Take the trance to have a pain-free birth
I first heard it said years ago that there's a conspiracy amongst women; those who have given birth don't share with their fellow sisters the full degree of the pain undergone in the process.
But with the recent introduction of HypnoBirthing in Ireland, things could be changing for the better.
A natural form of childbirth, HypnoBirthing is a method from the US that teaches parents-to-be that when a birth is free from fear, severe pain is not necessarily an accompaniment of labour.
It is based on the work of Dr Grantly Dick-Read, an English obstetrician who pioneered the concept of natural birthing in the 1920s and whose principles are also the foundation of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
In his 1933 book, Childbirth Without Fear, he states: "There is no physiological function in the body that gives rise to pain in the normal course of health. In no other animal species is the process of birth apparently associated with any suffering, pain or agony, except where pathology exists or in an unnatural state, such as captivity."
Essentially, when we're afraid, our body diverts blood and oxygen from non-essential defence organs.
An example would be when our face drains of blood and we are said to be "white with fear".
Dr Dick-Read hypothesized that the fear felt by a woman during childbirth also caused blood to be filtered away from her uterus, so it could be used by the muscles that would flee the dangerous situation.
As a result, the uterus could not perform its functions efficiently or without pain.
This belief led to Dr Dick-Read's theory that fear and tension cause the labour pains in about 95pc of birthing women and believed that by eliminating the fear, women could return the uterus to its normal function.
HypnoBirthing is the next step. Developed in the late 1980s by US award-winning hypnotherapist, Marie Mong-an, it is a birth education programme that teaches simple self-hypnosis techniques for a better birth.
A HypnoBirthing practitioner based in Dublin's Sandymount, Aisling Killoran has worked with about 300 couples since starting in 2003.
"HypnoBirthing is designed to leave parents free from the fear of giving birth and is about making it a normal, comfortable and healthy process, thus reducing the need for medical intervention," she says. "Over four classes, we cover deep relaxation techniques, visualisations and stretching exercises, preparing the mind and the body for birthing."
The popularity of Hypno-Birthing spread through word-of-mouth and now Holles St, the National Maternity Hospital, is talking about it in antenatal classes.
Hana Hall, 30 from Greystones, used it in the birth of both her children, Martha (3) and six-week-old Noah.
She came across it on TV and, having suffered a lot of sickness throughout her first pregnancy, she liked the idea of being in control in childbirth.
"I found Aisling and, with my partner, we went for four sessions. She gives you many tools and I used different ones in each of the births," she says.
"Labour can be really intense and the visualisations, one of which was blowing up a balloon and breathing through the contraction, were great and kept me strong."
Hana was happy she didn't need an epidural for either baby. "Labour can go any way and I wanted to know that I had tools I could use myself. I felt very confident that no matter how it went I could handle it.
Thanks to the minimisation of stress on the body, she was out of Holles St the next day after having Martha, and seven hours after giving birth to Noah, her 10lbs 2oz son. Since home, she's still using the breathing techniques -- this time to ease breastfeeding.
Tools for control
Aideen Ward, 38, from Dublin had been recommended HypnoBirthing and gave birth to an 8lb 80z baby boy, Conn -- her first child -- in the Coombe in September.
"I think there's a miscon-ception out there that HypnoBirthing is for hippy earth-mothers and that puts people off," says Aideen. "But that isn't the case. Hypno-Birthing is a suite of very practical, down-to-earth techniques that help you through.
"I had a six-hour labour and was quite calm throughout. HypnoBirthing isn't one magic bullet, it is a mixture of techniques -- we used yoga positions, breathing, and my husband helped me stay in a little trance where you're a bit zoned out, but still know what is going on around you."
Verdict: The feedback from couples who have used it is unanimous -- it is empowering, educational and creates a natural, calm birth.
To contact Aisling Killoran call 087 135 2122.
HypnoBirthing: How does it work?
HypnoBirthing was designed by Marie Mongan to eliminate the "fear-tension-pain syndrome" before, during and after birthing, using relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques.
In a calm state, the body's natural endorphins replace the stress hormones that constrict and cause pain.
It is now used in 26 countries worldwide and was introduced in Ireland in 2001.
Studies have shown fascinating differences between HypnoBirthing childbirth and more conventional births.
The need for chemical and medical intervention is reduced, as is the risk of hyperventilation. But, most significantly, HypnoBirthing has been found to reduce the first stage of labour by several hours, as well as eliminating fatigue during labour and promoting rapid post-natal recovery.
In the US, statistics show only 17pc of HypnoBirthing mothers had caesarean sections, against 32pc of those birthing with conventional methods.