Coping with pain in labour

What is hypnobirthing?

7 min read

Find out how hypnobirthing can help you when you give birth, how much private classes cost and whether you learn hypnobirthing on the NHS.

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What is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a birth preparation technique which teaches you how to cope with labour through the use of breathing and relaxation methods.

By practicing the technique during pregnancy, the idea is that it’ll be second nature by the time your labour starts so you’ll go into a state of self-hypnosis. That in turn helps your body go through the natural process of giving birth without you tensing up and feeling scared.

Hypnobirthing teachers say that pain is a fear response, so if you reduce the likelihood of you feeling scared during birth through relaxation and breathing techniques, you’re also likely to find birth less painful.

“I was very scared of giving birth and learnt hypnobirthing as a way to try to feel more confident. It really worked, I had a more empowering birth experience than I thought was possible.” Read Ester’s birth story

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

You can also use ‘affirmations’ (positive mantras), for example printed and put up around the room, to help you stay focused.

“For me, hypnobirthing is about having the tools to stay grounded and emotionally safe through birth, whatever happens.” Sakina, hypnobirthing instructor

Can I use hypnobirthing wherever I give birth?

Yes, you can use hypnobirthing techniques whether you give birth at home, in a birth centre or on a labour ward.

If you have a home birth or give birth in a midwife-led unit, you’re more likely to come across midwives who are familiar with hypnobirthing and have looked after other parents who have used it in the past.

However, you can also use hypnobirthing if you plan to give birth on the labour ward, are induced or are transferred to the hospital after labour has started. Many women also find hypnobirthing helpful during a c-section birth.

If you would like to use hypnobirthing during labour, make sure you mention it in your birth plan, so the people looking after you are aware and can adapt the birth environment as much as possible to your preferences.

Find the right place to give birth

Discover whether birth in a local labour ward, birth centre or at home would be best for you.

Find your best fit

How can I learn hypnobirthing?

You can teach yourself using books and DVDs or attend private classes. In some areas, you can also attend NHS hypnobirthing classes.

Private 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. But there are other set-ups, such as one-to-one classes with an instructor or intense one-day courses.

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?

A private hypnobirthing class 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.

NHS hypnobirthing classes are sometimes offered free of charge, while in other areas there is a fee attached, but it is less than what a private course would cost.

How do I find a hypnobirthing class?

There isn’t a central register of hypnobirthing instructors, so you may need to do some research to find an instructor in your area.

NHS hypnobirthing classes

Hypnobirthing isn’t part of the standard NHS antenatal care, but some trusts and hospitals do offer it as part of their antenatal education. Some NHS hospitals also have midwives trained in hypnobirthing who can support you during birth.

Look up your local unit to see if they offer hypnobirthing, or ask your midwife at one of your antenatal appointments or when you go on a tour of the unit.

Private hypnobirthing classes

The best place to start is often to talk to people you know. Perhaps your midwife or NCT teacher knows of a hypnobirthing teacher nearby, or your friends or family members have experiences of classes and can recommend a good instructor?

“I went to a pregnancy yoga class which was taught by a woman who also does hypnobirthing. The way she talked about pregnancy, birth and becoming a mother really spoke to me, so my husband and I decided to sign up to her hypnobirthing class.” Ester

You can also have a look at KG Hypnobirthing’s map to find hypnobirthing teachers near you. In some areas, such as London, there are many so you’ll have a choice of several instructors to find the one that you think will work best for you.

Are all hypnobirthing classes the same?

The term hypnobirthing isn’t a trademarked term in the UK, and although all courses are based on the same principles of using hypnosis in birth, instructors can and do adapt the techniques to suit their own style.

That means that two instructors can both offer hypnobirthing, but the content can be quite different depending on who’s teaching it which can be worth to bear in mind when you choose an instructor.

If, for example, you’ve had a previously traumatic birth or other kinds of trauma in your life, you may want to ask the instructor how they work with these themes before you sign up, so you know that the class is a good fit for you.

How effective is hypnobirthing?

There have been few studies into the effectiveness of hypnobirthing, but the little evidence that is available suggests that hypnobirthing may reduce the pain of labour and doesn’t have any negative effects for either the baby or the person giving birth.

A 2016 review of the available studies by the Cochrane Collaboration found that women who use hypnosis may use less pain relief overall in labour than those who didn’t use hypnosis.

However, it could not find any clear differences when it came to came to women’s satisfaction with pain relief, their sense of coping with labour or how many women went on to have a birth without interventions, and it stressed the lack of studies to draw conclusions from.

NICE recommends that women who choose to use hypnobirthing during labour should be supported to do so.

It can be good to know that there’s nothing to stop you deciding you’d like to use pain relief when you’re in labour, even if your plan is to just use hypnobirthing. As it’s a completely natural method, it can be combined with other types of pain relief, such as opiods, gas and air and epidurals.

Can my birth partner help with hypnobirthing?

Yes, your birth partner can be a great help with hypnobirthing. Hypnobirthing is a technique which relies on you zoning out and focusing entirely on managing the sensations of birth, so anything which disrupts that can be unhelpful.

Your birth partner can take care of everything practical so that you can focus completely on the technique. Here are some things you may like your birth partner to be in charge of:

  • the logistics of getting to the birth unit
  • talking to midwives and doctors
  • setting up the birth room, for example with your preferred music and dimmed lighting

Your birth partner can also do the breathing and relaxation alongside you and reassure you that you’re doing well. This can work especially well if you’ve attended hypnobirthing classes and practiced together before the birth.

More from Which?

  • NHS vs private antenatal classes: Discover the differences between private and free classes, and how they can help you to prepare for birth and parenthood.
  • Choosing to have an elective c-section: You have the right to request a planned c-section on the NHS. We guide you through the pros and cons and explain how to arrange the birth you want.
  • Using water in labour: Find out why using water can help you in labour and discover if having a water birth could be the right choice for you.


These are the sources of information used in this article:

Madden K, Middleton P, Cyna AM, Matthewson M, Jones L, Hypnosis for pain management during labour and childbirth, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD009356. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009356.pub3

NICE, Intrapartum care: care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth. NICE Clinical Guideline 190, London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2014)

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