Grace Lillywhite

 “I have been teaching Pilates to pregnant women ever since I finished my Pilates Foundation training in 2010 but it wasn’t until I trained with Rachel Rafiefar at The Thoughtful Body™ that my passion for all things pregnancy (and postnatal!) was ignited. Rachel’s course really inspired me and sparked something in me that has done nothing but grow ever since. I have gone on to train in pregnancy exercise and movement for birth with Janet Balaskas, Judy DiFiore, Nadia Nahrain, Carolyne Anthony, Claire Mockridge, Molly O’Brien and Jenny Burrell.

As I have grown my pregnancy and postnatal Pilates business, I have become increasingly interested in supporting women more holistically. I feel that, as a Pilates teacher, I have such an important job as I may be the professional that women see most regularly during their pregnancies. I believe as exercise professionals we can offer so much information to our clients about their pregnant bodies and what they can do to support themselves better during this pivotal time. I think the more informed we are and the more understanding we have of pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, the better we can serve our clients. I really try to bring a holistic package to my clients and during pregnancy I believe Hypnobirthing is an integral part of that. I trained with Mamaserene as an Independent Hypnobirthing Practitioner as I felt this would be the best fit to make it work within my existing classes as well as creating my own course for my clients. 

Hypnobirthing is about more than relaxation and breathing (although that is important too!); it is about giving women and their birth partners the tools to make empowered choices in their pregnancies and during their birth experience. It is about women feeling in control and able to manage any feelings of fear and panic that may be triggered by the intensity of contractions. It doesn’t guarantee a pain free or a drug free birth but it can help people who use it to feel that they are educated about the process of physiological birth and are able to use the techniques to keep their birth experience calm and positive, no matter which direction it takes. As a Hypnobirthing Practitioner, I really try to emphasize that it isn’t about refusing intervention or pain relief but about understanding the birth process, trusting your body, listening to your intuition and being armed with the knowledge and confidence to make your own decisions, whether that is choosing a caesarean birth, an induction or birthing at home.

Hypnosis has been used for thousands of years for various different reasons; from professional athletes to business people it has been used to improve performance, by psychologists to work on fears and anxiety and in medicine to alleviate symptoms or for pain relief. When you enter a hypnotic state, it is the same as a subconscious state so your conscious brain or ‘neo-cortex’ is quietened.  This means you can be more accepting of new ideas as there is no conscious criticism to present a million arguments why you won’t be able to relax with a contraction or feel calm when you give birth. This means that if Hypnobirthing is used throughout pregnancy, it can help to alleviate the deep-rooted negative associations that many women have around childbirth and build their confidence in their body’s natural ability to give birth. Understanding that any pain experienced during labour is a normal part of the process and nothing to be fearful of is vital and will impact a woman’s reaction to the sensations she experiences. If as contractions build it makes her afraid and tense, then the fight-or-flight hormones will kick in and interfere with the birthing process. The birth environment can play a huge part in this too; simple things like turning down the lights, surrounding yourself with familiar and comforting objects like blankets, pillows and photos as well as using favourite music or relaxation tracks can all contribute to a feeling of safety and security that is necessary for giving birth. 

Hypnobirthing allows women and their birth partners to approach birth in a relaxed, positive, confident and calm manner and gives them the tools to create a situation that is less likely to need intervention. When the body is relaxed it enables it to work as it was designed to do. Physiological birth encourages a natural trance-like state during labour and when women can ‘switch off’ their thinking brains using hypnobirthing techniques it encourages the natural processes to take over, which includes the natural pain relief provided by oxytocin and endorphins. Using visualisations, future pacing, trigger words and affirmations, it is possible to create a positive and relaxed state where she can access her more primitive brain which will allow the hormones to kick in and make the birth process as smooth as possible.

In my Centred Mums Pregnancy classes we also work on the positioning of the baby which can also have a big impact on the birth process. We talk about lifestyle changes that can help and encourage the baby to find a position that is easier to be born from and we work to release ‘stuck’ fascia that could be affecting the position of the baby and the ease with which it could move through the birth canal. I believe that this alongside hypnobirthing allows for a smoother birth process. I think it is so important for women to understand their bodies and what they can do during pregnancy and labour to increase their chances of a positive birth experience. There is so much physical and mental preparation that can take place. It won’t guarantee the birth she is hoping for but it will help her to feel empowered and that she was able to take some control over the situation, which is more likely to leave her feeling that she had a positive birth.”