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We discuss what you need to know about hypnobirthing and the potential advantages and disadvantages of using this technique in labour and birth.

You know having a baby will be life-changing, so you might be preparing yourself by attending classes and Googling just about everything to do with childbirth. You might also be thinking about alternative pain relief methods and labour techniques, like hypnobirthing.

Hypnobirthing is gaining popularity as some say it’s a way of birthing gently and calmly. Some people describe it as allowing them to give birth without medication (The Guardian, 2015). So if you’re wondering what hypnobirthing is all about, here we introduce you to this mysterious-sounding technique…

What is hypnobirthing?

"Hypnobirthing teaches relaxation, visualisation and self-hypnosis skills (Varner, 2015)."

This preparation tries to give pregnant women a positive view of birth and the belief that childbirth does not have to be painful. The aim is a shorter, more comfortable, easier labour, with less need for intervention or pain relief (Madden et al, 2016).

How does hypnobirthing work?

Hypnosis focuses on preparing a woman for birth by reframing the representation of labour from a painful and difficult experience to a positive one (Catsaros, 2020).

Women's experience of labour pain can vary in intensity; but fear, tension and anxiety can worsen it (Catsaros, 2020; RCM 2014) and the mental and physical activities practised through hypnobirthing can lessen this.

So can it really work – what’s the evidence?

A systematic review of hypnosis-based interventions during pregnancy found that it improved childbirth experience by reducing fear and pain and enhancing a sense of control (Catsaros, 2020)

It improved women's emotional experience and outlook towards birth with less anxiety, increased satisfaction, fewer birth interventions, more postnatal wellbeing and a better childbirth experience overall (Catsaros, 2020). Other research has found that self-hypnosis promoted 'feelings of calmness, confidence and empowerment (Finlayson et al, 2015).'

How can I practice hypnobirthing?

Practitioners say hypnobirthing can create an altered state of conscious awareness (Madden et al, 2016). Hypnobirthing involves learning techniques that you can use in preparation for and during labour like:

  • visualisation
  • pregnancy and birth affirmations
  • relaxation
  • deep breathing
  • self-hypnosis
  • mindfulness.

(Semple et al, 2011; Madden et al, 2016)

How do I learn hypnobirthing techniques?

You can learn about hypnobirthing by reading about it, or through listening to hypnosis tracks or podcasts.  Some of the online resources that you’ll find are free (Madden et al, 2016).

If you’d prefer to attend a class, some NCT courses include elements of teaching about hypnobirthing as well as breathing techniques and ways to stay relaxed during labour. But you can find specialist hypnobirthing courses that add more specific techniques (Madden et al, 2016). Hypnobirthing classes teach the techniques mentioned above, such as self-hypnosis, deep relaxation and deep breathing, in addition to birth positions and the basic physiology of birth.

Once you’ve learnt the techniques, you’d use them to help you focus and concentrate completely on your body and your baby. Hypnobirthing can be used in all birth settings, during vaginal or caesarean birth, with or without all types of pain relief and can be added to your birth plan.

If I try hypnobirthing will I be aware of what is happening?

A common misconception about hypnobirthing is that women lose control of their thoughts and actions in a hypnotic state. In fact, women who learn hypnobirthing use it to be less aware of external stimuli. They also learn to have a more focused attention and responsiveness to verbal or non-verbal suggestions. The idea is that these suggestions might make her feel safer, more relaxed and comfortable, and give her some relief from her pain (Madden et al, 2016).

So women who use self-hypnosis during labour are fully in control and aware of what is happening to them and to those around them. What hypnobirthing actually aims to do is help a woman focus and enhance her birthing experience.

What are the advantages of hypnobirthing?

  • It can help women feel more confident with themselves and their capacity to go through labour feeling in control, leading to a more positive birth experience (Catsaros, 2020).
  • Hypnobirthing reduces anxiety and reduces fears related to pregnancy and childbirth (Which?, 2018; Downe, 2015). This can lead to lower perceptions of pain during labour and a shorter labour (Catsaros, 2020).
  • It can promote positive mental health and self-confidence after birth (Catsaros, 2020).
  • NICE states that women who choose to use hypnosis during childbirth should be supported in doing so (NICE, 2014).
  • A review of the evidence suggested hypnosis might help to reduce the pain of labour and does not seem to have any adverse effects on outcomes (Smith et al, 2006).

What are the disadvantages?

  • There can be a difference between what you expect to or hope will happen during labour and the reality of your birth experience.
  • Styles and language may vary between different hypnobirthing schools or practitioners, so you may wish to look into what suits you best (Varner, 2015).
  • It takes time to learn about hypnobirthing, practice it and master the breathing, visualisation and self-hypnosis techniques. It is more effective when it has been practised regularly during pregnancy so will take time and commitment (Varner, 2015; Catsaros, 2020).
  • Hypnobirthing courses are an additional cost. Although in some parts of the UK, NHS hospitals have introduced free hypnobirthing classes (Which?, 2018).
  • Women who use self-hypnosis techniques may seem so relaxed that health care professionals could underestimate their progression of labour (Catsaros, 2020).
  • There is very little research on the feelings and experiences of birth partners when hypnobirthing is used (Catsaros, 2020).

How do I find out more about hypnobirthing?

  • Ask your midwife whether there are any local antenatal courses that might include hypnobirthing.
  • Ask friends and family members about their birth experiences and talk to those who have tried hypnobirthing.
  • Read hypnobirthing birth stories online and listen to podcasts on the topic.

This page was last reviewed in March 2021.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Learn how to use breathing exercises in this labour video from Tommy’s.

Catsaros S, Wendland J. (2020) Hypnosis-based interventions during pregnancy and childbirth and their impact on women’s childbirth experience: A systematic review. Midwifery. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2020.102666 [Accessed 23rd March 2021]. 

Downe S, Finlayson K, Melvin C, Spiby H, Ali S, Diggle P, et al. (2015) Self-hypnosis for intrapartum pain management in pregnant nulliparous women: a randomised controlled trial of clinical effectiveness. BJOG. 122(9):1226-1234. Available at: https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1471-0528.13433 [Accessed 23rd March 2021].

Finlayson, K., Downe, S., Hinder, S. et al. Unexpected consequences: women’s experiences of a self-hypnosis intervention to help with pain relief during labour. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 15, 229 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-015-0659-0 

Madden K, Middleton P, Cyna AM, Matthewson M, Jones L. (2016) Hypnosis for pain management during labour and childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (5):CD009356. Available at: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD009356.pub3/full [Accessed 23rd March 2021].

NICE. (2014) Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. Available at:  https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190 [Accessed 23rd March 2021].

RCM. (2014) How to support hypnobirthing. Midwives. 5:34-35. Available at: https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/34-35_0.pdf [Accessed 19th April 2021].

Semple A, Newburn M; NCT. (2011) Research overview: self-hypnosis for labour and birth. Perspective. December: 16-20. https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Research%20overview-%20Self%20hypnosis%20for%20labour%20and%20birth%20%282011%29_2.pdf

Tommy’s (2018) What is hypnobirthing? Available at: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/pain-relief-labour/hypnobirthing [Accessed 21st March 2021].

Varner CA. (2015) Comparison of the Bradley method and HypnoBirthing childbirth education classes. J Perinata Educ. 24(2): 128-136. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4744344/ [Accessed 23rd March 2021].

Which? (2018) What is hypnobirthing? Available at: https://www.which.co.uk/birth-choice/coping-with-pain-in-labour/what-is-hypnobirthing [Accessed 23rd March 2021].

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