Thoughts on Hypnobirthing

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a "Relaxation" antenatal class covering the basics of hypnobirthing.

Hypnobirthing is the use of calming breathing and visualisation to make labour quicker, easier and less painful. It doesn't stop contractions from hurting but women do seem to need a lot less drugs when they use hypnobirthing techniques. This article gives a pretty good overview of the theories and science behind it.

Relaxation is not one of the normal NHS antenatal classes but one of the local midwives is a big proponent of hypnobirthing; she's running the sessions (on the NHS) on a trial basis to establish whether there's an interest in them and whether women find the techniques useful during labour. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to attend and I hope these sessions become a standard thing, not just in Aberdeen but across the UK; I went along thinking my "The baby's coming out one way or the other - no point stressing too much" attitude was a pretty calm one but I left the class feeling so much more relaxed about labour and in control of what's going to happen.

Spider plant flower on swirly background

I don't suppose hypnobirthing is for everyone. It sounds a bit wishy-washy. Mothers love to tell me "Take all the drugs!" and scoff at the idea that labour can be anything but agonising. But I've got my fingers crossed (in a loose and relaxed kind of manner). I know women who have had good experiences giving birth.

And it makes sense to me.

In fact, some of the techniques we were taught were already familiar to me.

Having endometriosis, my periods are very heavy and used to be extremely painful. Used to be. These days, despite me being unable to take painkillers, I find them mildly uncomfortable but totally manageable. I credit that entirely to having learnt to relax my body and my breathing - if I'm focused on the pain, I tense up and the cramps get worse; if I relax my muscles, they ease.

Likewise, I used to be plagued by migraines. Although I still get the odd hormonal one, it's very unusual for me to get any others. That change occurred when I realised that, when I'm stressed or very focused, I tense my jaw on one side; learning to recognise when I'm doing that and to consciously relax it cleared the migraines right up.

And, on those rare occasions when I have trouble sleeping, I can usually send myself off by relaxing each muscle in my body in turn - starting with the top of my head and my eyelids and my cheeks and working my way down to my toes.

I fully believe that we can make pain worse by telling ourselves it's awful and we can make it easier to manage by teaching ourselves to relax.

So hypnobirthing really appeals to me.

Despite this, and despite the midwife's first hand accounts of hypnobirthing easing labour, I might have been a little more sceptical were it not for three of the other women in my class.

Two of the women happened to have had this woman as the attending midwife for the births of their first children. She had managed to teach them each enough relaxation techniques during labour to markedly improve their pain so now, both expecting their second child, they had come along to learn more.

And the third woman was in labour. During the class. She wasn't far enough along to be admitted to the maternity unit but she was having contractions roughly every ten minutes. We could see the contractions happening and we could see that she was feeling uncomfortable but, using the breathing techniques she had learned (she had been to the class previously but was back for a refresher), she was riding them all out calmly and smiling and laughing with the rest of us.

More than anything else, watching another woman experiencing labour right in front of me was really reassuring. So much of what we see on TV and in films is women screaming in agony, yet here she was breathing slowly and getting on with her life - so much so that she had made it to an antenatal class on her own.

So there we go. There are no guarantees. The birth may still be difficult or need to be assisted. I may panic and forget everything I've learned. It may be as agonising as it always looks in TV shows. But I don't feel scared. I feel like I can cope with this; I feel more in control.

P.S. My pregnancy posts have all been a bit wordy and thinky recently; next week I'm going to do another general round up post so if you have any questions let me know!


  1. I still find it astounding that there was a woman in labour in the class! I very much associate labour with screaming in agony but it goes to show that it doesn't necessarily work out like that. I'm totally behind the science of hypnobirthing; I've had hypnotherapy more than once so I know it works, and I agree with you about the difference just relaxing can make. Even the thought of giving birth is a scary, so anything that can help it be a better experience can only be a good thing :)

  2. Yeah, the midwife was saying you never have such a rush of adrenaline and endorphins as you do when you're giving birth - it should be an incredible experience but we've all been so conditioned to think of it as painful that people turn up in needless amounts of agony. We come in going, "Make it stop! Make it stop!" instead of, "I can do this!" and it makes the whole thing worse for everyone.

    That's the theory, anyway. Let's see how it plays out in April...!

  3. I have some wonderful natal hypnotherapy CDs I can lend you if you want. Let me know your address and I will send them to you. You can keep them as long as you like. I have kept them purely so I can recommend them and lend them to pregnant women! When I had H, despite my best intentions I had a lot of complications in labour, there was not much I or anyone else could do about them. I had ALL the drugs that were available to me as a result and I'm not going to lie, it was very painful! However, on my notes it says 'coped well throughout', even though there was some scary business going on! I attribute this to listening to the CDs religiously. I also attended antenatal yoga which I realise is probably not going to work for you but the main benefit was that we did a lot of relaxation and 'coping' stuff in those classes as well.

  4. Thank you!

    Yeah, I really wanted to go to antenatal yoga and it might even have helped but the only class I could have got to was up four flights of stairs - THAT was definitely not happening!

  5. Honestly, I found giving birth really, really hard physical work - but agony? No, nowhere near. The great thing is that contractions build up slowly but fade really quickly. So, just as you start to think you really want it to stop - it does, and rapidly. Each contraction you have brings you one step closer to meeting your baby, so it's pain with a purpose, if you know what I mean.

  6. I do! This is exactly what the midwife running the session said - a lot of the visualisation stuff is about riding out the contractions, thinking of them like waves on a sea or peaks on a rollercoaster or something along those lines; it's really useful to have people talk about what they feel like rather than just going blindly into all that cramping.


Please play nice.