WASHINGTON - When Suzanne Broadbent and her husband found out they were going to have a baby, the couple decided they wanted to aim for a natural birth -- avoiding any pain medications or medical interventions.
So from early in Broadbent's pregnancy, she educated herself on various birthing methods. At 20 weeks, she signed up for a hypnobirthing class at Let's Birth Calmly, a prenatal and pediatric holistic health center in Connecticut.
Broadbent, 27, took the class seriously. When she wasn't attending, she practiced the affirmations and relaxation techniques she learned at home.
Then the moment the couple had been waiting for finally arrived: Broadbent went into labor in the middle of the night and the couple checked into their designated birthing center. But after several hours of labor, it became obvious Broadbent was not going to have a completely natural birth.
A medical necessity required her to be transferred to a local hospital. Her midwives told her that she needed Pitocin, a drug that helps the body contract.
"That was one of the things I was rather anxious about," Broadbent says. "I did not want to end up in a hospital. I did not want to be hooked up to machines and I did not want to have the pressure of the hospital and the atmosphere of the hospital."
But Broadbent quickly recalled what she practiced throughout her pregnancy, and she started going through her hypnobirthing routine.
"I was actually repeating some of the affirmations in my head," says Broadbent, who adds that the method kept her calm throughout the hospital delivery.
Shortly thereafter, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
"If I hadn't taken the hypnobirthing class and prepared, I don't think I would have done so well with that deviation."
What is hypnobirthing?
In hypnobirthing, women condition themselves over time with mantras, affirmations and music, with the goal of full relaxation for the body and the mind. According to experts, a relaxed state enables the body to work more efficiently, resulting in a more comfortable birthing experience.
The meditative birthing method has received a flurry of media attention ever since reports surfaced that Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton is considering employing it during the delivery of her first baby, due this July.
But nurse midwife and hypnobirthing instructor Danielle Hoch says the practice - - which includes variations such as the Mongan Method, Hypnobabies and the Leclaire Hypnobirthing Method -- has been around for a while.
"It's like mental imagery -- see yourself doing this, see yourself doing that," says Hoch, who works at the Physicians and Midwife Collaborative in Northern Virginia and has been teaching hypnobirthing classes in the D.C. area for about three years. "When the big day comes, your body already knows what to do."
Hoch, 33, has been a nurse midwife since 2008. She says she chose to teach hypnobirthing after witnessing years of deliveries that used the method, which she describes as gentle and effective.
Her classes are taught over five sessions and typically include four to six couples who are around 24 to 28 weeks pregnant. Expectant parents receive two CDs, handouts and around-the-clock support from the teacher, should they have any questions.
In the D.C. area, Hoch says hypnobirthing classes generally cost about $325 to $350. However, because she is a nurse midwife, she charges $450 for her classes.
What to expect at the hospital
When the time comes to transfer the knowledge learned from the classroom to the delivery room, Hoch says most hospitals are aware of the hypnobirthing method. But the relationship between hospitals and moms who want a natural childbirth can be challenging at times.
"I think nurses and the hospital kind of feel like they're losing their power when the woman starts to say things she wants, especially when it's ‘against their policy,'" Hoch says.
However, Kate Coleman, a Potomac, Md., mother of two, found her hypnobirthing experience at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital to be accommodating and peaceful. Coleman, 31, says the staff was respectful of her birth plan and method, which called for a dim and quiet environment.
She says doctors and staff may be receptive to hypnobirthing because it's more hands-off than traditional labor and deliveries.
"The doctors don't have to do anything in addition. It's just the mother using her body and going inward and letting her body do what it's meant to do. I think that doctors are excited about it," Coleman says.
Unlike Broadbent, Coleman did not register for a class when preparing for the birth of her first child in 2011. She spent $30 on a book and a CD, which she ordered online, and began practicing the method about 45 days before her due date.
"It helped me to only have positive thoughts about labor … Because you're doing it over and over again, I started to be only excited about the birthing process," Coleman says.
Coleman's conditioning and sense of excitement paid off in the delivery room. She says her body was relaxed throughout delivery, and attributes her quick labor to hypnobirthing.
"I was so present and relaxed that I approached each contraction -- or 'surge' as hypnobirthing calls it -- in a very present way," Coleman says. "I didn't refer to it as pain. I'd say, ‘Oh that was a lot of pressure,' or, ‘That was a new powerful sensation.'"
That's not to say hypnobirthing relieves a woman of total discomfort.
"It is difficult. It's not called labor for nothing," Coleman says.
Combining hypnobirthing with modern medicine
Coleman now teaches hypnobirthing classes at the Mindfulness Center in Bethesda, Md. Her students range from expectant parents who want a strictly natural birth to those who plan to have some help from modern medicine.
"One woman says she knew from the beginning that she wanted to do an epidural -- that was not up for debate. But she still took the class because she was nervous and she doesn't like needles and was just nervous about the whole thing," says Coleman, who charges $375 for her classes.
As hypnobirthing and other natural birth methods remain in competition with medically assisted births, Hoch says some of her students' insurance companies are reimbursing expectant parents for costs associated with hypnobirthing. However, she says the full amount of the classes is usually not covered.
Broadbent paid $400 for her classes, but says her hypnobirthing experience was "worth every penny."
"When you look at it from a cost perspective, if you go into it with the right education and the right tools, a lot of times you can avoid very expensive procedures," she says. "Going in with the right tools can make it more affordable for everybody."
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