What do you think of when you hear the word ‘hypnobirthing’?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I’d heard a bit about hypnobirthing (“Did you know Kate Middleton did it?”) but didn’t really understand what it was.

Maybe this is your reaction. I’ll admit, it was mine too when I first came across it.
(You can tell I have a 5-year old and a 2-year old by my choice of pop culture reference.)

So I Googled hypnobirthing

When I Googled hypnobirthing, it was full of photos of smiling women, wearing fluffy pastel-coloured cardigans, and cradling their baby bumps. That was not me when I was pregnant. I was vomity, exhausted, and had haemorrhoids that we ‘lovingly’ referred to as bum grapes. Pregnancy for me, didn’t feel calm or zen.

I felt stuck on the word: ‘hypnobirthing.’ Now, there are a lot of preconceived ideas out there about hypnobirthing: it’s some hippy, dancing-naked-in-the-woods kind of deal; something you might see on a Goop article along with Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina-scented candles and ‘rectal ozone therapy’. (Don’t google it…it’s as weird as it sounds.) We tend to home in on the ‘hypno’ part and think of swinging pocket-watches and sideshow circus acts. Especially for those who prefer practicality and solutions, hypnobirthing may even seem unnecessary—just let the doctors do their job and don’t interfere.

What actually is hypnobirthing?

But as soon as you look properly, you realise that hypnobirthing isn’t some magic trick, heathen practice, or celebrity trend: it’s knowledge: scientific, evidence-based, tangible strategies to help you recognise the power and control you have over your own birthing experience.

Developed by Marie Mongan in 1989, the heart of the hypnobirthing philosophy is “the belief that every woman has within her the power to call upon her natural maternal instinct to birth her babies in joy and comfort in a manner that most mirrors her nature.”[i] Hypnobirthing helps us understand the physiological nature of childbirth and how much of our modern-day systems are counter-intuitive.

Ultimately, it places the power back with the parents.

In our patriarchal society, childbirth is seen as an inherently dangerous and difficult process that, if left to nature, will frequently end badly.[i] Midwifery pioneer Ina May Gaskin famously said, “We are the only species of mammal that doubts our ability to give birth.” Childbirth, which was once seen as a spiritual celebration of life, moved to being believed to be God’s painful punishment for original sin, and then to a medical procedure.

Just think of how birth is shown in film, TV & media—a woman’s waters break suddenly, she’s rushed to hospital, panicking, and swearing at her partner, (who’s often depicted as a clueless spare part) surrounded by doctors, before screaming out a baby while lying on her back gritting her teeth.

Bright lights, tension, emergency

It makes for a thrilling watch, but it’s not a helpful or truthful portrayal of most childbirth. And when it’s the only model we’re being fed, it can become a harmful self-fulfilling prophecy. It creates fear. Fear creates tension. And when our bodies are tense, we feel pain more keenly, which then reinforces our fear.

Even the language we use – labour, waters breaking, contraction – are filled with tension. Hypnobirthing helps you quiet that noise.

With a profound knowledge of your birthing body, hypnobirthing encourages you to use visualisations to find a deeply relaxed state from which you can focus on birthing your baby without fear.

The research on hypnobirthing

Research has found that people who use hypnobirthing methods in childbirth experience reduced pain, shorter duration of labour and are less likely to need medical intervention. [1] It helps childbirth progress naturally [2] and helps mothers feel more confident, relaxed, and in control of their birth. [3] Plus, it gives birth partners a purposeful role, as protector, advocate for, and supporter of the birthing parent.

Don’t get me wrong—when I first sat down to try a hypnobirthing visualisation, I thought it was weird AF. Being asked to imagine you’re walking down a peaceful country path is difficult when you’re fully aware you’re in a hospital in Kent surrounded by 10+ pregnant couples, chugging on Gaviscon like the last one standing on a pub crawl, and trying not to piss through your grey maternity leggings every time you cough.

It takes practice

What I’ve since learned however, is that it takes practice. Like anything, the first time you listen to a hypnobirthing track, you might spend most of the time fighting off giggles and rewatching ‘Bridgerton’ in your head.

Perhaps in our modern existence, the thought of dedicating time to focusing on your breathing and calming your body and mind seems self-indulgent or a waste of precious time, especially with the amount of preparation you have when getting ready for a baby. It’s just not something we prioritise—but on your list of must-haves before baby, mental health tools should be up there with your cots, sleepsuits and haemorrhoid cream. (Seriously, tend to those grapes people.)

Childbirth is transformative and powerful. Hypnobirthing is just one way we can change the narrative around birthing, and help women and birthing parents step into their power, before their baby even takes their first breath.

  1. Filiz Yarici Atis, Gülay Rathfisch, The effect of hypnobirthing training given in the antenatal period on birth pain and fear, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Volume 33, 2018, Pages 77-84, ISSN 1744-3881, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.08.004.
  2. Bulez, A., Turfan, E., Sogukpinar, N., Evaluation of the effect of hypnobirthing education during antenatal period on fear of childbirth. The European Research Journal. 2019. DOI: 10.18621/eurj.371102
  3. Darma, I., Abdillah, N., Idaman, M., Morkia, H. The effect of the implementation active birth technique using hypnobirthing accelerated the progress of first stage of labour amongst intrapartum mothers. International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health. 2020. DOI: link here
  4. Varner CA. Comparison of the Bradley Method and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Education Classes. J Perinat Educ. 2015;24(2):128-36. doi: 10.1891/1946-6560.24.2.128. PMID: 26957896; PMCID: PMC4744344. link here.
  5. Goer, H. and Romano, A.M., 2012. Optimal care in childbirth: The case for a physiologic approach. Classic Day Publishing.

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