What is Hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a complete childbirth education programme for pregnant women and their birth companions, which teaches simple but effective self-hypnosis, relaxation, fear release and breathing techniques, as well as practical birth education, for an easier birthing experience.


For healthy women and babies, birth is the most natural and normal experience that a woman can go through. Birth is not meant to be excruciatingly painful. As part of my hypnobirthing classes, I teach deep relaxation, breathing techniques and the release of anxiety and tension through fear release techniques, so you will discover how to be in control of the surges and trust in your birthing body.

With hypnobirthing you learn how to give birth more easily and comfortably. But in order to do this, you have to start by shaking off the horror stories around childbirth recounted by family and friends or in films or on TV. For most of us this negative idea of giving birth is ingrained, but society has evolved – we understand the benefit of water births for example, and hypnobirthing is another area that’s starting to boom. With research showing that hypnobirthing can reduce labour by up to three hours, it’s no surprise.

Netmums carried out a survey of 1,500 women and discovered that 56% said they would think about including an alternative technique in their birth plan, including hypnobirthing, instead of using drugs such as pethidine and epidurals. Of course women’s experience of pain in labour is variable but the intensity of fear, anxiety and tension can make it even worse. Mums want to be more present during the whole experience and these drugs can also remove that opportunity.

How Does It Work?

Through a simple self-hypnosis and an education programme, women in low-risk categories, as well as women who need additional medical care, can learn to dismiss any birthing myths, horror stories, or general misinformation that linger, and begin to see childbirth as a normal process.

 It’s not hypnosis in the Paul Mckenna sense, you won’t be looking deep into someone’s eyes, 3, 2, 1 and you’re under. HypnoBirthing doesn’t mean you’ll be unaware or asleep. Hypnosis is just a state of relaxation in which you focus your attention inwards. We all go into hypnosis on a daily basis, when we commute to work on ‘auto-pilot’ or we are engrossed in a good film or book. It is basically when we focus our attention inward to the exclusion of everything else. Hypnobirthing will help you to feel fully in control of your birthing experience, more in touch with your birthing body, and you can bring yourself out of hypnosis at any time. You’ll learn how to get into a relaxed state and with your focus directed inwards, you’ll be less aware of the world around you. The feeling you achieve is like being in a daydream, or a yoga trance. Your mind and body work as one entity (something we often forget to do in every day life). Hypnosis, breathing techniques and visualisation are all used to help achieve a desirable labour and birth, whether you choose to have your baby at home, in a hospital or at a birthing centre. You will learn to trust your body, and bring your baby into the world in the calm and gentle way, which nature has intended.

 This may sound like a new concept but it actually dates back to the 1940s. It is only now, however, that we are learning to harness it for the benefit of more and more women. In 1942 Dr Grantly Dick-Read, an English obstetrician on whose principles the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) was founded, published his forward-thinking book Childbirth Without Fear. He strongly believed that the fear felt by most women during birth affected the pain they ultimately went through. He realised that these fearful emotions caused blood to be filtered away from the uterus, which, as a result, was left without oxygen and could not perform its function efficiently or without pain.

Many years later, the renowned US hynotherapist Marie Mongan used this theory to produce an antenatal education programme based on self-hypnosis, called hypnobirthing, with the goal of achieving optimum relaxation during labour and birth. The first hypnobirthing baby was Marie Mongan’s grandson, Kai in 1990. Our minds are powerful instruments and we can learn to use them for our benefit, particularly for the birthing process.

The Science Behind It

Understanding how your body works is one of the first stumbling blocks to overcome, when trying to achieve a more relaxed state. Ever felt so stressed that you’ve had to take a week off work? Well, how you feel has a big impact on your body.

When your body is sufficiently relaxed and free of fear, the birthing muscles work in harmony with each other, functioning as nature intended to open the cervix. In a calm state, your body releases endorphins, a natural tranquiliser, which helps make the contractions more manageable and prevents the release of unwanted stress hormones.

Hypnobirthing teaches you how to bring yourself into a calm state at any moment, so that you can have an easier, more comfortable and empowering birthing experience.

If the body reacts with a fear response, triggered by as little as being examined, the body releases stress hormones which block out the much needed endorphins and cause the birthing muscles to become tense and less effective at opening the cervix, prolonging labour time. Tension in the birthing muscles increases pain during contractions which can often lead to the need for pain relieving drugs. If you’re feeling anxious, you’re more likely to have a painful birth and this is because when you get scared, your body goes into fight or flight mode. Stress hormones (mainly adrenaline) will flood your body. As a result the blood will rush to the larger muscles in your body like your arms and legs to help with fight or flight, which means less blood will go to where it’s needed the most – to your uterus (womb). 


But when your body is sufficiently relaxed and free of fear, the birthing muscles work in harmony with each other, functioning as intended to open the cervix for a faster and smoother birth. Evidence suggests that as well as having a shorter first stage of labour and less intense pain, your baby will also receive more oxygen and achieve better scores in their first checks.

Stress hormones also limit the amount of oxytocin being released – and the more oxytocin the better, as it helps with the contractions (surges) and keeps labour moving along. Stress hormones also block the hormone endorphins, which are the body’s natural tranquiliser and help to manage contractions (surges). Self-hypnosis can help you to control your feelings and stop these stress hormones from emerging in the first place.

In fact statistics show that women who practice hypnobirthing are less likely to have an emergency c-section. The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust did a study on the benefits of hypnobirthing, which revealed that only 4% of hypnobirthing births ended with an emergency C-section compared with 15% for the general population.

HypnoBirthing gives you and your baby the best opportunity for a natural, positive birthing experience, one that you can actually enjoy.

When to Begin and Some Key Facts

Time’s ticking on and you’re suddenly thinking about classes, usually antenatal classes, and if you want to incorporate hypnobirthing into this, the best time to begin is from 25-30 weeks to give yourself time to learn and practice the various techniques. Starting later than this is also fine. You learn all the techniques in Class 2 so have time to practise them even if you don’t start until 36 weeks. 

 A big part of the relaxation is related to breathing techniques (and breathing correctly also provides more oxygen to your body and your baby). Birth Breathing, for example, is used as an alternative to forced pushing and involves breathing all the way down your body to your vagina in a J-shape. Along with this you can also use visualisation techniques such as picturing your baby nudging down and out.

 Another technique is Slow Abdominal Breathing. This is very similar to a yoga technique where you breath in and out slowly through your nose. Imagine that you’re filling up an inner balloon, and when you breathe out, picture it deflating and disappearing up into the sky. Women claim: “I wasn’t thinking about the contractions, I was busy filling up my balloons.” This technique helps the uterus to surge and also gets a lot more oxygen into your muscles, invoking a relaxation response.

 Before starting your breathing techniques, try to relax your face and body. This includes resting parts of your body that you hardly ever think about; you should place your tongue behind your front upper teeth (where your palate and teeth meet). This ensures that you are holding no tension in the jaw area. If you have tension in the jaw means you’ll have tension in the pelvis.

 Being connected to your body during the birthing process will make you feel empowered and in control of the situation. While also helping to provide an environment that is harmonious for you and your health-carer, whether in a traditional or alternative environment. There are many environmental factors that affect birth, such as temperature, lighting and privacy, which you will learn on the course. Music is another part of the experience and getting the right soothing music/sounds and listening to it before your labour is also important so that it can trigger relaxation automatically.

Involving Your Birthing Partner

Involving your birthing partner is a wonderful part of the hypnobirthing experience. Many partners can feel out of the loop, disconnected from what you’re going through – an observer through a glass door, rather than someone who is part of the process.



During hypnobirthing classes, you will both get the opportunity to learn breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques. But this practice isn’t just confined to the class, as these are methods that you will continue at home.  

Your partner will be given a role to play during labour and birth such as giving light touch massage, creating a supportive environment, prompting relaxation and being encouraging and supportive. 



Practising hypnobirthing at home is a necessary element of the course, as it will help to ensure you are familiarised with the techniques and can automatically go into a very relaxed state on your birthing day. So once you find yourself in labour, it will be like second nature for both of you

Iain from Rickmansworth says:

“We gave birth at home using hypnobirthing and labour lasted 2.5hrs. It was the most incredible experience. Within 2 hours Penny had fully dilated without any unbearable pain. Pure breathing techniques and a birthing ball. I gave a lot of soft touch massage, played ambient music and spoke soothingly to my amazing partner with confident words about the birth of our beautiful child. Penny didn’t tear at all and has not only recovered but she is pretty much back to normal within 48hrs and we are blissfully happy. Without hypnobirthing, we know that this experience wouldn’t have been as magical as it was and fully believe in the power of a positive mind and belief in oneself can accomplish unbelievable feats.”