pregnant women having a waterbirth
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

What is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing uses a combination of breathing, visualisation and relaxation techniques to help you stay calm and cope during labour and birth. It is a natural medication-free way of managing pain and many people find it is really effective when it comes to having their baby.

Hypnobirthing has become increasingly popular in recent years as more 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 teach you about the physiology of labour and birth, so you understand what your body is doing from a purely physical point of view. You will then learn techniques you can use 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 and a lack of concept of time. It also naturally reduces the amount of pain you feel and helps you to stay calm.  It is likened to when you drive a familiar route and can’t remember doing it!

The many hormone releases that occur during labour and birth can be impacted by fear and anxiety preventing you achieving this altered state and make giving birth more difficult.

Is hypnobirthing new?

Hypnobirthing has become more well known in recent years but the concept itself has been around since the early 1900s. British doctor Grantly Dick-Read was working as an obstetrician in a London hospital during the 1920s when he noticed that women who stayed calm and relaxed during labour had a better birthing experience.

As a result of his observations, he became an advocate for natural childbirth and believed that reducing fear would make births calmer, easier and more straightforward.

What happens to our brains during labour?

Have you ever driven home from work, arrived outside your house and had no recollection of how you got there?  This is a very common experience for people who drive regularly and is often referred to as going “on autopilot”.

A similar thing can help you when you are in labour. Practising hypnobirthing techniques during your pregnancy can help your brain switch into a state of autopilot when the time comes to give birth.

Our bodies are amazing and never more so than when they are growing a tiny human.  The changes that occur during pregnancy are mind-blowing and impact virtually every system within the body.  

As well as the physically obvious changes like growing a bump as your uterus expands to more than 500 times its pre-pregnancy state, there are also structural changes which affect your brain. The pituitary gland, which is responsible for releasing hormones, gets bigger to cope with the additional hormones it needs to release during pregnancy, including oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin and, the all-important “love hormone” oxytocin.

The level of oxytocin in your body reaches its highest point during the birth itself. When you go into labour, your body is flooded with hormones to help you give birth to your baby.  Oxytocin plays a key role in labour and birth – stimulating powerful contractions, as well as helping you to bond with your newborn once they arrive.

Back when humans lived in caves and had to constantly be aware of dangers around them, the body’s ability to slow labour when frightened could be seen as potentially life-saving. If you were in the throes of labour then sensed there was a tiger on the prowl, a healthy release of the 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. This redirects all the much-needed blood flow going to the uterus to aid contractions and sends it to the arms, legs and heart so that we can run away from whatever has caused our fear.  

This means in some stressful situations, your body might delay giving birth until you feel safe, slowing down your contractions. And if you feel a lot of fear and anxiety around having your baby, this can lead to slow labours, increasing the risk of needing medical intervention.

Hypnobirthing helps people in labour to feel calm so they can focus on giving birth without their fight or flight response kicking in.

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 attending a job interview or taking part in a competition.

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 affected by what is going on around you so you can focus on giving birth.

You will still have full awareness of your surroundings but you will find it easier to ignore anything that is unimportant to you.

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

Hypnobirthing can help you cope with the pain of labour better and release tension from your body, which could cause additional pain and discomfort. However, you will still experience the sensations of giving birth (which are likely to be painful) – hypnobirthing will just make them easier to deal with.

With good practice, you and your partner will learn what tension feels like in your body so you can recognise it and use your breathing and visualisation exercises to release it as much as possible. Releasing tension by using hypnobirthing techniques will reduce how painful your experience is.

It is important to be realistic though – you will still feel pain and there may be moments where you don’t feel very calm and serene. Hypnobirthing also can’t guarantee that you won’t need medical intervention during your labour and birth – sometimes unexpected things happen – but the techniques you learn can help you feel more in control.

What are the benefits of hypnobirthing?

‍Attending a good hypnobirthing class and practising the skills taught over time can help you prepare for your baby’s birth and start your labour in a calmer frame of mind. Hypnobirthing 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.  

Reducing your tension will help you keep your adrenaline under control so the hormone oxytocin can play its role – keeping your contractions coming so you can meet your baby.

Are there any disadvantages?

There are no real disadvantages to hypnobirthing so long as you understand it isn’t a magic bullet which can guarantee you will have the birth of your dreams. Being able to breathe away your tension and manage your stress is helpful no matter what kind of birth you have and can benefit people having c-sections too.

Some hypnobirthing classes can be expensive which may be an issue if you have a limited budget. However, we run affordable four-week hypnobirthing workshops which are held online over Zoom. The classes are live, midwife-led and interactive and you can do them in the comfort of your own home.

Should I do hypnobirthing instead of a normal antenatal class?

Hypnobirthing shouldn’t be treated as an alternative to antenatal classes. You will learn so many important things about labour and birth in regular antenatal classes so don’t skip this step.

If you’re interested in hypnobirthing, it is best to take a class in addition to an antenatal class. Find out about the live online classes we offer here.

Sign up for a free online antenatal class