How does hypnobirthing work? Is Hypnobirthing for me?

Waterbirth homebirth woman in birth pool holding her newborn baby after using hypnobirthing

Hypnobirthing is only a word. 

What we look at during a hypnobirthing course is a variety of techniques to help the body and mind relax deeply.

This in turns allows the hormones to work with your muscles to make labour more efficient and your brain to cope with the intensity of the contractions better.

So I will not be waving a pendulum or hypnotise you like movies make you believe on TV. Let’s explore what hypnobirthing is a little deeper.

The science behind hypnobirthing

Many elements can have an impact on birth. One of the biggest aspect, that unfortunately doesn’t get enough attention, is our mindset and linked to this the ability to relax.

We know that contractions are made more powerful and efficient by the release of oxytocin in the body (Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, the Oxytocin factor), and that oxytocin is more likely released when the person is calm.

So in a very simplified way

relaxed = oxytocyn = faster birth

love and support shown by midwifes and partner to birthing woman helps hypnobirthing

What is also important to know, is that oxytocin is more likely released when we are in a safe environment, being nurtured, feeling loved.

Choosing the right people to support you and the right place where you will feel safe and relaxed are paramount to helping the birthing process.

As shown by this beautiful picture “love & support” by anathea

Why is relaxation important for birth?

The parasympathetic system that helps to release oxytocyn is being activated by breathing and relaxing. It will in turn supress Adrenaline.

Darkness can also help to release melatonin which will also help the release of Oxytocin.

Michel Odent explains how female mammals when they are in labour will have their labour interrupted if they fear for their life. The brain detecting the fear will activate the sympathetic part of the nervous system releasing adrenaline which will then reduce the blood supply to the uterus and placenta and interrupt the release of Oxytocin in turn stopping labour or slowing down contractions.

Our brain is not able to distinguish between real danger and perceived danger, which means that a woman who is anxious will tell her brain to release adrenaline, not oxytocin. This is something that was first highlighted in literature by Grantly dick read (1942) coining the phrase fear – tension – pain in birth. He goes on to explain that we need to enter a different circle: accept – relax – enjoy which will be more positive and lead to more oxytocin and therefore more efficient contractions and potentially a shorter labour.

Fear tension pain cycle for birth explaining why relaxation and hypnobirthing are important
Relaxation and hypnobirthing bring a cycle of more oxytocyn and more comfort making labour faster

How can I stop being anxious about the birth?

So we could just stop thinking then, would anxiety disappear? Unfortunately, it is more complex.

NHS website describes anxiety as:

“Anxiety is a feeling of unease, like a worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious from time to time and it usually passes once the situation is over.

It can make our heart race, we might feel sweaty, shaky or short of breath. Anxiety can also cause changes in our behaviour, such as becoming overly careful or avoiding things that trigger anxiety.

But sometimes feelings of anxiety can be constant, overwhelming or out of proportion to the situation and this can affect your daily life.”

The neocortex analyses and creates “what if?” scenarios often resulting in fear and anxiety.  The subconscious reacts in a very literal way to protect our survival using instincts but also beliefs, memories and emotions built over the years.

Unfortunately, the industrialisation of birth has created a fear-based birthing culture. The care we receive from health providers is often focused on the risks. Very rarely are we presented the all picture or even explained the statistics.

And so our first reaction when we hear birth is often to tense up, to worry. this is where hypnobirthing can help.

How will hypnobirthing help me?

Listening to hypnobirthing tracks regularly will help the brain to retrain itself in thinking about the birth as something positive that our body knows intuitively which can lead to more relaxation and more oxytocin.

So how does the process works?

If you feel anxious when thinking about birth you are likely to go in the tension fear pain cycle described above, so you need to create new beliefs and build a new response to what triggers your anxiety.

The learning process can be explained through the psychological model of competence (Noel Burch, 1970), which comprises four stages:

(1) unconscious incompetence; We don’t know about an ability or how to do it.

(2) conscious incompetence; We know about it but don’t know how to do it.

(3) conscious competence; We can do it but need to think and focus to do it

and (4) unconscious competence; We can do it without thinking.

We can use hypnosis to go to the fourth stage: when our brain automatically helps us relax when we think of birth.

Using breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, you will be able to relax more deeply and be open to suggestions. You will always still be in control and the one choosing to engage with the process.

I will never control your brain but merely offers hypnotic suggestions that the brain will choose to engage in or not. You have to choose actively to allow her neocortex to quieten and the subconscious to be open to suggestions.

You are always in control with hypnobirthing.

You will likely be more confident in your body’s ability to give birth.

It will also help during pregnancy to increase your  wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of the baby.

midwife and partner supporting woman during the birth in the birth pool using hypnobirthing
partner and child watching newborn baby on chest of the mother after birth hypnobirthing

Will my partner feel left out?

On the opposite, during a hypnobirthing course, we will look at several techniques your partner can use to help you.

They can also really benefit from using the relaxations themselves and letting go of their own worries about the birth. It is a team work and the more your team and relaxed and supportive , the more you can relax too.

Dad cuddling his newborn after hypnobirthing birth
two women smiling with a newborn baby in their arms on skinto skin after hypnobirthing birth

Post-birth bliss by MabyCakes is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Is hypnobirthing for natural birth only?

Of course not!

Even if the pregnancy or birth has complications and need to involve medical aspects, remaining calm will help to explore the options and the journey in a more positive way.

It can also help with recovery as research (as Ginandes et al (2003) ) shows. They explain in their trial looking at wound healing  that patients using hypnosis were more likely to recover quickly and better.

surgeon holding newborn baby and smiling mother using hypnobirthing to relax during cesarean

As explained above, it won’t be a quick and magic tool, but it will help to slowly build a better relationship with your body and its abilities.

It will also help to frame the contractions as positives and useful for the body to work in opening the cervix and helping the baby to be born.

Even complications or necessary interventions can be lived in a positive way if you can remain calm and confident.

I worked with a woman recently who used breathing and hypnobirthing to remain calm while waiting and during an elective caesarean birth. It meant that she was calm and more able to bond with her baby after the surgery.  She found her recovery much easier in the early days too.

beads showing the various stages of birth in a beaded birthing line for hypnobirthing vlasses in milton keynes

Do I need to do a hypnobirthing course?

Of course I will say yes 🙂

but don’t just take my word for it, read what my client Freya who I supported during her two pregnancies with my yoga for pregnancy classes says about it.

Peggy is very knowledgeable and experienced. Peggy helped me to have a very positive birthing experience as close to my original birth preferences as possible, despite things not going exactly to plan. This was my second birth, I did practice hypnobirthing for my first birth, but I had read a book (didn’t attend a course) and needed some reminders. I also had different concerns this time to those I had leading up to my first birth. Peggy was able to answer all my questions and concerns as well as giving some additional useful tips and information that I hadn’t heard of before. Definitely worth it.
Mother breastfeeding her baby feeling calm with hypnobirthing in milton keynes
Second time mum
love and happiness banner at a women's circle workshop

Do you want to explore further?

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, the Oxytocin factor, British Journal of Midwifery

Dani Diosi, Hypnobirthing

Maggie Howell, Natal Hypnotherapy

Michel Odent, Primal Health

Grantly Dick Read, Childbirth without fear

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