What is hypnobirthing?

If you’re pregnant you’re probably thinking about how you’re going to cope with childbirth – from easing the pain using drugs like epidurals or through more natural methods such as using a birth pool. One of the birthing techniques you may have heard of is hypnobirthing, which has nothing to do with drugs, and enthusiasts even say that labour doesn’t have to be painful at all.

What is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing teachers suggest that, mostly, pain during labour is a fear response that can be avoided if you learn the right techniques before having your baby.

Using breathing and relaxation methods, the idea is that you can help your body relax and go through the natural process of giving birth without tensing up and feeling scared.

Central to hypnobirthing is the use of positive language and keeping calm. You’re encouraged to say you’re having ‘waves’ instead of ‘contractions’, and you’re ‘breathing out’ your baby rather than ‘pushing’ to help you feel more in control.

How effective is hypnobirthing?

If you ask around, you’re likely to hear a wide range of opinions on hypnobirthing, from women who swear that it allowed them to have an entirely pain-free birth, to those who did the classes and learnt the technique but still found labour very painful.

Studies into the effectiveness of hypnobirthing have been inconclusive and therefore it’s important to consider what it is that you want from hypnobirthing.

For some women, while they still experience the pain of labour, they nevertheless find hypnobirthing a useful method to stay calm during labour and birth, even if things don’t go as they might have originally planned.

It can be good to know that there's nothing to stop you deciding you’d like to use other pain relief when you’re in labour, even if you start off with a plan to just use hypnobirthing.

Can I use hypnobirthing if I give birth at home or in a birth centre?

You can use your hypnobirthing techniques wherever you choose to give birth.

Many women who want to try hypnobirthing are keen to have a natural birth without medical interventions. If you’re one of them, giving birth at home or in a birth centre can be an especially good choice, as you’re less likely to need medical interventions if you’re at low risk of complications in these places compared to on the labour ward.

Midwives who attend home births or who work in midwife-led birth centres won't prevent you from using hypnobirthing techniques, and they're likely to have come across other women who have done hypnobirthing before.

Can I use hypnobirthing if I give birth on the labour ward?

You can practice hypnobirthing on the labour ward, and as long as both you and your baby are doing well the midwives and doctors are very unlikely to suggest otherwise.

If you’re at higher risk of complications, your midwife might have recommended you give birth at the labour ward rather than in a birth centre or at home. Often this is so there will be medical staff and equipment available in case you need more help.

So if you decide to learn hypnobirthing and would like to use it during labour make sure you mention it in your birth plan, as you’re unlikely to know the midwives looking after you during labour.

If you’re still deciding on where to give birth, use our Birth Choice tool to find the best place for you.

Hypnobirthing helps some women to manage pain in labour

Where can I learn hypnobirthing?

You can teach yourself using books and DVDs or attend classes.

Classes usually start when you’re 25 to 30 weeks pregnant, are in a group-based setting and consist of around 12 hours split up over five sessions.

Between classes, and after the course is finished, you’re encouraged to practice what you have learnt through listening to DVDs and doing visualisation and breathing exercises. Teachers say that practicing is very important, as the breathing and relaxation techniques should ideally come to you naturally once you go into labour.

Some women and couples decide that reading the book and listening to the DVD is enough for them, which does keep the cost down.

How much do hypnobirthing classes cost?

Typically a course costs from £200 to £400. This includes the classes, DVD and book. Of course, prices vary between different areas and also depend on how many classes are included and how big the groups are.

Some hypnobirthing teachers offer concessions and others can arrange a payment plan, so it’s well worth checking with the practitioner you’ve found if they offer anything that can help with the cost.

Can I get hypnobirthing classes through the NHS?

Although hypnobirthing isn’t part of the standard NHS antenatal care, some trusts and hospitals do offer it as part of their maternity service. Look up your local unit to check out what your local unit offers or speak to your midwife.

In some areas the NHS hypnobirthing course is offered free of charge, while at others there's a fee, but it is less than what a private course would cost.

More on this…

Understand your maternity options

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