Hypnobirthing is all about experiencing childbirth in an atmosphere of calm relaxation using meditation, free of the fear and tension that prevents our birthing muscles from functioning as nature intended them to.
Using breathing techniques, meditation and self-hypnosis, parents can mutually benefit from a programme that will help you overcome your fears and learn to ignore the traumatic birth stories that seem to circulate and scare us about labour.
From hypnobirthing techniques to your local hypnobirthing courses, here's everything you need to know about hypnobirthing.
The principles of hypnobirthing are to combine mindfulness and hypnosis for birth, aiming to remove some of the fear surrounding labour and give mums-to-be the support and confidence they need to turn giving birth into a truly positive experience.
So many of the labour stories shared by women – our friends, family, and own mothers – are negative; we rarely share the positive, happy stories of birth as it seems much more entertaining to share horror stories. But giving birth is one of the most natural experiences humans go through, so let’s make it a positive one!
Hypnobirthing arms mums-to-be with the confidence to cope with pain, to aim for an uninterrupted birth (referring to inducements), and also to be prepared should your birth not go to plan, for instance if an emergency C-section is required.
The focus of hypnobirthing is on the connection and visualisation between the mind and the body, and looks at how self-hypnosis can help birthing mums cope with the pain experienced in labour.
Professional hypnobirthing practitioner Caron Newton explains: "One woman who played a part in the revolution of Hypnobirthing is Michelle Leclaire O’Neill, who wrote about the phenomenon of natural childbirth in her book published in 1987. Giving birth on your back, under spotlights, in a clinical environment, is not a natural way to have a baby,"
A relaxed, controlled birthing woman will achieve much more of a comfortable birth experience.
Caron continued: "Janet Balaskas, founder of The Active Birth Centre, has been working hard since the early 80’s, to educate women and health professionals to help women to find positions of comfort in childbirth. She believes that a relaxed, controlled birthing woman will achieve much more of a comfortable birth experience."
What are the main hypnobirthing techniques?
Hypnobirthing involves teaching women and men to tap back into their instinct for birthing. Here are the main hypnobirthing techniques:
Caron says: "For the majority of women, we are able to both conceive and grow our babies, so why does birth have to be any harder?
"By using techniques of relaxation and breathing, along with positive images and words, I can equip clients to go into their birthing journey feeling a lot more positive and relaxed," she explains "we link emotional attachment with background music and words, through a series of repetition, which allows couples to associate sounds with feeling calm or even excited about labour."
"We all put ourselves into a state of trance on a daily basis i.e. daydreaming, fixation and this is the same feeling we aim to achieve in Hypnobirthing. A woman has to seek a conscious desire for change in order to achieve the mind and body connection, otherwise, the mind will continue to draw you back to the negative, fearful thoughts that dominate. Women can naturally achieve a state of trance in childbirth - but the majority of women will need to learn the tools to allow this to happen."
Breathing techniques you need for labour
Breathing seems such a simple and obvious thing to do, so it’s hard to believe that it can have much impact on the overwhelming sensations that come with labour. But amazingly, it does – it’s your path through your contractions, so make sure you check out our top breathing techniques for labour.
If I use hypnobirthing, can I use pain relief if I need to?
Tamara, a hypobirthing expert, says: "We never say you can't use the drugs as this is always your choice but we do however find that many attending our classes have already made the decision to avoid pain relieving drugs if possible."
"There isn’t any one right way to labour and this is the same with hypnobirthing. It isn't about us telling you what you should or shouldn't do during your baby's birth, but instead you choosing what’s right for you. We do recommend that women focus on the best birth possible and being comfortable during that experience because it never makes sense to 'rehearse' a negative outcome. But if someone attends a course saying they still want the drugs we wouldn't tell them that was bad."
"What's interesting, though, is that most of the time they don't need them. But if we'd said they couldn't have them they probably wouldn't have attended a course and would therefore have missed out on the wonderful benefits learning these tools can give."
"We also mention that you may want to add to your birth plan, in that, if you want pain relief you will ask rather than them offering it to you and therefore making you think about it."
What are the benefits of hypnobirthing?
Having a birth plan is common but no matter how much you plan, unfortunately, it doesn't always go the way you want it too, so it's always best to be prepared for any unexpected changes.
Through learning hypnobirthing techniques, it will allow you to cope with the unexpected better than if you hadn't had the breathing techniques or visualisation. It equips you with the knowledge to self-relax, so if you had planned for a water birth but had to have an emergency C-section, you can maintain the breathing techiques, relax more and focus on the bigger picture - your baby's arrival.
Partners often feel left out during pregnancy and birth, as essentially there’s little they can do, or so we normally think. Hypnobirthing can help your partner feel included in the process too.
The courses will give your partner tasks and practical approaches to help through both pregnancy and labour. These include massage techniques, calming phrases to put you in the right frame of mind as well as mindfulness practices that you can do together.
Some other activies on hypnobirthing courses including mums writing on a post-it-note some of the qualities they love about their partners for them to keep in their wallets. This will help them to feel confident and loved throughout the pregnancy and during labour.
It is recommended to take a course between 28 weeks and 32 weeks into pregnancy as it allows you time to practise techniques in the run-up to the birth.
Caron says: "although women usually take the course between 28 and 32 weeks, we have taught as early as 22 weeks for some mums suffering from anxiety, and as late on as 38 weeks for couples who have stumbled upon hypnobirthing late on in pregnancy.
The Mindful Mamma runs courses and bases its teaching on the ideas of clinical hypnotherapist Sophie Fletcher. The course looks at the physiological side of labour and talks about the impact of chemicals in the body such as how we feel pain and when these change during labour.
A lot of the focus of the course is on the importance of oxytocin, which is known as the love hormone. Oxytocin can't be produced at the same time as adrenalin, so when your body goes into stress mode, adrenalin peaks and oxytocin dips, so through hypnobirthing, you can learn to keep those oxytocin levels high and keep adrenalin at bay.
Hypnobirthing won’t suit every mum-to-be, but at the very least it will arm you with relaxation techniques to practice during your pregnancy, whatever might happen during your labour.
Real mums: 'Hypnobirthing got me through my home birth'
Having a home birth can be an amazing and unique experience – with the right help – as mum of two and hypnobirthing expert Lottie Daley discovered.
‘I had a long, difficult birth in hospital with my first baby, and felt I’d lost control of my body. When I got pregnant again, I did a hypnobirthing course, which helped me realise that labour didn’t need to be medicalised. This time, I wanted a calm “freebirth” at home, with no midwives, just a doula – a woman who supports you through your labour – and Miles, now my ex partner.
‘One evening, two days after my due date, I was in bed when a sharp, powerful cramp in my stomach woke me up. I knew this was the real thing. The strong contractions – or surges as we say in hypnobirthing – were coming regularly every few minutes. Feeling calm and in control, I asked Miles to rub my back as I listened to my hypnobirthing CD. By the morning, they had eased off.
'With Mia around, I was in “mum mode”, so we took her to a playgroup across the road – I kept nipping outside and breathing deeply whenever I felt a surge. Back at the house, Miles filled the birthing pool, and Mia and I got into the warm water, playing games and watching Peppa Pig all afternoon. By now, the surges had become more intense, but I was so aware of Mia being around, that I couldn’t let go enough to allow myself to get in the right mindset, which was frustrating.
'By tea time, the surges had intensified and become more frequent so I called my doula, Sam. I cried when she arrived, not out of fear, but because I was happy to see another woman. After I tucked Mia into bed at 6.30pm, two enormous contractions swept across my bump. I paced downstairs, bending over the sofa to ease the pressure in my stomach.
'It was hard work, and painful, but the relaxing music and candlelight helped to create the right atmosphere. I also imagined a lily opening as I slowly breathed deeply, which helped me feel in control of the sensations.
'But at 9.30pm, my mood changed suddenly. “I can’t do this,” I shouted. Ignoring Sam’s reassurances that it was just the “transition” stage, and that I was almost there, I begged to be taken to hospital for drugs. The pain had just suddenly become incredible.
'Panicking, Miles called the midwives. Meanwhile, Sam suggested I reach down to touch the baby’s head. As I felt the soft hair between my legs, peace flooded my body.
'In the pool, I reminded myself to keep up my slow breathing, imagining raindrops dripping down a window, which helped me to focus on something other than the sensation of my baby’s head emerging. It felt like I’d been transported to another world.
'Allowing my body to take over, I started pushing, and all the pain disappeared. I hardly registered the midwives when they arrived. Eventually, I looked up and asked them if they wanted to examine me. “No, we trust you,” they replied.
'A few minutes later, my baby’s head emerged under the water. My relaxation was so deep, I didn’t even fully register when the body came out. “Lottie, pick up your baby,” I heard a voice say. Looking down, I gasped to see a perfect girl floating in the water. Scooping her up, I felt a rush of love. It was such an empowering moment – I felt like a goddess.
'Afterwards, the midwives helped us into bed. Lily Luisa was big at 9lb 5oz, and I had a second degree tear. But I decided against stitches, and the wound healed quickly afterwards. I’m sure that being in my own environment, combined with hypnobirthing, helped me to achieve my amazing home birth.’
Other relaxation techniques to try
Smell is a powerful sense and can conjure up memories and emotions. ‘When you’re practising relaxation exercises during pregnancy, burn lavender oil,’ says doula Sophie Fletcher. ‘Have it with you during labour and it will trigger an association with relaxation.’ If aromatherapy is something you're interested in discovering more about, discover which essential oils you can use in pregnancy.
Feeling stressed? Get your partner to vigorously rub your back and the backs of your legs. This stimulates the metabolism, which helps your body process adrenaline and lactic acid, so you feel calm again. Between contractions, light massage helps to stimulate the release of calming chemicals in the body.
‘Your brain’s evolved to alert you to possible danger ahead so, even if you’re OK, it could generate panicky thoughts, triggering muscle tension and making labour slower,’ says hypnobirthing trainer Rosie Goode. Keep your mind in check by focusing on the present – using a breathing technique will help, as will repeating a birth mantra to yourself.
What did you think of hypnobirthing?
But does hypnobirthing actually work when it comes to labour day? 9 mums from #mumtribe weigh in and share their birth stories...
1) Laura Lainchbury
"I did an online course through The Positive Birth Company. It helped me in labour so much. I found having an understanding about what was happening to my body and the breathing techniques invaluable to keeping calm and therefore progressing labour. I am so pleased I invested time in it and would definitely recommend it.
Every birth is different and hardly ever goes exactly to your birth ‘plan’ but the course was definitely worth doing for me."
2) Jessi Pywell
" I did a course - still waiting for little one to arrive but it was an amazing course and I feel really prepared and like I know what I want and can be in control."
3) Emma Webster
"I'm the BIGGEST hypnobirthing advocate going! It was incredible, worked like an absolute dream, my labour and birth were very textbook, but I 100% wouldn't have been able to do it without hypnobirthing."
4) Natalie Hill
"I did the positive birthing companies hypnobirthing online course, I found before labour it really helped me mentally and took the anxiety away. It also helped me make better choices when it came to being offered an induction etc.
My labour was different to most in that it was a slow one over a few days before it randomly built up in a matter of minutes. I got to the hospital at 7cm - the birthing pool really helped and the breathing helped too, but there was no time to get the lights out or do the affirmations or tens machine etc so that side all went out the window.
As did the leaning forward as I was so tired. I pushed for 3 hours so had to get out the pool and to the labour ward and so was on the bed leaning back again at which point I really didn’t care. So I’d say it def helped leading up to it but for me personally it didn’t help as much as I thought it would in the hospital labour part."
5) Samantha Sharp
"I also did the online course with The Positive Birth Company. It was fantastic. Even when things went astray I went back to everything in that course and I felt in control. I also did a 6 week session with The Daisy Foundation, Antenatal and Baby (local groups all over) and I loved that too. It also gave me a nice group of mums I am still in touch with today. But yes I did it, I loved it, and I would do it all again."
6) Joanna Cunningham
"I did the course with my local midwives. I was induced in the end so didn’t use it fully, but the breathing techniques definitely helped."
7) Lauren Smollett
"I used hypnobirthing during my pregnancy and labour. I absolutely loved it and managed to birth my 9lb 8oz little boy with no pain relief at all. It really helped me focus on listening to my body and channeling the energy during labour! Definitely would recommend it to any mums to be."
8) Laura Quinn
"I dont think i did hypno birthday technically, but I used affirmations and breathing techniques from pregnancy yoga which got me through a lot of labour. In the end, my contractions stopped so i was rushed to theatre, but until then I'd only taken gas and air, besides the breathing, so i certainly think its worth it."
9) Amy Holland
"I did an online course. I found at the time that a lot of it escaped me, but I think the most important thing was the mind set it gave me of kind of even if things don’t go to plan, you can remain in control.
Some of it obviously went in, for example the breathing exercises and the positive affirmation I held on to, was that each contraction was bringing me closer to meeting my baby.
Even if I didn’t utilise it fully at the time it definitely helped and I delivered at a MLU in water with just gas and air. If I ever do it again I think I’d pay for a proper course and try and use more of the techniques at the time."
The best hypnobirthing podcasts and audiobooks
There's no better more time efficient way to take in information than through your ears! So whether you're doing the dishes or taking a bath, we've rounded up some of the best hypnobirthing podcasts and audiobooks for you to listen to in the lead up to your labour. Take a look here!
The pair revealed how they arehuge fans of the birthing technique!
Giovanna revealed in an interview how she discovered Hypnobirthing: "When we first announced that we were expecting our first child I had a handful of friends (who are all mothers) get in touch to tell me about hypnobirthing and how wonderful they’d found using the technique during labour."
‘Let’s face facts – we’ve all heard pretty traumatic childbirth stories (people just love sharing them – they revel in the horrified expressions they get in return), so I was ready to try anything to help get me through the ordeal… what I wasn’t prepared for was just how lovely I’d find hypnobirthing, and how it would change my whole perception on the day we welcome our little Crumb into the world.’
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Lorna is the digital executive and regular contributor for Mother&Baby. After running the Yours magazine website which specialises in content about caring for kids and grandchildren, she has now brought her expertise to the UK's #1 leading pregnancy and parenting magazine. Lorna specialises on a range of topics from potty training and nutrition, to everything and anything that will keep your tot occupied!
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