A Derry based midwife is pioneering a new approach to childbirth - encouraging women to use the power of hypnotherapy to help them through the trials and tribulations of labour and delivery.
Mary McCallan, who is based at Altnagelvin Hospital, has recently trained to become Northern Ireland’s first Natal Hypnotherapy practitioner and plans to bring her newly developed skills into the labour ward with her.
The mum of two speaks from experience when she extols the virtues of hypnotherapy in labour, having taken this approach during the birth of her two children Arthur and Minnie.
And when she goes into the labour ward again this summer to deliver baby number three, she will be bringing all those valuable skills with her to help her through the experience.
“I’m not great at pregnancy,” Mary told the ‘Journal’ - “But I look forward to labour. I have no fear of it.
“It’s such a special time that I’m looking forward in getting into that car, heading up the road to have my baby.
“I think it’s such a shame that so many women go into the experience terrified and afraid of the pain and what it might be like.”
Mary said she was inspired to look into Natal Hypnotherapy after seeing a number of women come into her delivery room who embraced the techniques.
“There is just such a difference in women who have researched and practised hypnotherapy. There are a number of methods out there - but the common factor is that women who have prepared in this way for the birth of their babies tend to be more relaxed when it comes to labour and delivery.
“Giving birth is such a huge experience - and yet so many people are terrified of it.”
Natal Hypnotherapy teaches your body to work with your contractions.
“It reprogrammes your brain so that instead of fearing each contraction - and tensing up - you work through it in a deeply relaxed state.
Mary is aware that some people may find that hard to believe - and indeed when she tried it for the birth of her first child Minnie, she said she had prepared herself for it not working at all.
“I just thought I had nothing to lose and it was worth trying so I bought the books and the CDs and practised what I could.”
Although Mary’s first birth experience did not go as plan - and she had to be induced due to having high blood pressure - she said using her Natal Hypnotherapy techniques helped her work through the worst of the pain.
She was able to labour and deliver using only entonox (gas and air) for the last few hours.
“Natal Hypnotherapy should reduce the need for pain relief but during labour - but every woman is different and every labour is different.
“We would never tell a woman she has failed if she opts for gas and air, or diamorphine or whatever she needs.
“The most important thing with hypnotherapy is that it allows women to feel more in control of the experience - and that leads to better birth experiences which have a knock on effect for those first few months with baby.”
Having gone through it herself, Mary admits it can be hard to explain the benefits to others but that it is like “a switch goes on” and having learned the techniques your body starts to run through them while labouring.
“It makes for a calm and relaxed experience - which is what labour should be.”
As a midwife at Altnagelvin Mary said the women of Derry and its hinterlands are very lucky to receive the level of care they do in the hospital - with several of the midwives trained in various hypnobirthing techniques.
“Research has shown that if you tense up, if you are scared, you feel pain more acutely. Giving birth does not have to be a scary experience.”
Mary and Natal Hypnotherapist founder Maggie Howell will discuss hypnotherapy at an event run by Belfast’s ‘Positive Birth Movement’ on Monday evening at 25 Donegall Street, the site of Belfast’s first maternity hospital which opened in 1794, the fore-runner of today’s Royal Maternity Hospital.
The event will also see the screening of the documentary‘ The Face of Birth’ which includes some of the world’s top childbirth experts.
It explores the links between choice and safety in the childbirth options facing most women and examines the hidden costs and broader social consequences of rising rates of medical intervention in childbirth.