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Hypnobirthing – what is it and does it work?

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Real mum’s story

Fiona used hypnobirthing, pregnancy yoga and Aquanatal classes to prepare for the birth of her son George. Read her story here.

Hypnobirthing is becoming increasingly popular, with reports suggesting that the Duchess of Cambridge may have researched the method in preparation for the birth of Prince George! So what is it and – more importantly – does it work?

What is hypnobirthing?

There are several hypnobirthing methods available, but most classes will teach mums-to-be – and often their birth partners too – the self-hypnosis, breathing and relaxation techniques believed to reduce pain and anxiety during childbirth. The theory is that by reducing tension in the body, it is better able to produce the natural hormones (such as oxytocin) and ‘painkilling’ endorphins needed for a shorter, calmer and (hopefully!) less painful labour. It’s also claimed that hypnobirthing may help to reduce the fear associated with giving birth, which many believe is a major contributor to pain.

The evidence for hypnobirthing

Many mums who’ve used hypnobirthing say it really worked for them. But what’s the evidence? Last year, two scientific reviews* of pain management in labour said there wasn’t enough proof to conclude whether hypnobirthing is effective or not. However, other studies have been in favour – for example, a 2012 study** published in the British Journal of Midwifery found that women who used hypnobirthing techniques had shorter labours, lower Caesarean rates and were less likely to use pain relief, compared to the general population.

What you’ll learn at a hypnobirthing class

Although the jury is out on whether hypnobirthing actually works, there’s no harm in learning some techniques that could help you stay calm and focused in labour. So if you fancy following in Kate’s footsteps, here’s an idea of what you might learn at a class…
• You and your birth partner will be taught special breathing, visualisation and relaxation techniques to help you stay as calm and relaxed as possible.
• Your teacher may also provide you with a script to practise in the run up to the birth. This should help the techniques you’ve been introduced to in your classes become second nature, for when the time comes.
• Some courses also teach massage techniques, designed to encourage the release of those ‘feel good’ endorphins – massage in labour is also a great way to get your birth partner doing something useful!
• You may also be given ‘affirmations’ to repeat in the run up to labour and during the labour itself, to help you stay calm, positive and focused. While they might sound a bit silly in the cold light of day, they can be very useful. They include phrases such as ‘I am focused on a smooth and easy birth’ and ‘I relax as we move quickly and easily through each stage of labour’.

Where to find out more

Hypnobirthing classes are not available free on the NHS, but you can find local groups and classes to join. Dads or birthing partners are usually encouraged to come along too. For more information and to find classes, visit The Hypnobirthing Association or HypnoBirthing UK.

*‘Hypnosis during pregnancy’ and ‘Pain management for women in labour’.

**‘Birthing outcomes’