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Hypnobirthing is becoming increasingly popular. So what is it and – more importantly – does it work?

What is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a natural method of pain relief that involves demonstrating self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques. There are several hypnobirthing methods available teaching mums-to-be – and often their birth partners too – the techniques believed to reduce pain and anxiety during childbirth. The theory is that by reducing tension in the body, it is better able to produce the natural hormones (such as oxytocin) and ‘painkilling’ endorphins needed for a shorter, calmer and (hopefully!) less painful labour. It’s also claimed that hypnobirthing may help to reduce the fear associated with giving birth, which many believe is a major contributor to pain.

The evidence for hypnobirthing

Many mums who’ve used hypnobirthing say it really worked for them. But what’s the evidence? A Danish study published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that it didn’t affect rates of pain experienced by women. However, other studies have been in favour – for example, an Australian study published in the British Journal of Midwifery found that women who used hypnobirthing techniques had shorter labours, lower Caesarean rates and were less likely to use pain relief, compared to the general population.

What you’ll learn

Although the jury is out on whether hypnobirthing actually works, there’s no harm in learning some techniques that could help you stay calm and focused in labour.You can either learn in a class setting or by buying an hypnobirthing CD to listen to at home in your own time. Here’s an idea of what you might learn …

  • You and your birth partner will be taught special breathing, visualisation and relaxation techniques to help you stay as calm and relaxed as possible.
  • You’ll also get a script to practise in the run-up to the birth. This should help the techniques you’ve been introduced to become second nature, for when the time comes.
  • Some courses also teach massage techniques, designed to encourage the release of those ‘feel good’ endorphins – massage in labour is also a great way to get your birth partner doing something useful!
  • You may also be given ‘affirmations’ to repeat in the run-up to labour and during the labour itself, to help you stay calm, positive and focused. While they might sound a bit silly in the cold light of day, they can be very useful. They include phrases such as ‘I am focused on a smooth and easy birth’ and ‘I relax as we move quickly and easily through each stage of labour’.

Where to find out more

Hypnobirthing classes are not available free on the NHS, but you can find local groups and classes to join. Dads or birthing partners are usually encouraged to come along too. For more information and to find classes, visit The Hypnobirthing Association or HypnoBirthing UK.


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