Nathalie Walton on the Power of Hypnobirthing The Expectful CEO talks breathing through pain.

By Nathalie Walton | Photo by Christine Coakley

Long before I even considered having a baby, I remember first hearing about hypnobirthing from my best friend over lunch.

“Hypnobirthing? What the heck is that?” I recall blurting out in disbelief as I munched on my kale salad. My mind filled with images of women undergoing hypnosis while in the depths of labor pain. Even for a self-proclaimed wellness junkie like myself who regularly meditated and practiced yoga daily, I couldn’t wrap my head around this. 

Fast forward to my own birth at the end of last year. Into my third trimester I decided that I was committed to having an unmedicated delivery. So I did everything I could to prepare. I selected the right doula and I read every book on having an unmedicated birth. One thing I knew was that I wanted to keep a positive mindset around childbirth. 

But I soon realized that the biggest and most important issue that I neglected was how do I prepare my mind for the actual pain

Like most new mothers, I earnestly googled late at night, spending hours researching. And there it was again…hypnobirthing. 

Unlike the absurd images I’d previously imagined, I learned that hypnobirthing is an evidence-based wellness tool that teaches us to think of labor differently — with less anxiety and fear. By using breathing, visualization, and mind techniques, we’re taught to think about our contractions as “uterine waves,” which helps us overcome the pain when giving birth. More than that, practicing deep relaxation with guided hypnobirthing tracks can also reduce symptoms of depression during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

After reading all of that, something clicked. At week 32, I decided to truly invest in this tool by committing to an audio hypnobirthing course. Over the next few weeks, I religiously practiced my breathing exercises and concentrated on my mind-body connection every night .

I became so good at mastering relaxation and present-moment mindfulness that I didn’t even realize when I was in full-blown labor!

The day I began experiencing some cramping, I immediately dialed into my breathing to help me deal with the pain, figuring it was just some minor discomfort that would pass. Eventually the cramps got worse and worse. It was only twelve hours after that I realized I might be in labor because my water broke — I’d become so entranced by my hypnobirthing exercises that the pain had become quite manageable.

As we drove to the hospital, instead of fixating on the cramps, I focused on each inhale and exhale, because it was the only thing I could control. I remained calm, remembering to think of each new contraction like a wave spreading over my body.

I’d become so entranced by my hypnobirthing exercises that the pain had become quite manageable.

But by the time we arrived, I was in so much pain that I could barely walk. I was shocked when the doctor told me I was eight centimeters dilated! 

How do epidurals work and should I get one?

Later, as I sat in the labor and delivery room, I refused the epidural and just kept breathing deeply. My doula suggested nitrous oxide and this turned out to be the best decision for me. As I went through a contraction, I’d simply breathe in the nitrous oxide using the techniques I learned in hypnobirthing and the pain felt like just another ripple passing through. I knew that as I kept breathing, each contraction was getting me one step closer to meeting my baby. 

Things quickly escalated from there. I got to nine then 10 centimeters and finally I was ready to push — entirely unmedicated — all through the power of hypnobirthing. But as I began to push, the doctors realized I was having a placental abruption and I was rushed to an emergency C-section instead.

I gave up my hope of having an unmedicated birth when I was put under general anesthesia to undergo the surgery. 

While l didn’t get to have the unmedicated birth I’d planned for, I’m so grateful for the power of hypnobirthing because it allowed me to experience what it’s like to get to 10 centimeters dilated without medicine. I can honestly say that it was one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever encountered — to know on a profound level that I’m able to control my pain threshold by simply breathing deeply.

When I joined the team at  Expectful, one of the things I most wanted to bring to users was this ability to find inner strength. A dream that’s now turned reality with our recent launch of a hypnobirthing course on the Expectful app. Whether a woman is looking to have an unmedicated birth or they want an epidural, it’s a really powerful tool to help the mind and body overcome the physical challenges birth presents. 

As new mothers, we have an immense amount of power, yet it’s often the fear of the unknown that keeps us from discovering what we’re truly capable of. Learning mindfulness tools like hypnobirthing not only helped me cope with my own fears and prepared my body for labor, it enabled me to see just how powerful I truly am.