not alone in my scepticism, the concept of hypnobirthing has however attracted a great deal of support in recent years, with the evolution of dedicated websites and plenty of people prepared to share stories of positive hypnobirthing experiences. If Kate and Wills do end up successfully using the technique during their own labouring hours, this can only further raise the profile of the term and the concept.

Background – hypnobirthing

The idea that pain is the result of anxiety and can be eliminated through relaxation techniques was first aired in the 1930s by Dr Grantly Dick-Read, a British obstetrician often regarded as the founder of the natural childbirth movement. However the origins of the specific term hypnobirthing are associated with a follower of his, American hypnotherapist Marie Mongan, who used the techniques during the births of her own four children in the 1950s and 1960s. Similar principles also underpin a related concept latterly known as freebirth (birth without the help of any kind of medical professional).

Following the grammatical pattern of birth, the derived noun hypnobirth can be used both in uncountable form to refer to the process and countable form to refer to an instance of it. There's also some evidence for a verb hypnobirth, used both intransitively and transitively as in, e.g.: She hypnobirthed all her four children.

The word hypnobirthing could be regarded as a hyponym (=a specific example) of the more general term hypnotherapy, first attested in the late 19th century and referring to the use of hypnosis to treat physical and emotional problems. A co-hyponym that has emerged in recent years is the term hypnosurgery, describing surgical treatment in which the patient is sedated by hypnosis rather than conventional anaesthetics.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 11th June 2013.

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