Breathing exercises have long been part of antenatal classes. Hypnobirthing takes this and adds relaxation, visualisation and mindfulness techniques to help you concentrate on your body and the birth of your baby.
What are the methods and techniques used in hypnobirthing?
Watch ‘How can I use breathing exercises during labour?’ from NHS Choices
Visualisation is where you imagine the birth of your baby and what you want to happen. It can be something really specific or more general, like a feeling you want to have. For example, you could picture what it will feel like to hold your baby skin to skin after they’ve been born. It’s like a rehearsal in your mind to help you feel more prepared and positive.
‘I just kept breathing and focused on anything I could find, which ended up being a clean flannel!’ Louise. Read more about her experience…
Deep relaxation / meditation
Meditation may help you concentrate on your body and baby during labour, while ignoring any extra noise or things going on around you.
‘My husband made me a relaxation album to use throughout labour and pregnancy. It really helped me to find calm serenity in the clinical hospital environment.’ Georgina. Read more about her experience…
Does hypnobirthing work?
For now, there is limited research into hypnobirthing. A randomised study of 680 women funded by the NHS in 2013 didn’t conclusively show that it was effective. This means it will work for some women and not others. Here are some of the reasons that you might choose to try hypnobirthing:
- Hypnobirthing can help you manage stress hormones, such as adrenalin, and reduce anxiety, which should lead to a calmer birth. During labour, your body produces a chemical called oxytocin, which helps progress your labour. Stress hormones affect the production of oxytocin, and make your labour longer.
- Managing stress may also help to reduce some of the fear and pain experienced during labour.
- In some cases, hypnobirthing has been shown to make labour shorter.
- Practising hypnobirthing – whether it’s at a class, with a book or CD – may help you to feel more prepared and in control when labour starts.
- It may help you cope with anxieties if you had a previous traumatic birth experience.
- Hypnobirthing may reduce the need for drugs and medical intervention. However, you can have additional pain relief as well if you want to.
- It can be added to any birth plan and the techniques can be used wherever you give birth – in a hospital or birth centre, or at home.
- Hypnobirthing may benefit you after birth too, with some evidence showing that it can lower the chance of postnatal depression.
- Hypnobirthing can help your birth partner play a more active role during labour.
‘I found helping my partner give birth using hypnobirthing very rewarding. Learning the techniques together meant I was able to talk her through the wave of each contraction, reminding her to stay focused and relaxed and that she was in control of the experience. It made so much difference being able to do something positive during her labour and to see her managing the pain herself.’Nigel. Read more about his experience...
Are there disadvantages to hypnobirthing?
Practising hypnobirthing does not mean unexpected things won’t happen. A birth free from medical interventions or complications can never be guaranteed. However, learning to relax and stay calm may help you feel more in control during labour if things don’t go to plan.
‘We read a book and listened to audio meditation tapes but they didn’t work as we really didn’t commit any time to it.’Daisy
Most hypnobirthing classes and courses are run privately, so it is likely that you will need to pay.
Classes are usually taught in small groups but there are some teachers who offer one-to-one lessons too.
Have a look for a local accredited hypnobirthing teacher, or check with your midwife/local maternity services to see who offers classes in your area.
‘We did a short course delivered at the hospital… We mainly did it because I was worried I would freak out and lose control, and to ensure me and my husband had full roles to play in the birth.’Amy
Taking someone with you
You don’t have to bring your (birth) partner with you to class, but it is recommended. Hypnobirthing has been developed with your birth partner in mind too, to give them a more active role during your labour.
What will I learn in a hypnobirthing class?
As well as relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques, hypnobirthing aims to teach you what happens to your body during labour.
‘In my experience as a midwife of being with women, they feel more able to cope if they've had an opportunity to prepare for birth.’Anna, Tommy’s midwife
One of the goals is to give you (and your birth partner) the time and space to build your confidence and prepare for labour. This confidence can also help you make decisions about what you want, like where and how you want to give birth.
Other ways to learn about hypnobirthing
‘I gave birth with zero pain relief to a 8lb 13oz-er! Used a birthing ball, TENS machine and birth pool as natural pain relief. I didn't attend any classes, just bought a book and seriously read up on it.’Bethany
Hypnobirthing can be learnt and practiced in many ways, not just in classes. There is a lot of information online, in books, apps, CDs and even podcasts.
Check your local library for hypnobirthing books or CDs.
‘I had the most positive experiences at both births but my second was so amazing because of being able to relax throughout and be present and enjoy the experience drug free. I’m also convinced it helped me to recover faster too.’
‘I remember thinking that there was no way hypnobirthing was going to work for me. I’m a total stress-head and I overthink everything. I just couldn’t imagine being able to switch off because I kept laughing when doing the techniques.’
You should feel that your needs and wishes are being listened to during labour, particularly around pain relief. Every labour and birth is unique and care should be tailored to you.
This part of labour can sometimes last a long time. This page explains what the latent phase of labour is and how to get through it as comfortably as possible.
In the diary of a third pregnancy our diarist tries to capture the pain and magic of the birth of her son.
- NHS Choices, https://www.nhs.uk/video/Pages/how-can-i-use-breathing-exercise-during-labour.aspx [accessed 07/03/2018]
- NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pain-relief-labour... [accessed 28/02/2018]
- Downe, S., Finlayson, K., Mewin, C., Spiby, H., Ali, S., Diggle, P., Gyte, G., Hinder, S. Miller, V., Slade, P. Prepal, D., Weeks, A., Whorwell, P. & Williamson, M. Self hypnosis for intrapartum pain mangement in pregnant nulliparous women: a randomised control trial of clinical effectiveness. BJOG 122 (9) 1226- 1234 2015.
- Alehagen S, Wijma K, Lundberg U, Melin B, Wijma B: Catecholamine and cortisol reaction to childbirth. Int J Behav Med. 2001, 8 (1): 50-65.
- Jenkins, M.W., & Pritchard, M.H. Hypnosis: Practical applications and theroretical considerations in normal labour. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 100 (3), 221-226, 1993.
- Swencionis, C., Litman Rendell, S., Dolce, K., Massry, S., Mongan, M.. Outcomes of Hypnobirthing. Journal of Prenatal Psychology and Health 27(2). 2012.
- Harmon, T.M., Hynan, M., & Tyre, T.E. Improved obstetric outcomes using hypnotic analgesia and skill mastery combined with childbirth education. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 58, 525, 530, 1990.
ℹLast reviewed on March 7th, 2018. Next review date March 7th, 2021.
By Milena (not verified) on 18 Apr 2020 - 17:10
There is one hypnobirthing app that really needs to be mentioned. I tested a few other similar apps before deciding to purchase this one. The women's voices are very soothing and relaxing, almost angelic. I have been listening almost daily for about 2 weeks now (I'm currently 29 weeks along) and have noticed that I feel more relaxed and carry less tension in my body since beginning the sessions. My breathing has improved and my son has moved into a head-down position just this week. No way to say that this app deserves all the credit for these changes, but I definitely feel like it is improving my overall mental and physical preparation for birth.