Kate Middleton Sparks Interest in HypnoBirthing. What's It All About?

Kate Middleton may be royalty, but she’s not too posh to push.

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The Duchess of Cambridge, whose first child is due in mid-July, is said to be leaning toward birthing her baby in as natural a way as possible. And to make that process easier, according to reports, she might be planning to use a calming technique known as HypnoBirthing.

The duchess was rumored to use hypnosis to overcome her acute morning sickness so this technique would be “second nature for her,” noted Alisha Tamburri, a Los Angeles HypnoBirthing practitioner whose clients have included Jessica Alba, Bridget Fonda, Melissa Joan Hart, Alanis Morisette, and Emily Deschanel.

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The method, popular both in Hollywood and outside of it, has “kind of replaced what Lamaze was years ago,” Tamburri said. It was founded in 1989 by New Hampshire hypnotherapist Marie Mongan, and essentially teaches that, by greatly reducing fear and tension, a healthy birth need not come with severe pain.

The practice is taught in a series of five classes for the pregnant woman and her birth partner, and focuses on relaxation techniques that include visualizations, mantras (or “key phrases”), and deep breathing for each stage of labor—all of which aim to recondition the mind not to view birth as a scary, excruciating process. Parents-to-be are also sent home with CDs, so that they can continue to practice the techniques at home.

“Sometimes people have to get beyond the term ‘hypno.’ It’s deep relaxation,” noted Shira Lebovich, a Brooklyn mother of two who used HypnoBirthing to have what she describes as a very calm home birth of her second child last fall. “The point is to let the body do its work without the mind interfering.”

While HypnoBirthing is often portrayed as a surefire route to a perfectly pain-free birth, that’s not quite accurate, Mongan told Shine. “That irritates me terribly,” she said, speaking by phone from her Florida office. “It’s about making birth easier, more comfortable, and sometimes pain-free.” (Mongan, now 80, gave birth naturally to her four children in the late 1950s and early ’60s and says she never had any pain because she was able to rely on self-hypnosis techniques.)

“I just never believed that the reproductive muscles were flawed,” she said. “It didn’t make sense to me.” This belief was cemented when, as a young woman, she watched a cat give birth with no sign of pain. “She was purring when she had her babies,” Mongan recalled. But it was mainly reading “Childbirth Without Fear,” Grantly Dick-Read’s groundbreaking 1959 natural-birth manual (rereleased just last year) that inspired her to found HypnoBirthing. Today her official institute, based in New Hampshire, has trained more than 1,700 practitioners in 45 countries around the world.

“It’s the only method that works with the mind,” Maeva Althaus, a HypnoBirthing practitioner based in Brooklyn, New York, told Shine. “It definitely helps the woman approach birth in a way that’s excited instead of anxious. It helps you stay calm and grounded.”

One of the first things Althaus tackles with her birth-class clients is talking about fears, to get them out of the way. “Most women are scared of pain, scared of what if something goes wrong? They’ve seen crazy stuff on TV. They’ve never seen a calm HypnoBirth,” she said, stressing that learning the techniques can be greatly beneficial whether a birth will take place in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home. “Sometimes a doctor doesn’t believe a HypnoBirth mom is ready [to give birth] because she is so calm.”

For Tara Deubel of Rochester, Michigan, who took a HypnoBirthing class to prepare for the home birth of her first child over a year ago, the main takeaway was about a change of mindset. “A lot of it was about having a different concept of the whole process, from start to finish,” she told Shine. Some of that came from learning to “surrender” to the idea that your body knows what to do, while much of it was through practice, whether it be by using the word “surge” instead of “contraction” or “labor pain,” or through repeating particular phrases to help you through tough spots.

“‘Mother and baby are working together’ was one of the helpful phrases I used,” she recalled, adding that, overall, her 12 hours of labor were “amazing,” with pain that was “very mild.”

So what if Kate, at around 36 weeks pregnant now, is still on the fence about all this, and hasn’t yet begun preparations? “We usually recommend starting at 20 weeks,” Althaus said. “But I have moms who start at 36 weeks. It all depends on the dedication.”

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