women sat in bath giving birth
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Is Hypnobirthing new?

You may be surprised to learn that, although there has been increased awareness in recent years of expectant parents taking up Hypnobirthing classes, the concept has actually been around since the early 1900s.  A very clever British doctor called Grantly-Dick Read noticed that women in labour that were calm and relaxed tended to have a much more comfortable, positive and straightforward experience.  As a result “Hypnobirthing” as a concept was born - excuse the pun!

What happens to our brain during labour?

Have you ever driven home from work, arrived outside your house and had no recollection of how you got there?  Usually referred to as “driving on autopilot”. In a nutshell practicing hypnobirthing techniques during pregnancy can help you relax into a state of “autopilot” during labour.  

Our bodies are amazing and never more so than when they are growing a tiny human.  The changes that occur in our bodies during pregnancy are mind-blowing and impact virtually every system within the body.  As well as the physically obvious changes that can be seen as the uterus expands to more than 500 times its pre-pregnancy state, massive shifts in hormone releases, there are also structural changes in the brain.

Just in the same way that everything gets bigger, the pituitary gland, responsible for hormone release increases in size to accommodate for the increase in hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin and, the all important “love hormone” oxytocin.

What is important for us to understand is not just what changes during pregnancy but how the brain works during labour.  The first thing is that our oxytocin levels are rising throughout pregnancy but actually reach their highest point at the moment of birth.  During labour there is a cascade of hormonal releases happening to facilitate the birth of your baby.  

Throughout labour, especially during the first stage of labour which is when the body is working hard to draw your cervix up and out of the way, Oxytocin is key.  This hormone is not only associated with feelings of happiness, relaxation and love, it is released in abundance throughout labour to stimulate powerful contractions.  Going back to the days when we lived in caves, danger was ever present.  Therefore, the body having the ability to slow down the progression of labour could be seen as life saving.  If you are in the throws of labour then sense there is a tiger on the prowl, a healthy release of our fight or flight hormone adrenaline was just the trick!

Although we don’t live in caves anymore, our hormonal responses have not caught up to this fact and so, any hint of fear or stress can trigger a release of adrenaline.  Redirecting all the much needed blood flow going to the uterus to aid contractions, to the arms, legs and heart so that we can run away from whatever has caused our fear.  Enter hypnobirthing.

What is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is the concept of practicing relaxation, visualisation and self-hypnosis during pregnancy with the view to adopting these skills during labour.  Over recent years hypnobirthing classes have become more popular as people strive for a calm and positive birth.  

The theory is that hypnobirthing helps to prepare for your labour and birth by reframing any concepts you may have that your experience will be both stressful and painful.  

Hypnobirthing classes generally provide an understanding of the physiology of labour and birth - so basically helping you to understand what your body is actually doing from a purely physical point of view - and then providing you with techniques to help you release tension and fear as your body gets to work.  

It is suggested that during labour the brain enters an altered level of consciousness - sometimes referred to as “birthing consciousness”.   This altered state provides an increase in focus, loss of normal inhibitions, reductions in pain, a feeling of calm and a lack of concept of time.  Achieving this altered state is often hindered by anxiety and fear and a good hypnobirthing course will help you navigate this.  An added bonus is that a review of the evidence confirms that hypnobirthing does improve the birthing experience.

Who is Hypnobirthing for?

Hypnobirthing is for everyone.  Partners included!  It really doesn’t matter how your baby is born, be it by c-section or vaginally, the skills you will learn during your hypnobirthing course will help you to navigate every eventuality.  They can even be used in other events in your life such as job interview or competitions.

Will hypnobirthing hypnotise me?

It is a common worry or misconception that hypnobirthing will take you out of being in control and put you into a state of hypnosis.  This is not the case.  The idea of hypnobirthing is to enable you to be less impacted by what is going on around you such as sights, sounds and smells and to allow you to embrace your contractions rather than fight against them.

You will be fully aware of what is happening around you but easier equipped to ignore anything that is unimportant to you.

Will hypnobirthing help me a achieve a “pain free” birth

As a midwife I always feel very concerned when I see any antenatal classes claiming they will aid a “pain free” birth.  Having been at many births I can honestly say I have never been at one that was “pain free”.  However,  I do believe hypnobirthing classes can support you with minimising any additional pain brought on by tension in your body.  

With good practice you and your partner will gain a greater knowledge of what tension feels like in your body, be able to recognise when it is there and use your breathing and visualisation exercises to release it as much as possible.  Releasing tension by using hypnobirthing techniques will, in turn, reduce how painful your experience is.

What are the benefits of hypnobirthing?

Attending a good hypnobirthing class and practicing the skills taught over time can make your birth preparation really enjoyable and help you start your labour and birth in a much calmer frame of mind.

A good hypnobirthing class will encourage you to embrace your contractions and the sensations that come with them as they are what is needed for you to be able to meet your baby.  In addition, by reducing your tension you are more likely to reduce your fear and therefore keep adrenaline at bay.  This, in turn, helps the oxytocin to keep flowing, the contractions to keep coming and hopefully will result in you meeting your baby in the shortest time possible.

What are the disadvantages of hypnobirthing?

If taught correctly and in a measured and balanced way there are very few disadvantages of hypnobirthing.  However, some classes tend to teach hypnobirthing in an idealistic view that implies that just by practicing the techniques almost guarantees that you will have the labour and birth that you want.  As a result some women report that they felt they had almost been deceived into thinking that by doing hypnobirthing they would be calm and serene throughout.  The risk of this happening to you can be addressed by ensuring whichever hypnobirthing course you attend it is based on all types of labour and birth.

Hypnobirthing classes may also encourage you to change words such as “contraction” and “pain” and favour words such as “wave” or “surge”.   If you find that this approach helps in your peraratio that is great.  It is worth keeping in mind however, that you may not be able to avoid hearing the clinical terms during your labour.  

My feeling is that our contractions and pains are to be viewed as beautiful because, they are what will bring us to our babies.  So, rather than demonise words like “contractions” and “pain” better to welcome them into your world.

Many hypnobirthing courses are quite costly and, at a time when you may already be paying for standard antenatal classes since they have been largely discontinued on the NHS, the cost may be prohibitive.  Don’t worry - we run a fantastic midwife led hypnobirthing course which is live, interactive and great value for money.  Check it out here.

I am having a c-section - is there any point in doing Hypnobirthing Classes?

If practiced correctly hypnobirthing will help both you and your partner however your baby makes its way into the world.  Being able to recognise and breathe away your tension, think positively and ward off feelings of stress and anxiety will be beneficial whatever the situation.

Do I still need to do regular antenatal classes

In a word - YES!  If you think about your labour and birth preparation as a cake!  Attending comprehensive labour and birth classes, that fully explore the physiology and detail of subjects like epidural, instrumental delivery and C-section, those antenatal classes are the cake!  

Hypnobirthing is the icing!  Spending the few weeks before your labour begins practicing relaxation and visualisation techniques will help you navigate your labour.

If all you have is the icing and haven’t taken the time to bake the cake you will likely find yourself trying to navigate any unexpected turn in events without a full understanding of what is going on around you.  This will make it harder to realise the benefits of hypnobirthing.

Let’s Talk Birth and Baby have three comprehensive Labour and Birth Classes to help you bake your cake!

Natural Labour & Birth - covers straightforward vaginal delivery

Induction of labour & instrumental delivery - looks at vaginal delivery in greater detail - exploring induction, epidural, fetal heart monitoring and instrumental delivery.

C-Section Workshop - provides a full understanding of cesarean section, what it entails and what you can expect both whilst in hospital and during your recovery at home.

Sign up for a free online antenatal class