Give Birth Like a Royal

Katharine Graves has been teaching hypnobirthing to the midwives at St Mary’s Hospital Lindo Wing ahead of the royal arrival this month. Here, she and other experts share their advice for a calm delivery.

This month, the Duchess of Cambridge will give birth to a third child, marking the first time in a generation that there will be more than two siblings in a direct branch of the royal family. For the immediate family, it will be a new baby to introduce to George, four, and Charlotte, two, while for the wider world, it’s a perfectly timed symbol of spring and new beginnings. (And, let’s face it, a chance to coo over some newborn pictures and marvel at Kate’s impeccable blow-dry.)

But exactly how the Duchess is planning to give birth is currently a topic that’s rife with speculation. Royal reporter Camilla Tominey has suggested the couple would love a home birth (who wouldn’t want to avoid 200 paparazzi post-partum?). But on the last two occasions, Kate gave birth at the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, emerging both times to huge crowds of well-wishers.

What we do know, however, is that Kate had two complication-free deliveries aided by hypnobirthing techniques, and that the Lindo Wing recently brought in hypnobirthing expert Katharine Graves to train the midwives in helping expectant mothers achieve this kind of experience. In our exclusive chat, Graves, who has four children of her own, and has personally taught hypnobirthing to more than 2,000 couples and 200 midwives, shares the tips behind her hypnobirthing teaching.

“It’s wonderful that Kate is supportive of hypnobirthing. Twelve years ago, when I started, we were a very small group, but now every midwife in the land knows about our ethos,” Graves says.

“There’s a basic suspicion because of the word ‘hypno’ – people imagine they’re coming to see hippies chanting on beanbags – and people understandably want a logical explanation of how the muscles and the hormones of the uterus work. But once they realise that we are a full antenatal training programme, and that we give a sound reason for everything we suggest, people’s minds are very quickly changed.

“A lot of our job is dismantling the preconceptions and fears that women bring to birth. The reality is that, sadly, for a great many women, giving birth is the most traumatic and painful experience of their lives. There’s a huge emphasis these days on working on trauma post-birth, but the way we work, that trauma doesn’t take place in the first place.

“If you look at how our bodies work, if we’re feeling confident and calm, we produce the hormone oxytocin that facilitates the efficient working of the uterus in labour. And if we’re calm and producing oxytocin, we’re producing endorphins, which are nature’s pain relief. So as long as your mind is in the right place, you produce oxytocin, which makes labour efficient, and endorphins, which make it comfortable – that system is already created in every woman’s body. All we have to do is stand back and let the system work in the way it’s designed to do. Of course, there are sometimes unusual circumstances that require extra help and intervention.

“I often refer women to the story of The Princess and the Pea. The pea was under the princess’ mattress and she couldn’t sleep. So they added more mattresses. But only when they removed the pea could the princess sleep soundly. And that pea is like the fear many women feel ahead of childbirth. However much a woman is looking forward to having her baby, she will have seen a movie or heard a story that this is going to be really, really painful and that will be niggling at her subconscious mind. So the main bulk of the work we do in preparation for birth is to release that fear. We arm women with breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques, but those techniques will only work once the fear has gone. While the fear is there, they won’t work – just like the pea under the mattress.

“Relaxation and position are the two most important things in labour. All the research shows that a woman is far less likely to want or need an intervention if she gives birth in a pool – it’s said to be as good as having an injection of [painkilling drug] pethidine, although there is no pool at the Lindo Wing.

“I’ve been told that 80 per cent of births in the UK still happen with the mother lying flat on her back, even though all midwives know that squatting or kneeling is more comfortable and increases your pelvic capacity by 30 per cent. In these positions, you have gravity on your side. The problem with lying on your back is that for the baby’s head to pass through, the coccyx at the bottom of the spine needs to curve outwards – if you’re on your back, those bones have nowhere to go and you actually have to try to push upwards to get past them.”

See below for more advice from Graves and other experts about how to have the best birth possible.

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How to have a great birth (from the experts)

Lori Bregman, US doula
“I always say to women approaching labour that it’s important to stay true to yourself. What works for one person might not work or be right for you. Educate yourself, create an authentic birth intention and find a birth support team that is on the same page as you. Work towards your intention but allow room for flexibility if things change course.”
US doula Lori Bregman is author of The Mindful Mom-To-Be, available on Amazon. She has supported hundreds of women through childbirth, including Jessica Biel, Kelly Rowland and Kristen Bell

Teresa Walsh, midwife
“A birth day is just that – a birth day. It might take some time! Be mentally and physically in good shape, have someone you love and trust at your side, and know that once labour starts, you are on your journey into parenting and your baby will soon be in your arms. “There are various options for reducing pain in labour – make sure you talk through the different options with your midwife. Breathing slowly and deliberately in a comfortable way will always be the universal solution to manage the pain of a contraction. Many will find moving and visualisation as a distraction also helps. Others find relief with the help of a TENS machine, which uses electrical pulses to reduce the pain, or ‘gas and air’, which is when the mother inhales Nitrous Oxide and oxygen into her lungs. Both of these are safe options for your baby.”
Teresa Walsh is a Midwife and Childbirth Educator at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK

Dede Efueye, private midwife
“When women are calm and relaxed, there’s less adrenaline flowing and that’s good because stress hormones counteract oxytocin and the work it’s doing to progress labour. That’s why setting is key. We’re mammals – and that means we have the same instinct to give birth in a dark, secluded place. We want to feel protected and a soft ambience helps to facilitate the flow of oxytocin; it’s also a nice way to bring a baby into the world because coming from a cocooned, dark place into bright light can be a real shock to the senses. I encourage women to have positive affirmations written on postcards, simple phrases like: ‘You are a woman and you are designed to do this.’”
Dede Efueye is a private midwife with

Bev Turner, broadcaster and author
“A happy birth is one in which women feel they understand what is happening and are included in the decision-making process; one in which their choices are listened to and respected; one in which the birthing woman is viewed holistically as an individual and is the most important person in the room. The type of birth that a woman wants is very individual – it might be a home water birth or a planned abdominal birth – but a happy birth is one where knowledge has bestowed power.”
Beverley Turner is a broadcaster and author of The Happy Birth Book (Piatkus)

Sara Weston, Lindo Wing midwife
“After birth, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Every woman copes with labour and birth differently, and my best piece of advice would be to take help when it’s offered, and sleep when your baby sleeps. Don’t think that when the baby sleeps you need to be tidying, or cooking. If the baby is sleeping then take the opportunity to recharge your batteries. “Try to keep visitors to a minimum in the first few days; I know this can be difficult as everyone wants to come and see the new baby, but you have to look after yourself too. Limit visitors to the morning or the afternoon. “Don’t try to please everyone by doing things ‘their way’. You will quickly learn your baby’s cues and how to deal with their needs. Listen to advice but you won’t offend anyone if you don’t follow it.”
Sara Weston is a midwife at the Lindo Wing

Graves’ tips for a hypnobirth

  • Research the course you plan to attend to make sure it is a full 12-hour antenatal course
  • Attend the course, with your partner if possible, and you are welcome to be sceptical and bring an enquiring mind
  • Do the daily practice after the course: breathing and visualisations, positive birth relaxations, fear-release relaxations and positive birth statements
  • Find out the facts and choose the place you plan to give birth carefully and logically
  • Take responsibility for the birth of your baby
  • Be well informed and work with your medical caregivers as a team
  • Use the breathing and relaxation techniques you have practised when you give birth
  • Make sure you are in the optimal position for a comfortable birth (not flat on your back or semirecumbent)
  • Have a birth pool filled and available (it is your choice when and if you use it)
  • Enjoy the birth of your baby as the most wonderful and empowering experience of your life