Giving birth can often be a frightening prospect for first-time mums, but we can change this by rethinking the experience as a wholly positive one
Joanna Kiernan Published 22/02/2016 | 08:38
GentleBirth -a programme, which endeavours to change women’s thought processes in relation to pregnancy, labour and birth, through a mixture of hypnosis, mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy and sports psychology – is changing such perceptions.
“GentleBirth is brain-training for birth,” midwife and GentleBirth founder, Tracey Donegan, explains. “Most Irish women are sitting there, looking at the births on Eastenders or One Born Every Minute and they are building their brain up to expect this awful experience that they won’t be able to cope with, but what you see on TV is always the worst case scenario.
“Of course, a lot of the time, their sister or their best friend can’t wait to tell them how awful it’s going to be too,” Tracey adds. “And they are advising them to get an epidural the second they get in the door of the hospital, but birth can be a good experience and that’s what we show women.”
Unlike other programmes in the United States, which promise women ‘pain-free’ labour through hypnosis techniques, GentleBirth does not make such sweeping assurances. What it does pledge to do, however, is to make one’s pregnancy, labour and birth experience a more relaxed and less frightening affair.
“I am a midwife, so I have seen it, and birth is painful for most women,” Tracey says. “GentleBirth is about giving women what we call a ‘labour toolkit’, which starts off with getting your head sorted, because there is a lot of evidence to show that women who are very anxious about birth, have longer labours with more of a chance of interventions because everything stalls and the body isn’t working optimally.”
“Birth is a head game,” Tracey adds. “If a woman and her birthing partner can get their heads into the right space, they can use all of the same techniques that professional athletes use – for example, focusing on mentally rehearsing the event, seeing themselves on the day going into labour, seeing themselves coping well and it being a positive experience.”
GentleBirth includes dads and other birthing partners, making them a valued member of the woman’s birthing team.
“They will learn all of the physical comfort measures and we also help them understand that within the Irish maternity system, the midwives are overstretched and the hospitals are too busy, so they have to make sure that once you get into that system, you have the best experience possible and make it work for you, rather than simply sitting in a corner and holding the woman’s hand,” Tracey explains.
Fionnuala Geraghty, from Bray, gave birth to her son Andrew 11 months ago, with the help of GentleBirth techniques.
“It was one of the nicest days I’ve ever had,” Fionnuala remembers. “I was pottering around the house feeling very confident and relaxed all day. Bob, my husband, came home from work at 2pm and I had been in labour since about 1am that morning and I had done a lot of breathing and listened to my GentleBirth breathing tracks and went over the affirmations I had in my head.
“I sat into the birth pool and I chilled for about two hours and then I got up to go to the bathroom and I realised that the baby was pushing down a bit, so maybe it was time to head into the hospital.
“We rocked into Holles Street and I was 8cm by the time I got in, which on the first baby, is pretty good going.”
While the GentleBirth self-hypnosis and affirmations helped Fionnuala to feel a lot more in control, the workshops, which also mentioned the importance of power posing and confidence, inspired Fionnuala and her husband to create their own unique method.
“We had a chat and decided ahead of time, because we are both mad rugby fans – that one of the things that I should do in labour was to watch the Hakka because of the power and the passion that goes with it. So I did that and it was absolutely brilliant, I sat there and watched various teams’ Hakkas over and over again,” Fionnuala says.
“So the comfort measures like that, which we had learned in the GentleBirth workshop, were great and did their part, but I really found that the best thing of all was that my husband was really well able to advocate on my behalf when we got into the hospital, and I was able to focus on myself and my baby and what my body needed.
“He was able to keep them from interfering as much as possible and, in the end, I had a nine-pound baby with a little bit of gas and air and a birth pool.
“I found the tracks with the affirmations like ‘My baby is the perfect size for my body and my baby and I are the perfect birth team’, especially helpful.”
Ellen McHugh also used GentleBirth throughout her pregnancy and believes that it is what kept her so calm when she was faced with an emergency Caesarean section.
“Our baby, Lily-Beth is eight months old now and a lot of people think that GentleBirth didn’t work for us because we didn’t have a natural birth in the end, but it really helped us to stay calm about everything,” Ellen explains.
“I fell apart when they told us, but my husband knew exactly what to do and that is when the GentleBirth training really kicked in for us. He knew the questions to ask and showed them my birth plan and asked what could still apply. He was just amazing and I don’t think he would have been as knowledgeable or as calm if we hadn’t done it.”
GentleBirth techniques are taught at regular weekend workshops throughout Ireland and are also available via a home-study CD course or on the new GentleBirth app. For more information, visit