What You Need To Know About Hypnobirthing

You may have heard of the term hypnobirthing – but there’s a reason more and more expectant mothers are turning to the technique to help them during labour. To find out more about this complex subject – including how it could help you, what it involves and how to use it during birth – we asked a hypnobirthing teacher and qualified midwife to answer our questions. Plus, one mother tells us how it impacted both of her deliveries.

What is hypnobirthing?

“Hypnobirthing is a set of tools and techniques which support the physiological process of labour and birth. That includes breathing techniques, visualisation, positive reinforcement through affirmations and guided relaxations.” – Emiliana Hall, founder & CEO of The Mindful Birth Group

As an expectant mum, what can hypnobirthing help you with?

“Hypnobirthing tools can help you to keep calm and relaxed and have a sense of feeling in control of your birth. Because they help to focus the mind, you have little room to worry about the things that are out of your control. If you are a first-time parent or are preparing for labour after a previous traumatic birth, hypnobirthing tools can be extremely powerful to help you stay present and prevent you from going into panic mode because of the unknown, or a previous traumatic memory.” – Emiliana

“As with pregnancy and birth, hypnobirthing techniques are built on one foundation, but are individual to each woman. For hypnobirthing to be successful, a woman needs to allow it to work; in other words, she needs to understand birth, what to expect and adopt a positive approach to the process, as well as understanding how hypnobirthing techniques can help at each stage no matter how her baby is born.” – Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife & co-founder of My Expert Midwife

Does it involve a 'correct' set of techniques?

“Not correct, as such. It’s important to learn the science of why and how hypnobirthing tools work. Once you’ve learned the principles, they can be tailored to what works for you. For example, the breath count might be slightly different for everyone depending on lung capacity. The visualisations and positive affirmations are certainly unique to the person. One person might like to take their mind to their favourite holiday beach, or another to their childhood home. Equally, everyone will have different ideas on how they would like their birth to be. Hypnobirthing is not an exam, but it is important to practise so you can get completely comfortable with implementing the tools when you need them.” – Emiliana

“Hypnobirthing techniques often include mindfulness, self-awareness, controlled breathing, affirmations, and deeper hypnosis. These techniques all teach women to trust, love and respect their bodies and not to fear the process of labour and giving birth. Educating yourself about how your body gives birth is such an empowering thing to do and connects you to the process on a much deeper level. Stress avoidance is wonderful for shutting out negativity and it gives you time to concentrate on the positives. Learning how to say no, avoiding stressful or upsetting situations, not watching certain TV programmes, or reading negative news articles can reap the benefits of a more positive mindset. Practice makes perfect when it comes to hypno-techniques and a pre-bedtime rehearsal is an ideal time to try it out so that you are familiar with what works and are confident when it comes to labour.” – Lesley

How does hypnobirthing work?

“Hypnobirthing enables you to train your mind to focus and allow your body to let go of tension and anxiety created by normal physiological processes. Audio tools enable you to practice using breathing and visualisations to calm your mind during labour and birth. By using hypnobirthing techniques, you will release the hormone oxytocin, which needs to be produced in the right amount for the labour to go smoothly. Anxieties and tensions inhibit your labouring hormones from working how they should by producing another hormone, adrenaline, which in turn slows or stops your labour. Producing optimal levels of oxytocin will not only help you to have an easier birth, but it also helps you bond with your baby and promotes easier breastfeeding. Relaxation also releases endorphins which are natural pain relievers. Controlled breathing has extensive evidence to support its benefits as an analgesic and is widely used in labour especially as part of hypnobirthing. Learning how to inhale deeply, hold the breath and then slowly release the breath is a skill worth honing. Affirmations are simple positive words, sentences, or phrases you or your partner can say out loud or internalised which can give you strength and reminders of what your body is capable of. Visualising what you want out of your labour and birth can be so powerful. You may visualise cuddling your baby or pushing in a calm controlled manner or you may visualise yourself as a powerful and loud birthing warrior. This is completely individual and different images work for different women and situations.” – Lesley

Hypnobirthing enables you to TRAIN your mind to focus and allow your BODY to let go of tension and ANXIETY created by NORMAL physiological processes.

What are some of the benefits hypno-birthing offers?

“Those who use hypnobirthing tools effectively report having a more comfortable experience (perhaps in comparison to a previous birth), feeling more in control and feeling empowered. Remember, the tools help to keep the stress hormones at bay, so even if the birth is not what you expect, implementing the tools in all scenarios can have a massive impact on how you move through it.” – Emiliana

“Others have also reported less need for pain relief; shorter first or second stages of labour; greater birth satisfaction whether vaginal or C-section; an increased sense of achievement; improved bonding with their baby; improved breastfeeding outcomes; improved relations with their partner as they felt more included and part of the process; a calmer baby due to reduced exposure to stress in the womb and at birth; reduced rates of postnatal depression/PTSD and lifelong use of these hypnosis techniques to help cope with stress.” – Lesley

How does it affect labour?

“By keeping you focused on things you can control – your breath, your thoughts, your mental outlook – so you’re less likely to spiral into a panic when you feel a new intense sensation in your body or the environment around you. Birth trauma comes from how we feel about a situation. Even in a birth that has moved from being a planned home water birth to an unplanned caesarean birth, hypnobirthing tools can still be incredibly helpful to keep adrenaline at bay and make you feel less scared.” – Emiliana

What are some of the myths that exist around hypno-birthing?

“That you ‘do’ hypnobirthing. As I said, it’s a range of tools and techniques that you learn and practice during pregnancy and then use as and when you need them the most during the birth. Many people believe that hypnobirthing will help you ‘achieve’ a certain type of birth, but the tools can be used in any scenario, especially if things take an unexpected turn. This is when adrenaline is likely to spike, and when slow and deep breathing and visualisation can be incredibly helpful.” – Emiliana

“That hypnobirthing cannot be practiced in a hospital setting because midwives and doctors will not support it – wrong! Many midwives are now trained in hypnobirthing techniques, and they will be more than happy to support and encourage you if you choose to practice this in hospital, in a birth centre or at home. A lot of people also think hypnobirthing means you cannot have any other pain relief. You can have any other pain relief you want – be it other holistic methods such as movement, use of water, massage or prescription medication and epidurals.” – Lesley

What can't hypno-birthing help you with?

“As beneficial as hypnobirthing can be, it is not a guarantee to achieving the labour and birth of your dreams. It is a supporting and coping mechanism which may help you to be more satisfied with your outcomes, but it cannot guarantee a vaginal birth, no emergency situations, no perineal trauma, a drug-free labour and birth or anything else.” – Lesley

“You can’t do a hypnobirthing course and expect your birth to be a certain way – there are too many variables at play. It won’t help you ‘achieve’ a certain type of birth. It’s important that people have realistic expectations about how hypnobirthing tools will support them during their unique birth experience.” – Emiliana

As beneficial as hypnobirthing can be, it is NOT A GUARANTEE to achieving the labour and birth of your dreams – it is a SUPPORTING and COPING mechanism.

What can't hypno-birthing help you with?

“As beneficial as hypnobirthing can be, it is not a guarantee to achieving the labour and birth of your dreams. It is a supporting and coping mechanism which may help you to be more satisfied with your outcomes, but it cannot guarantee a vaginal birth, no emergency situations, no perineal trauma, a drug-free labour and birth or anything else.” – Lesley

“You can’t do a hypnobirthing course and expect your birth to be a certain way – there are too many variables at play. It won’t help you ‘achieve’ a certain type of birth. It’s important that people have realistic expectations about how hypnobirthing tools will support them during their unique birth experience.” – Emiliana

How should you get started with learning more about hypnobirthing?

“You can take live courses both privately or in a group, which is the most recommended way to learn. Being supported by a teacher for your unique birth preparation is invaluable. If you can’t financially access a live course, you can also find online courses for as little as £10 which will teach you the basics. The key is to practice what you learn. There are also lots of books available, but we do recommend getting as much personalised support as you can during your pregnancy.” – Emiliana

Finally, should hypnobirthing instructors have qualifications?

“A good teacher will have trained with a reputable company that values the fact that all parents and all births are unique. A one-size-fits-all approach is not recommended, especially when midwife appointments are so limited. We recommend looking at the course provider website (as well as the teacher profile) to gauge the overall approach and what course syllabus you will be taught. When choosing a hypnobirthing birth preparation course, make sure that they include postnatal education and support too. This is all part of the birth, and many parents wish they had known more about birth recovery. Unfortunately, not many providers cover this at present.” – Emiliana

“Hypnobirthing is not a regulated practice, so you should do your research carefully when looking for a teacher. There are several accredited courses, but it can all be very confusing. A good starting point is to discuss your choices with your healthcare provider and do local research asking friends and family for recommendations. A good teacher should be knowledgeable about labour and birth and be able to apply hypnobirthing techniques to various stages and situations. They should leave you feeling empowered, prepared, and ready for all eventualities. A qualification in hypnobirthing should be checked out to understand their own level of education and ask to see references and testimonials before making your choice. The best teachers will be up to date with local and national maternity guidance and policies and will manage your expectations rather than promising the world.” – Lesley

Follow @TheMindfulBirthGroup on Instagram and visit MyExpertMidwife.com.

Here, mother of two Jagroop shares her hypnobirthing experience…

When I was pregnant with my first child, I became extremely conscious about what I was putting into and onto my body. I started living a more natural lifestyle – especially regarding diet and skincare. While I was researching natural pregnancies, I came across links to natural birth options and hypnobirthing. From around week six of my pregnancy I started to listen to hypnobirthing mediation and spent the rest of my pregnancy researching hypnobirthing techniques.

A water birth was briefly discussed around week eight of my pregnancy. But hypnobirthing was never mentioned. I’d already decided to go down a more natural birthing route and decided a water birth was right for me, as it was a more natural way of managing the contractions. At that time, I didn’t know anyone who had used hypnobirthing or had a water birth and still haven’t come across anyone in my day-to-day life who has used the hypnobirthing techniques during their labour – only people I found online or via social media.

I learned hypnobirthing techniques through internet articles, YouTube videos and by following hypnobirthing experts on Instagram. I did look into hypnobirthing courses but found they were booked up or didn’t work with my availability. I did worry that what I had taught myself wouldn’t be as effective but during my first labour, I found I knew all the techniques required for a completely natural, peaceful and calm delivery.

During my first pregnancy I was much more committed to the process. I listened to daily mediations and practised my techniques more frequently. In my second pregnancy I also practiced the techniques and listened to mediations, but I was busy running around after a toddler. During my first delivery, I was in labour for around eight hours, so I managed to incorporate more of the techniques I’d learned. The breathing techniques worked really well. The mediation also teaches you affirmations and how to work with your body through the contractions – it’s a mindset I believe gives you so much strength during delivery. The key takeaway was staying calm and not panicking. I arrived at the hospital around four hours in and transitioned into the water for the rest of my labour before delivering in there. It was night-time, so it was extremely calm, and the room was lit by candles. I had soft music playing in the background and was extremely in tune with my body, which helped me move through the different stages of labour and know what my body needed at each point.

Without hypno-birthing I don’t think I could have given birth both times without any PAIN RELIEF. It really helps you work WITH your body rather than AGAINST it.

My second labour was only four hours long and started at 9am. I used the same breathing techniques, remained calm, repeating lots of strong, positive affirmations. I arrived at the hospital two hours in and went straight into the water bath. I was so focused on the ‘pushing’ due to being in the later stages of active labour I never managed to set up any music or the mood of the room, but the hypno-birthing techniques still helped.

Without hypno-birthing I don’t think I could have given birth both times without any pain relief. It really helps you work with your body rather than against it. I truly believe that keeping yourself calm helps progress your labour. During my second pregnancy, I found the journey in the car to the hospital quite stressful and the time between my contractions increased. By training your mind to believe you can do this really does make a big difference. Hypnobirthing is about enabling your body to lead the way and give your intuition the power rather than following the instructions or timelines of traditional medicine. Giving birth is the most natural thing and having calm surroundings and being able to move in the way your body needs counts for so much. 

Two of the biggest misconceptions people have about hypnobirthing are you have to take expensive courses or that you won’t be able to do it when the time comes. If you go into it with this mindset, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You have to be open to believing you were born to do this – it’s in your biological make-up. I wish more people knew how effective it can be, especially if an intervention-free birth means a lot to you. My final piece of advice? Do your own research, look for experts to follow, read other people’s experiences and use existing resources like YouTube which are full of good information.

Jagroop Sahi is the CEO and founder of KIDDYKIND.

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