What is hypnobirthing? Every woman wants a positive and calm birth, but the anxiety of labour can be overwhelming (and terrifying).
A drug-free mind-body technique called hypnobirthing may help women manage the anxiety, fear, and pain associated with labour and delivery.
The Duchess of Cambridge used hypnobirthing during labour with her three children – if the royals are fans, you know it’s worth exploring!
In this article, you’ll discover what hypnobirthing is and when you should start applying hypnobirthing techniques. We’ll also answer your burning questions about taking a hypnobirthing course or hypnobirthing classes.
What is hypnobirthing, and what is its purpose?
Hypnobirthing, a form of self-hypnosis, is an all-natural approach to childbirth that aims to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain during labour and delivery.
It refers to a deeply relaxed state reached through breathwork, mindfulness, visualisation, affirmations, and relaxation exercises. This helps to approach the experience without anxiety and facilitates a calm, pain-free birth.
It doesn’t matter whether you are planning a vaginal or caesarean birth or if you want to use pain relief or not – hypnobirthing is for anyone going through childbirth.
What are common hypnobirthing techniques?
Hypnobirthing uses hypnosis techniques to get you into a positive and relaxed mindset for birth. But you are always in control.
The most common and popular hypnobirthing techniques are breathwork exercises, mindfulness, positive birth affirmations, guided visualisation, and focusing on positive words.
Let’s explore a few of them in more detail.
Breathwork is one of the most effective ways to focus the mind and reduce anxiety. Slowing the breath down triggers the vagus nerve, a crucial component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response.
Cadence breathing is a common hypnobirthing breathing technique:
- Close your eyes and focus on breathing with your diaphragm into your lower ribs
- Breathe in through the nose for a count of four
- Pause for a moment
- Breathe out slowly for six to eight counts through the nose
- Repeat for a few minutes
If you can learn to let go, you may have a more enjoyable and less painful labour experience.
Hypnobirthing instructors encourage changing words that trigger anxiety around labour and childbirth.
For example, instead of saying “contractions” say “waves.” Use “breathing” in place of the word “pushing.”
Hypnobirthing uses visualisation to help you mentally rehearse your labour process according to how you want it to go.
You can also use mental images and scenarios to trigger relaxation and prepare you for a confident, relaxed, and positive birth process.
Instructors often provide guided visualisation audios to listen to and practice at home.
Stress puts you into survival mode. Blood gets shuttled away from your reproductive organs, which isn’t ideal if you want an easy birth experience. Plus, the more pain and anxiety you feel, the more fear is created. It’s a vicious cycle.
By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest response), hypnobirthing relaxes your muscles, helping you “lean in” to the birthing process. Keeping stress levels low may also stimulate higher levels of the “love” hormone, oxytocin.
In some people, the state of hypnosis is so powerful that it may feel like you’re under anaesthesia.
Hypnobirthing benefits include:
- A positive mindset
- Greater self-confidence
- Less fear and anxiety
- Better pain management during labour
- Feeling present and in control during childbirth
- Greater chance of a vaginal delivery
Hypnobirthing techniques are useful long after your pregnancy and birth journey. They help you deal with stressful events and access relaxation states whenever you need them.
Does hypnobirthing work?
Yes! Although the studies are small, they show hypnobirthing works for many women.
A survey of women who took a hypnobirthing course1 found that it shortened both stages of labour, resulted in more natural births, and reduced the need for epidurals. Interestingly, half of the participants opted for no pain medication at all.
Another 2022 study2 found thirteen hours of classes hypnobirthing over four weeks resulted in:
- Shorter delivery times
- Higher vaginal delivery rates
- Significantly lower rates of medical intervention
- Greater feelings of satisfaction after the labour and delivery experience
Overall, women who use hypnobirthing techniques feel more focused, confident, relaxed, and less fearful.
When should you start hypnobirthing?
Most moms-to-be take a hypnobirthing course 28-32 weeks into pregnancy. But hypnobirthing can be started as early in your pregnancy as you wish – the more you practice the techniques, the better.
Ideally, the latest you want to start hypnobirthing is at the beginning of the third trimester.
What are the risks of hypnobirthing?
Hypnobirthing is natural and free from side effects.
That said, hypnobirthing isn’t guaranteed and doesn’t eliminate the risk of complications during childbirth. In fact, it may give some women false expectations for labour without preparing them for what might go wrong.
Note: Always tell your doctor or midwife that you’re using hypnobirthing techniques to avoid mistaking your calm state for a slow labour progression.
Do I need to take hypnobirthing classes?
You can learn hypnobirthing techniques by taking a hypnobirthing course. This usually consists of 10–12 hours of group classes (split over 4 or 5 weeks) and daily self-hypnosis audios to listen to at home.
Ask your doctor or local birthing centre for recommendations for a trained hypnobirthing practitioner or hypnotherapist who offers hypnobirthing classes.
There are also apps and podcasts available that teach hypnobirthing breathing and other techniques so you can practice at home.
Instructors and proponents of hypnobirthing understand that childbirth is an instinctual process and is empowering when a woman has the right resources and support.
With the help of hypnobirthing techniques, labour and delivery can be a beautiful experience that helps you bond with your new baby.
- Phillips-Moore. (2012). Birthing outcomes from an Australian HypnoBirthing programme. British Journal of Midwifery.
- Buran & Aksu. (2022). Effect of Hypnobirthing Training on Fear, Pain, Satisfaction Related to Birth, and Birth Outcomes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Clin Nurs R
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