Pregnant lady relaxing

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 (RCM, 2015). Some people even suggest it allowed 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 (RCM, 2008; Madden et al, 2016).

How does hypnobirthing work?

The idea behind hypnobirthing is that pain in labour is a fear response and that you can avoid it by learning the right techniques (Which?, 2018). Women’s experience of pain can vary in intensity but fear, tension and anxiety can worsen it (Dick-Read, 2004; RCM, 2014).

According to obstetrician Dr Grant Dick-Read, fear and tension causes pains in approximately 95% of birthing women. He believed that removing the ‘fear tension-pain syndrome of childbirth’ in women could eliminate pain (Dick-Read, 2004).

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

Not many studies have looked at the effects of hypnosis in labour and childbirth. Although one review of what studies have been done found that hypnosis might reduce the overall use of pain relief during labour except for epidural use (Downe et al, 2015). Hypnosis doesn’t seem to make a significant difference to how satisfied women are with pain relief or their sense of coping with labour or birth (Madden et al, 2016).

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 during labour like:

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

(RCM, 2008; Semple et al, 2011; Madden et al, 2016; Fernandez, 2018)

How do I learn hypnobirthing techniques?

You can learn about hypnobirthing just by reading about it, or through listening to CDs or podcasts.  Plenty of the online podcasts 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 (RCM, 2008; 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 (RCM, 2008).

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 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 (RCM, 2008). 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 (RCM, 2008). What hypnobirthing actually aims to do is help a woman focus and enhance her birthing experience.

What are the advantages of hypnobirthing?

  • Some women find hypnobirthing helps them to have a calm and positive birth experience. With some reporting less need for pain relief (Tommy’s, 2018; Which?, 2018).
  • Hypnobirthing focuses on relaxation for self-hypnosis and releasing fears related to pregnancy and childbirth (Tommy’s, 2008; Which?, 2018).
  • It’s thought that some mums benefit from hypnobirthing because it keeps them more relaxed, reduces pain and encourages a shorter labour.
  • 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; RCM, 2014).

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 (Tommy’s, 2018).
  • There’s little current research to support the theory that hypnobirthing makes women more relaxed, reduces pain or encourages a shorter labour (Madden et al, 2016; NHS, 2017).
  • It takes time to learn about hypnobirthing, practice it and master the breathing, visualisation and self-hypnosis techniques.
  • Hypnobirthing courses can be expensive. Although in some parts of the UK, NHS hospitals have introduced free hypnobirthing classes (Which?, 2018).

How do I find out more about hypnobirthing?

  • Ask your midwife whether there are any local antenatal courses that might include hypnobirthing (Which?, 2018).
  • 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.

Watch this NHS hypnobirthing video to find out more.

This page was last reviewed in September 2018.

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.

Read more about hypnobirthing from Tommy’s charity.

Hear about people’s experiences of hypnobirthing classes in the NHS hypnobirthing video.

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

Dick-Read G. (2004) Childbirth without fear. Pinter and Martin: London.

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 13th September 2018].

Fernandez K. (2018) Hypnobirthing. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/local-activities-meets-ups/region-london/branch-wandsworth-district/branch-wandsworth-newsletter/hypnobirthing [Accessed 13th September 2018].

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 13th September 2018].

NHS. (2017) Pain relief in labour. Available at:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pain-relief-labour/ [Accessed 13th September 2018].

NICE. (2014) Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. Available at:  https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190 [Accessed 13th September 2018].

RCM. (2008) HypnoBirthing the art to a peaceful birth. Available at:  https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/analysis/hypnobirthing-the-art-to-a-peaceful-birth [Accessed 13th September 2018].

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 13th September 2018].

RCM. (2015) Survey highlights popularity of alternative birth choices. Available at: https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/news/survey-highlights-popularity-of-alternative-birth-choices [Accessed 13th September 2018].

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

The Guardian (2015) Pregnant women flocking to classes on self-hypnosis births. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/aug/18/pregnant-women-on-self-hypnosis-births [Accessed 13th September 2018].

Tommy’s (2018) What is hypnobirthing? Available at: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/pain-relief-labour/hypnobirthing [Accessed 13th September 2018].

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 13th September 2018].

Which? (2018) What is hypnobirthing? Available at: https://www.which.co.uk/birth-choice/coping-with-pain-in-labour/what-is-hypnobirthing [Accessed 13th September 2018].

Related articles

Pregnant lady relaxing

Local activities and meetups

Help us reach families in need this Christmas
Help us reach families in need this Christmas

Courses & workshops

Baby First Aid

Find out more

NCT Early Days course

Find out more

NCT Introducing Solid Foods workshop

Find out more