Your beginner guide to hypno-birthing

Many of my ante natal Pilates participants in Epping ask me about hypno-birthing.

  • What exactly is it?
  • Does it work?
  • Is it for me?
  • What if I’m having a planned C-section or I end up with an emergency intervention?
  • How do you find the right person or course?
  • Is it worth the investment?
  • Should I do it in person or online?

So many questions.

Let’s talk about the basic concepts of hypno-birthing so you can decide if it’s right for you. You’ve got enough going on, balls to juggle and there’s only so much energy in the day, right? I want you to walk away with a good understanding of what hypno-birthing is and whether you just want to dip your toe in or go the whole hog.

Yes, you can get information on hypno-birthing from a hypno-birthing teacher but then you might feel obliged to go with them and, well, I don’t want for you to feel pressured into that.

You could also get advice from friends or local communities but that’s also likely to be biased. No one knows you like you know you.

I’ve been in the business and privileged position of sharing pregnancy journeys with hundreds of different and diverse women over the past 17 years. My aim is to share evidence based information so they can make their own, informed choices.

Some of those women have done hypno-birthing, some haven’t. Some have had the births they wanted. Some haven’t. I’ve also built up a network of pregnancy service providers and carers. Some hypno-birthing instructors would feel right for me. Some wouldn’t. But I have just about worked out the basic tenets and how it could work for you and I can be objective on how to find the right level of hypno-birthing for you.


First up: Confession. I didn’t do it with either of my babies. I was a bit sceptical. Sometimes when you grow a bump you can feel like those in the baby business suddenly want every last pound before the pennilessness of maternity leave begins. However – with hindsight, I wished I’d learned more about it.

For the uninitiated, the idea behind hypo-birthing is that birth doesn’t have to be a scary, painful ordeal. Labour and birth tends to be portrayed as a scream fest (and on TV dramas as a rather unrealistic speedy scream fest with few complications). We also tend to use words like ‘pain’ to describe it and the actual word ‘labour’ sort of sums up the fact that it’s pretty hard work.

The Fear Factor

The main premise behind hypno-birthing is that when women get scared, labour and birth becomes painful. Fear also slows things down. Just as in life, when we’re afraid, our bodies go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, the same is true of fear during labour. For a labouring woman this can often slow things down. What woman when faced with a tiger in the wild would consider that a great place to deliver her baby?

I remember my trip to hospital when expecting my youngest child, Naomi. My labour had been ramping up steadily overnight with consistent contractions but on the journey to hospital (morning rush hour) it virtually stopped. I had a couple of contractions in the hospital carpark but it wasn’t until getting into the birthing suite, telling the midwife I was scared and the tears that followed her calm reassurance that things started to ramp up again. It was like my body knew. She was born less than two hours later.

Hospitals, the unknown, even pain itself can all induce fear in a woman. Labours might slow or require more intervention. The whole idea of hypno-birthing is that you labour and birth fear free.

I would stress though that there’s no shame in having a fear of medicalisation and hospitals. If you’re fortunate enough to have escaped hospital stays and now is your first time, it can be scary. It was for me. Hospitals literally make me want to throw up. It’s worth discussing with your caregivers and letting your midwives know. Try familiarising yourself with the hospital or ask questions at clinic appointments.

Hypno-birthing for fear

During one of my ante natal classes, hypno-birthing expert Lisa from Calmer Birthing came along to class and shared a beautiful relaxation and hypno-birthing taster with the class. What I loved about Lisa’s explanation was that hypno-birthing techniques aren’t just for labour and birth. They can really help with the fear around hospital visits or scans. So if you get clinic or medical anxiety, the techniques can really help.

Does it go against midwives advice?

Some hypno-birthing guidance will recommend you allow your pregnancy to progress naturally, with minimal intervention, to let nature take its course. This might be refusing induction or other intervention. But it is always your choice. Be informed and explain to your caregivers your plans for birth so you can work together.

How to do it

Hypno-birthing involves using breathing techniques, meditation, relaxation and positive affirmations to help you feel confident and have a calm birthing experience.

It’s not a quick win (although there’ll be some breathing techniques you’ll be able to try straight away). We’ll have accumulated lots of conscious and unconscious messages about birth, labour and parenting. It can take time and practise to override those messages. Our subconscious is strong, especially when powerful and new things are happening to our body. 

You could pick up some simple techniques without full immersion into hypno-birthing but they might not work in the heat of the moment.

A few years ago I had a regular therapy session for anxiety. My therapist explained that during trigger times (those things that trigger my anxiety) I needed a simple A, B, C of things to do. She likened it to being in a building when the fire alarm goes off. You need a well rehearsed, easy to follow crisis plan. It’s why schools and businesses regularly practice fire drills to avoid panic and mayhem in the event of a real emergency. Our brains under stress can be like a building on fire. We go into fight, flight or freeze mode and that’s not helpful for labour and birth.

When the emergency is your body going into labour, hypno-birthing techniques can act like your emergency drill. But they need time and patience. This is where courses, either online, with an instructor or private coach can be helpful. This is also why doing it as a couple is important so you’re both on the same page and can be each others calm leaders (rather than cheerleaders).

My experiences of hypno-birthing

When I was expecting my eldest, Isaac, my lovely friend Rachel was expecting her baby a day after me, on Christmas day. Our babies eventually came into the world a day apart, nearly a week after their due dates. Whilst I’d had a three day marathon with drug intervention and more time spent in hospital than at any other time in my life (he was a back to back baby), Rachel had a quick home birth.

Rachel had done hypno-birthing. I think persuaded by the fact that as a magazine sub-editor, she’d spent a lot of time on one of the UK’s biggest baby and parenting titles so knew all the tried and tested tricks and gadgets out there. I’m sure Rachel won’t mind me sharing that she’s a bit of a worrier and if you met her you’d probably agree that her stature and manner is more waif-like catwalk model than Crossfit champion. However, Rachel pushed out Maya in a couple of hours with absolutely no pain relief.

This got me thinking a bit more about hypno-birthing. I spoke some more with hypno-birthing experts and doullas and researched a little more about pain and anxiety.

Between my babies I was also teaching Pilates at our local ‘all things baby’ store, Bababoom in Loughton. The proprietor and midwife is big on hypno-birthing. She was an NHS midwife now turned private. She explained that as a midwife, when a woman has done hypno-birthing, the indicators that she is progressing through labour are very different. She said midwives need to be experienced in hypno-birthing mothers to help, since they are often so calm at around the 8-9cms dilated mark that you could be fooled they are much earlier on in their labour.

Positive Experiences

I’ve had many class participants who have had positive experiences of hypno-birthing. Both those who have birthed naturally and those who have required intervention. One class participant commented on the fact that with a history of miscarriage, still-birth and various complications, she did hypno-birthing to develop the mental tools required to let go of real fears caused by past events. Whilst her labour did eventually require intervention and a C-section, she felt hypno-birthing helped her to stay calm and have a positive experience.

Alternatives to a course

Whilst I didn’t go on to complete a hypno-birthing course for my birth with Naomi I took a lot from the conversations I’d had and from my research. I’d also attended a fantastic pregnancy yoga class with an NCT teacher, Sandra. She did some great end of class relaxation I was able to take into my labour.

I was much calmer when my labour started with Naomi. To be honest, I was trying to stall things since my nephew had expressly requested I didn’t give birth on his birthday and the night before his birthday was when my contractions started. So I took some paracetamol and went to bed.

… Ha ha!

Things progressed – but I was much calmer. I had little meditative activities to do whilst I laboured like patch working a teddy for Naomi and reading my book. But when things got really painful and it felt like I couldn’t cope, I simply told myself, “girl – this is just your job to do.” For me it wasn’t about meditation, it was the reminder to myself that I’ve been made to give birth. No-one else could do the job of birthing my children. All those years of periods and hormones and breasts and spots were about birthing these babies. All the angst and the worries about money or houses or career or pride are nothing like the primal ability to give birth to your own children. And so I told myself to get on with it!

I did my own kind of hypno-birthing, authentic to the ways in which I meditate. I prayed, I sewed, I wasn’t in the mood to bake cakes at 2am, nor did I think my family would appreciate the less than gentle hum of a food mixer at that hour, but I’ve heard other women in labour have. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and I reminded myself this was my job to do.

So whilst I know others have had incredible hypno-birthing experiences, I think we can all find those things which calm us down when we may get anxious. Ways to go into your zone and switch off from the clinical surroundings or brashness of the world. Find what works for you. That could be hypno-birthing, it could be a class where you have an opportunity to focus on you and baby, it could be a walk by the sea with your partner.

For more information on pregnancy Pilates and birth preparation with Karen click here

For more information on hypno-birthing check out Calmer Birthing and The New Mum Coach,

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