Find out whether it’s right for you on your parenting journey
If you’re a parent-to-be, you’re probably pretty familiar with the use of breathing techniques during labour to aid relaxation. Hypnobirthing goes one step further, incorporating relaxation, visualisation and mindfulness techniques into your birth plan to help you concentrate on the amazing feat your body is performing and feel more confident in the lead up to your due date.
What is hypnobirthing?
Contrary to what some might think, hypnobirthing courses aren’t “woo-woo”. "Hypnobirthing is an evidence-based, scientific and logical approach to childbirth," says Siobhan Miller, Royal College of Midwives-accredited hypnobirthing teacher and founder of The Positive Birth Company. "At its core, it’s a programme of antenatal education that aims to help you feel more informed, confident and excited about your birth – think of it as a science lesson and mindfulness practice in one."
How does hypnobirthing work?
The term ‘hypno’ relates to hypnotherapy, which aims to get you into a deeply relaxed and refreshed state that you’re in full control of.
"The aim is to help you understand that your mind and body are connected," says Siobhan. "The idea is that if you can change the way you view something in your mind, it may have a physical manifestation. So, rather than thinking about giving birth as being painful, we start thinking about it as being powerful.
"Hypnobirthing uses positive reinforcement to help you undo years of viewing birth as traumatic. It can help you change these thoughts and view birth more positively."
What are the benefits of hypnobirthing?
According to information from the NHS, benefits reported by hypnobirthing families include a shorter labour and birth, greater comfort and mothers feeling more relaxed and energised following their deliveries. However, there are no guarantees as there are many factors that can affect someone’s labour and delivery. The overall aim of hypnobirthing is to help you feel calmer and its techniques can be adapted for any kind of birth you want – from hospital to home births.
What are key hypnobirthing techniques?
Hypnobirthing techniques include visualisation, pregnancy and birth affirmations, self-hypnosis, mindfulness and hypnobirthing breathing and deep relaxation techniques.
"We teach two types of breathing techniques," explains Siobhan. "Up breathing is for the first stage of labour when you’re having contractions. This involves deep breathing in for a count of four and breathing out for eight and repeating four times for the length of your contraction.
"This works by not only giving you something to focus on through each contraction, but helps you remain relaxed by keeping your heart rate slow and steady. It ensures you’re bringing oxygen into your body, which your uterus muscles need as they are working hard – you wouldn’t attempt any other kind of workout while holding your breath!"
"Down breathing, meanwhile, is for when you’re ‘actively giving birth to your baby", continues Siobhan. "At the start of your contraction, take a quick, deep breath in, and as you breathe out, send your breath down through your body, with purpose.
"By doing this, you will be working with your body to push your baby down through the birth canal and out into the world."
When should I start hypnobirthing?
There’s no set rules for how much hypnobirth training you’ll need before going into labour.
"For someone who is really afraid of giving birth, it will likely take them longer to feel positive than someone who’s already feeling quite positive about their birth," says Siobhan. "Our online hypnobirthing course is six hours long and is split up into bite-size videos, so you can watch as much or as little as you like in one go.
"Some people prefer to watch 10 minutes here and there and others prefer to binge-watch the whole thing. You can watch and rewatch any of the videos as many times as you like for 12 months."
The good news is that it’s never too late to start in your pregnancy. "Don’t worry if you start your hypnobirthing journey late – it’s never too late to get stuck in," says Siobhan. "We’ve had expectant parents start the course at 40 weeks pregnant and still find it really beneficial in helping them prepare for a positive birth."
Who does hypnobirthing work for?
Short answer: everyone. "If you’re pregnant, hypnobirthing is for you," Siobhan enthuses. "It doesn’t matter how your baby is going to make an appearance, or when or with what help. It doesn't matter if you’re planning a home water birth, an induction in hospital or a caesarean section.
"What matters is that you’re fully informed and feeling confident, armed with practical tools to help you stay calm and relaxed throughout and empowered to make the right decisions for you and your baby.
"Hypnobirthing can help with that. There’s no scenario where being better informed about your body and options, and having a practical toolkit to use in labour and birth, won’t help."
And if you’ve had a previous traumatic birth experience, it may help you cope with anxieties, according to pregnancy charity, Tommy’s. However, it’s worth noting that practising hypnobirthing does not mean unexpected things won’t happen. A birth free from medical interventions or complications can never be guaranteed, but learning some hypnobirthing techniques may help you feel more in control during labour if things don’t go to plan.
How to practise hypnobirthing
If you’re currently pregnant, there are three things you can start doing today to practise hypnobirthing.
Positive affirmations is one way. "Hypnobirthing is all about positive reinforcement and reframing how you view birth," says Siobhan. "Positive affirmations are a fantastic way to start doing this." These tap into the mind-body connection to help change the way your brain processes information.
"Use positive affirmations to reinforce positive messages about birth, so you feel more relaxed and confident. Try this one: 'Birth is powerful, but so am I,'” recommends Siobhan.
Breathing techniques is another. While hypnobirthing isn’t just about breathing techniques, they certainly help. "Up breathing is a game changer when it comes to birth and can immediately help you feel grounded and calm," says Siobhan. "To practise, simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four and breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. As you inhale, feel your chest expand. As you exhale, feel your body soften and relax.’ Simple, but effective.
Finally, read up on other people’s experiences. "Reading real, positive birth stories will empower you to feel confident and excited about your own birth," explains Siobhan. "Read about all different types of birth – inductions, caesareans, water births, home births and more – it will help you realise that a positive birth isn’t just one scenario."
Ready for the big day? Now get ready for what’s to come after.
Can you use these techniques in other areas of life?
‘Absolutely,’ enthuses Siobhan. ‘Up breathing can be used in day-to-day life, whenever you feel like you need a moment of calm.’
Siobhan also teaches a decision-making framework called B.R.A.I.N, which you can use to help make decisions, no matter how big or small.
She explains: ‘When you’ve got a decision to make, ask yourself: “What are the BENEFITS of this course of action?”, “What are the RISKS?”, “Are there any ALTERNATIVES?”, “What does my INSTINCT tell me?”, “What happens if I do NOTHING for a certain amount of time?”
‘Ask yourself each of these and you’ll be in a much better position to make the decision at hand.’
Where can you find out more about hypnobirthing?
The Positive Birth Company has a series of free hypnobirthing taster videos on YouTube to give you a feel for what it’s about.
You can also do The Positive Birth Company course online from the comfort of your sofa by picking up a copy of the Hypnobirthing Pack at Boots – it’s full of video workshops you can do at your own pace, in your own time. What’s more, you can buy founder Siobhan’s book, Hypnobirthing, Practical Ways to Make Your Birth Better (£9.99, Little, Brown Book Group), and also try the company’s affirmation cards.
Found this helpful? Prep for your baby’s arrival with our handy checklist for packing your hospital bag.