Could hypnobirthing help ease your labour pains?

We ask mums and the experts: does hypnobirthing work, and can it relieve contraction pain? Plus the pros and cons of using birth hypnotherapy as pain relief in labour...

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Hypnobirthing – sometimes called ‘birth hypnotherapy’ – is a form of self-hypnosis that focuses on keeping you calm, relaxed and positive while giving birth.

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The idea behind it is that if you and your body are relaxed during labour, then you’ll experience less of the pain and tension.

You’re probably thinking: that sounds AMAZING… but does it actually work? Is it an option for you? And can hypnobirthing be used instead of a traditional pain reliever like gas and air or an epidural? 

Here’s everything you need to know about whether hypnobirthing will work for you…

Can anyone use hypnobirthing during labour?

Yes. Most, if not all, women should be OK to give hypnobirthing a go. However in our experience, hypnotherapy in general is definitely something you have to be ‘open’ to.

After all, it involves a lot of deep breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques, and even the chanting or repeating of empowering affirmations. 

If you’re fully skeptical about things like this, or are really truly convinced that it won’t work for you, then chances are it probably won’t.

But a little bit of concern? Miriam Greaves, hypnobirthing teacher and Parent Tribe founder, reckons a small amount of scepticism isn’t unusual at all.

“I don’t think any woman goes into hypnobirthing without feeling a little sceptical. It’s normal,” she says. We know that the word ‘Hypnobirthing’ tends to raise some eyebrows; conjures up images of airy-fairy hippy stuff; brings birth partners out in a cold sweat, or all of the above!

“If you’re sceptical, make sure that the course you’re thinking about doing doesn’t just teach you relaxation techniques. Hypnobirthing is so much more than that.”

Game to give it a go, despite your doubts? There’s no harm in having another pain relief on standby, just in case. Whatever you do, keep your midwife up to date with your current birth plan.

How can hypnobirthing help reduce labour pain?

Hypnobirthing isn’t a drug – but it can help reduce your pain, and also change the way you experience, labour pains. 

“Whilst hypnobirthing isn’t pain relief, the techniques involved in hypnobirthing will help a woman to trust her body and embrace the sensations of labour, rather than fear them,” explains Miriam.

“When a woman is fearful and stressed, her body is likely to go into fight-or-flight mode. When we trip into our flight-or-fight response, blood and oxygen is re-diverted to our essential organs and then to our arms and legs ready to fight or run. This is a great system in dangerous situations but useless for a woman in labour.

“The uterus is not an essential organ and so, like all muscles in the body, it requires a steady flow of blood and oxygen in order to work efficiently and remain comfortable.

“If we restrict the supply then the muscles can not work to their optimum. This can make labour harder and longer.

“Plus, the baby will be getting less oxygen too which can cause distress and may lead to intervention. Stress hormones, the main one being adrenaline, will flood a woman’s body and inhibit the hormones she needs for a comfortable (endorphins) and efficient (oxytocin) labour.

“Controlling your emotional reaction can help you to prevent stressful feelings from kicking in.

“Hypnobirthing is a way of re-programming the mind not to be frightened of birth and to build a woman’s confidence.”

pain relief techniques

Which hypnobirthing techniques help to relieve pain?

There are lots of specific hypnobirthing techniques to that target labour pain, but Miriam says that you’ve got to start with the basics: breathing.

  • Breathing techniques

“The most important technique you can learn for labour is how to breathe,” she says. “I can’t imagine going into labour and not knowing how to breathe effectively.

“In hypnobirthing there are two breaths to practice, up breathing and down breathing. Up Breathing is for the first stage of labour when your cervix is thinning and opening.

“Your uterus is gently drawing upwards with each contraction in order to build up a thick layer of muscle at the top of your uterus ready to push your baby down once you’re 10cm and beautifully open.

“The breath is a gentle deep breath in through the nose (think about breathing in relaxation and positivity), and a gentle breath out through the mouth (think about releasing any tension and letting go of any fear). When we breathe out through our mouths, we produce oxytocin.

“This is the amazing hormone that will get those uterine muscles working so we wants LOTS of it during labour.

“Down Breathing is for the second stage of labour when your baby makes his/her way down the birth canal and out through the vagina. This breath is in through the nose and a focussed breath out through the nose. Breathing out through the nose allows you to focus your breath better.

“However, I also teach women to breath out through their mouth as some prefer it and feel they can get a bit more power behind it. Try both and see how you feel.

“Think about how you blow out the candles on a birthday cake – you wouldn’t take a long breath in and a long, controlled breath out. You would breath in and fill your lungs and then push all your breath out down towards the candles.

“This breath is a lot more like that. It’s important that you’re not taking short breaths – you’ll get dizzy and reduce that oxygen and blood supply to your uterus and baby. So practice it until it feels natural and comfortable.”

  • Relaxation

For most of us, the word hypnosis brings to mind someone in a trance-like state, under the control of a creepy-looking hypnotist. But in reality, hypnosis is simply a very deep state of relaxation where you are still very much in control of your actions.

“Hypnosis for birth is all about relaxation and learning how to control pain,” explains Monica Black, a clinical hypnotherapist at London-based Hampstead Hypnotherapy.

“You’re completely aware and awake, just incredibly relaxed. You’re still able to talk and work with the midwives.

“By self-hypnosis through breathing and relaxation, you can control the pain of labour, potentially speed up delivery and, overall, have a more enjoyable birth experience.”

  • Eliminate fear

According to Monica, giving birth doesn’t have to hurt. “Society has made women believe giving birth is painful, so mums-to-be have a preconceived fear of it.

“Fear leads to tension, tension leads to pain. Through the relaxed state of hypnosis you can allay your fears and control pain.

“You can never take away the sensation of giving birth, but under hypnosis it becomes virtually pain free.”

  • Numb your body parts

Monica teaches mums-to-be to mentally ‘numb’ areas of their bodies. “You can learn how to numb whatever part of the body you want.

“Once you’ve gained control, you feel sensation but you won’t feel pain.”

  • ‘Turn down’ the pain

Monica’s 2nd method is to visualise a control knob measuring your pain from zero to 10.

“When contractions get stronger, you simply turn the level down,” she explains.

  • Go with contractions

As well as helping manage the pain, hypnosis may also speed up labour. “By being so chilled out and pain free, birth can also be quicker,” says Monica.

“When you relax the mind you also relax the body, so instead of fighting, you’ll go with the contractions.”

What are the pros and cons of hypnobirthing?

Like all forms of pain relief in labour, there are advantages and disadvantages. Here, we list some of the pros and cons you might want to consider…

Pros:

  • You’re totally in control, as hypnotherapy techniques cannot override your own natural instincts.
  • You can call on it whenever you want, from pre-labour through to the delivery of the placenta.
  • Its effects stop as soon as you no longer need it.
  • You can use it later in life – when you need to calm down after your toddler has driven you mad, when you have no time for a nap but need to deeply relax, even to overcome bad habits if they develop. 
  • You can use it if you want to have a water birth

Cons: 

  • You’ll likely have to pay for books, CDs, or classes
  • There’s no guarantee it’ll get rid of your pain – it may just keep you feeling calm and in control during the birth.
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MFM mums who loved hypnobrthing…

Hypnobirthing won’t be for everyone – but we have heard from a lot of mums who’ve found they’ve had really positive experiences of it.

Mum-of-2 Sarah admits she found the techniques helpful – after a traumatic birth with her 1st child, Pagan.

“I didn’t prepare mentally for Pagan’s birth. I was in denial that it would hurt and never felt in control. Pagan got stuck and I needed stitches. I felt because of the long, traumatic birth, I later suffered from PND.

“My 2nd pregnancy was unplanned. I was so scared I considered a termination. With time, though, I came round to the idea. I didn’t want a hospital birth again so I decided on a home birth and bought a Natal Hypnotherapy Birth Preparation CD.

“I listened to it every day from 30 weeks. I went into labour very early in the morning, put the CD on and went back to sleep. When I woke an hour later, I used a TENS machine and bounced on my birthing ball, listening to the CD again.

“I stayed calm and, though my contractions got painful, I could handle them. But the baby got stuck, so we had to go to hospital for a ventouse [forceps] delivery.

“Even though I didn’t get my home birth, hypnosis helped me deal with labour –- I didn’t panic and felt completely in control, a total contrast to my first birth.”

“I didn’t do a course,” says our forum mum Sshh. “I read the Marie Mongan book and listened to her affirmations.

“I didn’t get much time for anything else during labour, I think it helped – certainly made me relax and focus when I’d listen to it towards the end of pregnancy despite her slightly annoying voice!”

After giving birth to first baby Adam without hypnosis, mum Angela was delighted by the pain relief it offered for her second and third births.

“After my first child, I had jaw ache from clenching the gas-and-air mouthpiece so hard. But with hypnosis for Daniel and Anna’s births, I had no problem.

“Every time I felt my body tense, I was able to go with it – the pain just melted away.”

And MFM mums who didn’t love hypnobirthing…

“I had a book and DVD and too be honest I found it a little bit too hippy-ish for me although fundamentally liked the philosophies,” says sweetpeamumdrum2.

“I used a book called Birth Skills that gives lots of ways to manage pain using your body, mind and breathing and I found that loads more practical and did actually use a couple of the techniques.”

Share your story

Did hypnobirthing virtually remove all labour pains for you? Or did you find it completely unhelpful? Please share your experience in the comments below!

Images: Getty Images

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