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Hypnotherapy for Birth - 'Hypnobirthing'


Many women use some form of hypnosis to help them manage labour. Some use self-hypnosis techniques, while others may follow a specific course, or perhaps use hypnotherapy in some other form - eg traditional hypnosis with post-hypnotic suggestion.

'Hypnobirthing' is a word which is now used generically to refer to hypnotherapy for birth; it is not a registered trademark in the EU, and there are several organisations which train teachers in the UK.

What does it involve?

Some of the most common approaches to hypnosis for birth in the UK are are 'HypnoBirthing - The Mongan Method', 'Hypnobirthing with Katharine Graves', and 'Natal Hypnotherapy'. These approaches are summarised below. There are, however, practitioners who use different methods and I do not intend to recommend any one over the others.

'Natal Hypnotherapy' is an approach developed by UK hypnotherapist Maggie Howell and you can either attend classes or listen to CDs in your own time at home. The classes are a 2-day course including antenatal education as well as hypnotherapy and the cost is similar to that of HypnoBirthing classes. You can read more about the classes on the Natal Hypnotherapy website.
The Natal Hypnotherapy birth preparation CD is a low-commitment, low-hassle, low-cost way of using hypnosis. It focuses solely on relaxation and hypnosis, rather than on antenatal education. It lasts for around 35 minutes and takes you through a relaxation session followed by lots of positive suggestions about your ability to manage late pregnancy and labour. For instance, you are encouraged to think of contractions as a sensation of 'power, pressure and warmth' and that you can control the intensity of those sensations. There is a sequence of relaxing music in the background. You simply listen to the CD as often as you can at the end of pregnancy, ideally daily, but it's OK if you can only do it weekly or even just once or twice. You can buy a separate CD of relaxing birth music which you can play during labour - it's the backing music from the birth preparation CD, and it helps to reinforce the positive suggestions you heard before.

'Hypnobirthing with Katharine Graves' trains many hypnobirthing teachers in the UK. Katharine writes : "The principles of hypnobirthing are universal after all, they are principles but each country has a slightly different approach, and mothers in the UK find the flexibility of this UK approach to hypnobirthing is gentle, simple and profound."
One of Katharine's clients, Susie, has written about her support in a lovely birth story - Susie only decided on a home birth after coming home from hospital in early labour!
To find a teacher go to The Hypnobirthing Association
To train as a teacher go to www.thehypnobirthingcentre.co.uk

'HypnoBirthing the Mongan Method' originated in the USA. You attend for a total of at least 12.5 hours over 5 weekly sessions and the course includes lots of general antenatal education as well as hypnosis techniques, and your birth partner is a vital part of the process and so must attend the classes with you. Below you will find an introduction to HypnoBirthing courses in the UK, and the link at the start of this paragraph will take you to the Hypnobirthing The Mongan Method UK website which has lots more information. Below you will find an introduction to 'HypnoBirthing The Mongan Method' courses in the UK, and the link at the start of this paragraph will take you to the HypnoBirthing The Mongan Method UK website which has lots more information.

The Hypnobirthing Association is as a professional body to which any fully trained hypnobirthing teacher can belong, regardless of which organisation trained them.

'HypnoBirthing in the UK

by Deborah Henley

Here is an introduction to one hypnosis technique, 'HypnoBirthing', by practitioner Deborah Henley:

"HypnoBirthing" is an approach from the USA which I brought to England in 1999 and developed into a style more suited to our culture, adding many approaches from my experience as a Clinical Hypnotherapist and from the excellent work that has been done in this country by the NCT, Sheila Kitzinger and AIMS, among others. I run weekend courses in and around London to teach mothers-to-be how to use their own natural instincts and new skills to bring their babies into the world. The course participants learn the basics of hypnosis for childbirth including deep relaxation, self-hypnosis, visualisations and breathing techniques for each stage of labour. They are also given a wealth of childbirth information and hypnotherapeutic treatments to release any fears and anxieties.

The preparation is an important aspect of the course. Having a positive frame of mind can make a tremendous difference to the rest of pregnancy and to the birth itself - in terms of how interventions and unexpected occurrences are handled. People leave the course informed and with a new perspective of what birth can be. They are empowered to trust their bodies to instinctively know what to do, as they relax and let nature take over. Most HypnoBirthing mothers give birth comfortably, easily and naturally - whether they are in hospital, a birth unit or at home, but it is the familiarity of home that best facilitates an environment in which most can feel relaxed, confident and in control.

With their confidence in place, participants are then provided with specific tools for each stage of labour. A popular one is the balloon-breathing, used with each contraction. As the labouring mother feels the surge of energy she welcomes it, instantly going into a relaxed focused state of hypnosis and breathing deeply and slowly. As she does this she imagines that she is filling up a balloon, and as she breathes out she releases it. Its as if the balloon floats away taking with it any tension and discomfort she might feel. As one woman said "I didn't have any time to think about whether the contractions hurt or not, I was so busy filling up my balloons. They were no trouble at all."

The courses are attended with the birth partner, who plays an important role. He learns how to facilitate the relaxation and focused state of the mother. They are given preparation exercises to practice at home, as well as cassettes to listen to before and during labour. He will also learn a lot of information about childbirth enabling him to feel calm and relaxed so that the couple can work together to have the most positive experience possible.

HypnoBirthing mothers are encouraged to use active birth positions - including squatting, being on all fours and kneeling. The uterus is said to be twice as effective when the body is moving around as opposed to when the body is prone in bed, and making use of gravity is just common sense. Once couples have developed a vision for how they wish to manage their birth, they naturally feel more empowered to make choices and to be assertive. For instance, they may want to choose to be able to move freely, to be monitored by sonic aid rather than e.f.m. or to put off inductions for as long as possible (provided their is no risk to the mother or baby). They may also like to have bonding time after the birth.

Another benefit is that many HypnoBirthing mothers report a very quick recovery and calm, happy babies. The birth becomes a wonderful experience which they can enjoy remembering for the rest of their lives.

For a birth story from one of Deborah's clients, please see Mandi's Letter.

DEBORAH HENLEY is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator. Deborah's website gives more details of her practice and HypnoBirthing in general.


Is there any evidence that it works?

Yes, there is. I'm aware of several studies, all with positive results. Here are two, but more will be added.

Hypnosis May Reduce Pain, Complications of Labor

An article from Medscape

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Jun 13 - Self-hypnosis during childbirth may ease some of the pain of labor, lower the risk of medical complications and reduce the need for surgery, study results suggest.

Hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce pain and the need for anesthesia, as well as ease anxiety and fear during childbirth, Dr. Paul G. Schauble and colleagues note in the Journal of Family Practice for May. The use of hypnosis during pregnancy to prepare women for delivery may be key since it gives them a sense of control, they say.

To investigate, the researchers, who are at the University of Florida in Gainesville, assigned 42 pregnant teenagers to receive either counseling or four sessions of instruction in self-hypnosis for childbirth. Teens in the hypnosis group learned deep relaxation and imagery techniques to help them cope with pain. They also received suggestions to help them respond to possible complications and boost their confidence in their ability to manage anxiety.

According to the report, only 1 of 22 patients in the hypnosis group remained in the hospital longer than 2 days after delivery, compared with 8 of 20 patients who did not learn self-hypnosis. None of the patients in the hypnosis group needed surgical intervention, compared with 60% of those in the non-hypnosis group.

In addition, fewer patients in the hypnosis group experienced complications such as high blood pressure or vacuum-assisted delivery, opted for medical anesthesia or oxytocin, or required medication after delivery.

"This study provides empirical data demonstrating that the use of hypnosis in preparing pregnant women for labor and delivery reduces the risk of complications, decreases the need for medical intervention...and promotes safer, more comfortable delivery for mother and child," Dr. Schauble told Reuters Health. "We anticipate this will lead to a reduction in the costs involved in childbirth."

J Fam Pract 2001;50:441-443.

And here's the abstract of a study of women giving birth in South Wales, which found that hypnotherapy shortened the first and second stages of labour. For women having their first babies, the first stage was reduced from an average of 9.3 hours to 6.4 hours, and the second stage from 50 minutes to 37 minutes on average. The differences for women having their second or later children were less dramatic, but it was still significant.

Hypnosis: practical applications and theoretical considerations in normal labour

Jenkins MW, Pritchard MH.

Br J Obstet Gynaecol 1993 Mar;100(3):221-6

OBJECTIVE: To assess the effects of hypnotherapy on the first and second stages of labour in a large group of pregnant women.
DESIGN: A semi-prospective case control study in which women attending antenatal clinics were invited to undergo hypnotherapy.
SUBJECTS: One hundred twenty-six primigravid women with 300 age matched controls, and 136 parous women having their second baby with 300 age matched controls. Only women who had spontaneous deliveries were included.
SETTING: Aberdare District Maternity Unit, Mid Glamorgan, Wales.
INTERVENTION: Six sessions of hypnotherapy given by a trained medical hypnotherapist during pregnancy.
OUTCOME MEASURES: Analgesic requirements, duration of first and second stages of labour.
RESULTS: The mean lengths of the first stage of labour in the primigravid women was 6.4 h after hypnosis and 9.3 h in the control group (P < 0.0001); the mean lengths of the second stage were 37 min and 50 min, respectively (P < 0.001). In the parous women the corresponding values were 5.3 h and 6.2 h (P < 0.01); and 24 and 22 min (ns). The use of analgesic agents was significantly reduced (P < 0.001) in both hypnotised groups compared with their controls.
CONCLUSION: In addition to demonstrating the benefits of hypnotherapy, the study gives some insight into the relative proportions of mechanical and psychological components involved in the longer duration of labour in primigravid women.

PMID: 8476826 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Birth Stories involving Hypnosis

Susie planned to deliver her first baby in a birth centre in hospital using hypnobirthing, but after a drawn out early labour which did not progress according to hospital protocol, she came home, and with support from her hypnotherapist, changed her plans. She gave birth to her first baby gently at home, in water, supported by independent midwives.

Mandi's second baby arrived rapidly at home at 13 days past the due date. Mandi was well prepared with hypnotherapy and the birth went very smoothly - if faster than expected.

Maggie Howell used self-hypnosis to such great effect in her own first labour that she went on to develop a range of Natal Hypnotherapy CDs for other mothers.

Steph found HypnoBirthing very effective during her second baby's birth, and for third baby Rafferty it was invaluable in helping her to manage an extremely rapid labour which would have sent many women into shock and panic.

My own fifth baby, Athena, was born at home on 10 February 2007. I'd used the Natal Hypnotherapy CDs and I had a dream of a labour, far easier than the previous four. I haven't yet written up sixth baby Tommy's story (2010), but the hypnotherapy helped there too - not as dramatically, but I am so very glad that it was part of my labour toolkit.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a HypnoBirthing instructor who has had some experience of using different hypnotherapy approaches in her own labours. Her first baby, Sebastian, was born in hospital after transferring when labour was long and tough. She didn't use hypotherapy for this labour. For her second baby, Flynn, she used hypnotherapy to help her manage labour. By the time she had Rafferty, she had trained as a HypnoBirthing instructor, and she went on to have Violet at home too.

Katherine ended up with hospital inductions and one caesarean instead of the two homebirths she planned, but her HypnoBirthing training still came in very useful. She explains:

"I did a Mongon-method HypnoBirthing course, over 4 weekends. I highly recommend HypnoBirthing - but you do need to practice regularly - every day really as the more you practice, the less time it takes to relax into it. It was great to sit and watch my stomach contract, but be so relaxed that it doesn't hurt!! Fab! Means we could sit and play scrabble and cards while midwives were wondering whether monitoring machine was working properly as "you should be REALLY feeling those strong contractions".

Paula used Natal Hypnotherapy training with great success and writes: "I still marvel at how wonderful Fraser's birth was. I will always remember it was a truly euphoric experience, and have no memory of pain".

Rachelle and Richard both write about their experience of hypnotherapy. Richard is a hypnotherapise himself, but his wife had always been scrptical. After the birth, she wrote:
"Basically I learnt how to take myself into deep relaxation, that lovely state you get to, just before falling asleep, or the state you get into when you daydream or meditate. Then I did things like learn how to breathe through contractions, draw on my own strength, develop a connection with all women throughout time who had ever gone through childbirth (very emotional and incredibly empowering) and things like developing faith and trust in my body and in nature that every thing would work out perfectly for me and baby. "

Julie Kennedy used the Natal Hypnotherapy CD to help her manage a long early labour with her second baby.

Victoria Whitworth found the combination of Natal Hypnotherapy and birth pool very effective.

Amber attended HypnoBirthing classes and her instructor came round to act as a labour supporter or doula for her first baby's birth.

Jackie Rickman used Natal Hypnotherapy.

Joanne Whistler

Angela Hennessy used Natal Hypnotherapy

Anna Grube writes: "I had read about Maggie Howell's hypnobirthing CD's on this website, and purchased the one designed for homebirth preparation. I listened to it a few times a week from the beginning of the third trimester on, and then every day during the last few weeks of pregnancy. I had a pretty low success rate of managing to stay awake throughout the entire thing, but I still felt that it helped tremendously in preparing me mentally for the whole process of the labor and birth."

Hannah Worthington used Natal Hypnotherapy during a long labour at home, and remained very calm even after transferring to hospital for slow progress.

Danielle is a HypnoBirthing instructor who found the method very useful during her own labour at home: "The labour was everything I dreamed of:- pain free, calm, relaxed. The hypnobirthing was wonderful; the only time I felt pain was when his head crowned."

Helen M used Hypnobirthing when she had her first baby at home.

Rebecca N used Natal Hypnotherapy in her first labour, which included a difficult transition and second stage, pushing for three hours; her husband's support with the hypnotherapy made a clear difference at a crucial moment.

Charlie Paris found Natal Hypnotherapy very effective for the births of her first and second babies. Both were rapidly progressing labours, the second a BBA.

Gina she found her her yoga breathing and hypnobirthing techniques more effective than Gas and Air after she transferred to hospital.

Fran used Natal Hypnotherapy CDs to prepare for birth, and to rebuild her confidence after a difficult consultation with an antagonistic obstetrician.

Selma used Mongan-method hypnotherapy. She describes the labour and birth as pain-free, and believes that the foundations were laid in her pregnancy programme of exercise and mental preparation.

Sam RK used hypnotherapy CDs to prepare for her first baby's birth. She was dreading a long labour and wondering what pain relief she'd need, when she found out that baby was back-to-back. But things progressed much faster than she expected: "The pool had three inches of water in it, the 2nd midwife was still on her way with the entonox and I had a baby!"

Ian C writes about the birth of Martha. His wife, Helen, is a Hypnobirthing instructor and it is clear that the techniques were beneficial; fascinating to read about this from the father's viewpoint.

Hypnosis for Labour and Birth - National Contacts

Natal Hypnotherapy (www.natalhypnotherapy.co.uk) - therapist Maggie Howell has produced a range of CDs for pregnancy and birth, including one especially for women planning a home birth. I used Maggie's CDs during my last pregnancy, before my fifth baby Athena was born in February 2007. It was a wonderful way to relax and rest in late pregnancy, made me feel very positive about the forthcoming birth, and for that alone I would recommend it. I also had a labour which was much, much shorter and easier than any of my others - I suspect it helped! The birthstory of Maggie's first baby, Joseph, is on this site.

Hypnobirthing with Katharine Graves - a UK-based, extremely popular approach to hypnotherapy. Founder Katharine Graves is a keen supporter of homebirth.

Birth Hypnosis UK is home to the Birth-Hypnosis Register, a listing of independent hypnotherapists offering hypnotherapy and self hypnosis for birth.(www.birth-hypnosis-uk.org)

HypnoBirthing - The Mongan Method UK - the umbrella organisation for its practitioners.


Email group for parents interested in using hypnosis for birth - international


Good Childbirth - Dr Steven Reid's new book about making labour easier through mental preparation for birth, using self-hypnosis techniques.

Hypnotherapy Practitioners in the UK

I have set up a collaborative Google document on Birth Hypnotherapists in the UK. You can view it to find a therapist near you, or add your own hypnotherapy practice - follow the link for info.

A general directory of UK hypnotherapists can be found here: www.hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk


You might also find the pages on Practical Preparation for Home Birth, Home Birth Plans and Antenatal Preparation for Home Birth interesting.

This page updated 10 July 2012

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