Hypnobirthing: Does It Actually Work?

We ask one pregnant woman to put it to the test...


by Emily Philips |
Updated on

Birth has been getting a lot of press lately. You can’t move for headlines about birth truthers wanting us to open up about how bloody awful it all is, and then women whose apparent pain-relief free deliveries are getting everyone in a lather, all while the UK’s maternity units are in crisis. But as I hurtle towards my due date in just two weeks’ time, one thing that’s been keeping me calm amid the unpacked hospital bag and unfinished house renovations is that I’ve done a bit of prep. I attended hypnobirthing classes.

Once upon a time, someone extolling the values of breathing plain old air over gas and air in a heavy labour situation would have made me belly laugh. But as my IVF pregnancy developed and I became more and more aware of what I was and wasn’t putting into my body (chips mostly), I realised I wanted to explore all the pain relief options open to me when it comes to birth.

A couple of friends of mine had bought hypnobirthing books or even hypnobirthing CDs (retro!), but the handful I knew who’d attended local courses raved about it. I’d heard great things about the Anthonissa Moger, aka the Hypnobirthing Midwife, so decided to sign up to her main Leyton workshop, even though there may have been other hypnobirthing classes near me in North London.

So, what is hypnobirthing?

It’s a mixture of relaxation and mindfulness techniques to guide you through the three stages of labour. There’s the early part, where you’re encouraged to stay home until “surges” (scary words like contractions aren’t used here) are three in every ten minutes – here, things like deep breathing, showers and creating a calm environment should help you through. Then as things escalate and you either take yourself off to the hospital, or maybe get in the pool if you’re doing a home birth, there are different breath patterns to cope with different stages, and postures and massage techniques help to keep you in a calm zone and allow you to deal with the pain levels as they grow. Nissa’s also built up a library of hypnobirthing MP3s so you can listen to her guided meditative soundtracks while you work through the stages.

Why hypnobirthing matters

In this age of super stress and self-medicating, hypnobirthing, much like mindfulness is a bit of an antidote. That’s not to say it will definitely get you all the way to the end of a hard labour, but it might help moderate the way you deal with the fear of pain (again, another scary word that’s cast aside) or birth plans going out the window. There was no propaganda on completely avoiding pain relief, but Nissa – herself a trained midwife – took us through the pain relief ladder to highlight the softer and harder options and their effects.

How does hypnobirthing work?

It seems to be a bit of a mind over matter situation. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to take it seriously, as when we watched some hypnobirthing youtube videos to prepare it all looked a bit sensual and hippyish (one nude woman gave birth with a quiet - if slightly orgasmic breath – which had me laughing). But being in the group, who were really lively and down-to-earth, I realised it was people just like us looking for additional support for D day. One birth partner joked that it’s their job to be the ‘gatekeeper of the oxytocin’ [the happy hormone which keeps you calm in labour and makes things more seamless]. But I definitely felt that the class helped bring partners into a more active role in the delivery to make them more useful for the birthing mother, and also make them feel more needed too. It’s all about creating a calm and safe environment to take on this massive challenge, using all of the senses to assist. There’s no set list of how to hypnobirthing techniques, but one task we did over the two day course was writing a list of the things which would make us feel most comfortable, where we listed nice smells, hanging with our pets, lighting some candles etc and it follows that you then try to take those cosy home comforts, or reminders of them, with you even into a hospital setting.

And is hypnobirthing worth it?

I found it completely useful. I had been feeling a lot of anxiety about being out of control and not knowing enough ‘medical stuff’ to give birth, but this armed us with plenty of information, helped us decide how to make calm decisions when challenges arise and also gave us the techniques to work through what could be a lot of hours of labour.

When to start hypnobirthing course?

I would say you should definitely do it in the third trimester and not earlier because it’s good to keep the information fresh in your mind. Tips like getting your birth partner to pack the hospital bag then become nice and pertinent when you get home, and you’ll feel chilled from the amazing relaxation segues from Nissa and practice massage you do in your pairs. We also met loads of new couples who are due around the same time as us who we’re meeting up with even before the babies come along. Plus, you get to take home a little tin of hypnobirthing affirmations which are sure to make you feel like a queen as you take on birth.

How much does hypnobirthing cost?

This two-day group course costs £375.

Check out the Hypnobirthing Midwife’s classes here.

Emily Phillips’ paperback TRYING is out now!

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