Hypnobirthing: can self-hypnosis ease pain and anxiety during childbirth?


Everything you need to know about the birthing technique that uses visualisation, relaxation and deep breathing to reduce pain and anxiety during childbirth.

By Claire Chamberlain

Hypnobirthing is currently all the rage in celebrity circles, but what exactly is it and can it really help to relieve labour pains? We speak to Liz Halliday, Deputy Head of Midwifery at Private Midwives, about self-hypnosis and childbirth:

If you’re pregnant, you will likely have given at least some thought to the upcoming birth. As well as a desire to finally meet your baby, you may also be feeling anything from excitement and anticipation through to anxiety and fear, all of which is entirely normal.

Many women feel anxious about the pain they might experience during labour, which is one of the reasons why hypnobirthing antenatal classes have become increasingly popular in recent years. But what exactly does hypnobirthing entail and does it really work?

What does hypnobirthing involve?

Founded in the US by Maria Mongan, hypnobirthing is a childbirth education course that incorporates self-hypnosis techniques to combat pain and anxiety during labour. ‘Hypnobirthing is a program which teaches many methods of relaxation, often incorporating breathing techniques, positive affirmations, mindfulness and visualisation,’ explains Halliday.

Hypnobirthing incorporates breathing techniques, positive affirmations, mindfulness and visualisation.

‘Women are either taught to self-hypnotise or to enter a trance state with the help of a partner or trained hypnobirthing practitioner,’ adds Halliday.

‘Some courses also teach various comfort measures, active labouring, sports psychology and neural linguistic programming, such as changing the language around labour, in order to retrain the brain into seeing the process as a positive experience. The methods centre around the power of persuasion and the mind’s ability to interpret and even override physical experience or pain.’

Does hypnobirthing work?

There is currently very limited scientific research into the effectiveness of hypnobirthing. In 2006, a small pilot study of 77 women in Australia found that fewer hypnobirthing women resorted to epidurals compared with the controls (36 per cent versus 53 per cent), as well as requiring less intervention to speed up labour (18 per cent versus 36 per cent).

However, a more recent study involving 680 women, carried out by the NHS in 2015, concluded that self-hypnosis did not make any difference to the method of birth (natural, instrumental or c-section) or the pain relief required, compared with a control group. The self-hypnosis group did, however, report a reduction in feelings of anxiety.

The benefits of hypnobirthing

Hypnobirthing enables women to stay calm during labour and use their physical impulses to work with their body in birth. ‘A fear reaction is commonplace when we experience unpleasant or painful sensations,’ says Halliday. ‘But fear releases adrenaline and cortisol, hormones which block the production of oxytocin, which can result in a more painful but less effective labour.

By bringing a positive response to labour sensations, hypnobirthing aids women to remain in control.

‘By bringing a positive response to labour sensations, hypnobirthing aids women to remain in control, reminds them to use tangible methods for comfort and can result in a more effective labour, with higher rates of satisfaction. In turn, a better birth experience can lead to a calmer and more positive post-partum journey, as women feel empowered and in control as they enter their journey into new motherhood.

‘In my experience, I do find that women who have practised hypnobirthing seem more prepared, less anxious prior to birth and cope with the sensations of labour in a very different way. They appear more relaxed, at ease and open to trying a range of comfort measures.’

Does hypnobirthing really relieve pain?

If you’re looking for a pain-free solution to childbirth, this is not the one. ‘It’s important to understand that hypnobirthing does not guarantee a sensation-free birth and many women will still interpret those sensations as painful,’ explains Halliday.

‘Occasionally, I have met women who feel they have failed at hypnobirthing because they felt pain, had an intervention in labour, or used a pharmacological form of pain relief, so it’s very important that we are honest with women about what hypnobirthing might help them achieve.’

Should you try hypnobirthing?

The decision to take hypnobirthing classes is a personal one. It is a safe practice, but it does not suit everyone, so have a think about whether it’s something you wish to explore.

‘For me, it’s a tool in the box which helps women to relax, recognise the power in their bodies and work with (rather than against) the strong sensations of labour and birth,’ says Halliday.

Hypnobirthing has been shown to result in lower interventions, epidurals and post-partum depression.

‘But perhaps most importantly, it lends an aspect of control, which many women feel is lacking in their labour. No woman has failed because she chooses to have an epidural or requires clinical interventions in labour, but we do fail women when we discourage hypnobirthing, which has been shown to result in lower interventions, lower rates of epidural, lower rates of post-partum depression and increased rates of breastfeeding.’

Where to find hypnobirthing classes

For more information and to find a class near you, visit:


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