All About Hypnobirthing: An Interview with Joan Mills

Joan Mills

Nowadays, we very often hear about the wonders of hypnobirthing and I had a chance to have an interview with Joan Mills who is a former nurse with over 20 years experience in hospitals. She is a community experienced hypnobirthing practitioner who has taught over 1000 couples since 2009, and has more than 4 years experience as a birth doula, attending many hospital and home births. Joan also has a special place in my life as she was my hypnobirthing instructor during my pregnancy in 2014. Maybe my birth experience was totally different from my birth plan, but all the things that I learned during the hypnobirthing course were really useful during my emergency C-section! The only thing that I may confess is that I could not listen to the hypnobirthing Mp3s for a while once I had my son :)

Shall we start with the definition of hypnobirthing, please? How would you describe this method?

Hypnobirthing is a complete antenatal birth preparation programme. It empowers women with tools and techniques to deal with whatever kind of birth she experiences, both mentally and physically. It teaches her how to remain calm and in control whilst encouraging her body to be comfortable. It doesn’t promise “a pain free birth”; but a better birth, a more comfortable birth, an empowered birth, the right birth on the day. And for some, a pain free birth.

So there is no link with hypnotism :) (I have to ask it as lots of mums have been asking this question)?

It is an educational programme with science at its core. It teaches deep relaxation and breathing techniques. It teaches you how to tap into the subconscious part of the brain rather than the conscious part and to trust your instinct. It encourages the body’s natural ability to produce good hormones for a more comfortable birth. It also teaches the value of remaining calm and not allowing fear and the fear hormone to take over the body. The labouring woman is in control.

What will expectant mums and parents learn during your hypnobirthing class?

Initially they will learn the anatomy and physiology of how the female body works in labour and birth. Teachers of A level biology aren’t taught this in their university degree courses. Simply by comparing a calm comfortable environment and a positive birth to a fearful cold unfamiliar environment for birth very quickly describes why birth can be different. Couples learn techniques to help them remain calm and relaxed using breathing techniques visualisations and massage techniques. They learn how to trust their instincts. Some of the techniques can also be used in normal life during stressful situations.

How would you describe the significant benefits that the hypnobirthing method offers to expectant mums?

The benefits that I describe for mums are huge. From the start it encourages her to have confidence and trust in her body. She will learn to start enjoying pregnancy and bonding with her beautiful baby.

She will be encouraged to look forward to labour because it’s about meeting her baby, and to focus on what she wants, not on what she doesn’t want from her birth experience. It’s different from the way the medical profession looks at birth, which is risk assessing mum from the very first appointment.

It’s not about being delusional or about having a pain-free birth or anything like that; it’s all about preparing positively for the right birth on the day.

Let’s imagine a pregnant lady who has been diagnosed with tokophobia (fear of pregnancy and giving birth). How may hypnobirthing help to overcome this fear?

I had a young mum with this condition a while back (since she was 4 yrs old); she was in one of my group classes. Once she started practising the techniques and started to embrace pregnancy, she slowly started to change. That’s why we recommend for women to start hypnobirthing from about 20 weeks so that they have plenty of time to prepare mentally and physically. Anyone preparing for a long journey would prepare properly. Labour and birth is a journey that will benefit from good preparation and practice. When this girl went into labour well past her expected due date, she didn’t panic and she was calm and relaxed. She had a very comfortable and empowering birth experience. Both her mum and husband said the experience changed her life: she became a more confident, happy woman. She has since gone on to have her second child, only requiring one refresher class. She actually said she wasn’t scared; she was looking forward to giving birth the second time round. She is a different person compared to the person she was before she did hypnobirthing. Needless to say, I have had many referrals from her for the Wise Hippo course I teach.

Nowadays there are many different birth preparation classes. How is hypnobirthing different from these classes?

There are different birth preparation classes out there, but what I teach in the Wise Hippo birth preparation programme is unique in its simplicity. It’s basic science that is made easy to understand, so everybody is able to get to grips with it. Because it’s so logical people love it. The men totally understand what it’s all about. No other birth preparation programme prepares women for their labour in the way we do. They learn they are the ones in control of their bodies, they learn that birth is a normal bodily function that they need to embrace and not fight it. They learn not to be scared of labour and birth, but to enjoy it. Their partners learn how to support the woman and what they can do to protect her positive experience. They learn about their choices.

Are there any differences in the hypnobirthing method that need to be applied during home or hospital births and also between normal and C-section delivery?

Probably more women using the hypnobirthing techniques that we teach will choose a home birth. But all the skills and tools we teach are useful for both home and hospital. When women give birth at home, the midwives taking care of them are usually much more mindful of what the woman wants for her birth and how to support her. In hospital situations there are often a lot more policies and protocols to follow.

We also have a programme which I have delivered a few times to women who are planning a Caesarean birth. The feedback is very positive because we don’t just focus on natural birth, we focus on the right birth on the day.

What about dad’s role in hypnobirthing?

Dads play an enormous role in the lead up and during labour and birth. From starting hypnobirthing, the dads are also empowered with the education and tools and techniques that they learn. They also enjoy the bonding process with their babies. They love the relaxation practice and the massage techniques they learn. They go into the birth better educated, more informed, more confident and ready to look after, support and nurture the labouring woman. Midwives often comment on the teamwork between a hypnobirthing couple.

When is the best time during pregnancy to attend hypnobirthing classes?

We recommend starting the course any time from the 20th week of the pregnancy. It’s never too late though, I have people sometimes who come to me at 38/39 weeks and I can still teach them some techniques and tools to encourage a calmer, easier and more relaxed birth for both mum and baby.

I know you hear this question many times but I have to ask: Can hypnobirthing guarantee a completely pain-free labour and birth?

No, unfortunately not. Nothing can guarantee this, but what I can guarantee is a more enjoyable pregnancy. Better bonding as a family. A calmer and more relaxed confident labour and birth at the end of the day and a woman being able to say: I had the right birth on the day.

Can the hypnobirthing method be used by mums who will have planned a C-Section as well?

Yes, we have a complete programme dedicated to planning a Caesarean birth. It has beautiful affirmations to help promote confidence and positivity about the medical care givers and surgical procedure they have planned. There are some lovely relaxation pieces to listen to which help to mentally prepare for the Caesarean birth, and bonding MP3s for mum and baby. There is also a healing MP3 for the post operative period. This is a new and unique programme that was launched this year from the Wise Hippo team. It has been received extremely well from the mums who I have prepared using it.

Joan’s class / The Wise Hippo Birthing Programme