A baby enjoys skin-to-skin time after childbirth

A baby enjoys skin-to-skin time after childbirth

Chantal Stravens can still remember her sister's nails digging into her arms. The assault came 14 years ago during an excruciating 20-hour labour.

''I thought, 'How can something that is meant to be so joyful hurt so much?' She was getting in and out of hot baths, scratching my arms and swearing along the way. It was awful and, as a result, she's only ever had one child.''

The memory came to the fore for Mrs Stravens when she fell pregnant in 2004. She was worried about what sort of pain she might experience, so she asked her doctor what she could do to prepare. He told her to investigate natural birthing techniques, which led her to hypnotherapy.

''I'm not a hippie by any stretch of the imagination but I found some information about 'hypnobirthing' and was put on to a woman called Alison Burton. I was a bit sceptical at first … but decided to give it a try.''

Mrs Stravens enrolled in a course to work through her negative perceptions of birth, including smells, visuals, words and other stimuli that might frighten her.

One by one, these things were replaced with positive ideas about what was in store for her. She was also taught hypnosis so she could stay calm during labour.

''My only experience of hypnotherapy was watching people cluck like chickens on stage, but it turned out to be quite a surreal experience. You're still aware of everything around you but feel like you want to go along with all the suggestions made to you … it's a lot like guided mediation.''

For most of her pregnancy, Mrs Stravens, 32, listened to CDs to practice hypnosis and, by the time her waters broke, she knew what to do. She calmly gave birth to Isabelle in under five hours with no drugs or other medical interventions.

''I had to have one stitch afterwards and I remember saying that bloody stitch hurt more than anything else!''

Mrs Stravens' second-born, Grace, was delivered in three hours - again, without any intervention.

''I think I freaked the nurses out a bit with Grace. My husband Barry and I walked into the Royal Women's Hospital with my CD player and said, 'It's all right, let us dim the lights and we'll call you when we need you.'''

Ms Burton, director of Simply Natural Therapies in East Doncaster, said an increasing number of women were turning to hypnotherapy.

''Childbirth is not a medical event. A woman's body knows how to give birth safely and comfortably when she is taught how to relax and stay calm,'' she says.

Melbourne obstetrician Lionel Steinberg said he was so impressed with what he had seen of hypnobirthing that he now handed out brochures for courses to new patients.

''Managing labour is all about distraction. You have to distract someone for one minute every four minutes. The pain lasts for about a minute before it's gone,'' he said.

Dr Steinberg said that while there was no scientific evidence to prove these effects on women, there was evidence to show that when a woman was given drugs during labour her chance of needing other interventions such as forceps, vacuums or a caesarean increased.

He said women who used the technique were generally motivated to achieve a smooth vaginal delivery - a wish that they most often achieved.

''A lot of it is about attitude,'' he said.

Find more information about labour and childbirth in our Pregnancy section.