Updated 19 November 2014

Hypnobirthing: hype or option?

Some moms-to-be, are opting for self-hypnosis over pain medication during delivery. But does it work?


Heidi’s labour went almost exactly as she had hoped: she was at home, surrounded by candles, with only her husband and a spiritual midwife present. No fear, no anxiety, and, moreover, minimal discomfort.

Unless complications made hospital necessary, Heidi was committed to giving birth at home. When she was pregnant, she explored the options and stumbled across hypnobirthing. Self-hypnosis, she read, could help one have an “easy, comfortable and joyous childbirth during which pain is greatly reduced".

Heidi enrolled late in a 12-week hypnobirthing course, so had only eight weeks to prepare. There was one session a week supplemented by daily exercises, focusing on learning techniques to anaesthetise her body from her breasts to her thighs.

“Hypnobirthing is really quite easy,” Heidi says now. “There is no right or wrong way of doing it. You can’t fail. Your body knows what to do and you need to learn to trust it.

“The motto is: enjoy your baby’s birthing with confidence, joy and love. You need to learn to relax, breathe properly and to be in your natural state. Women are born to do this.”

One of the primary components of the course is on learning to eliminate the fear of birthing, and conceptual shifts are a big part of this. For instance, words that have a negative connotation are replaced with positive alternatives. Instead of the word “pain”, there is “discomfort”; “labour” is “birthing”; “labour pains or contractions” become “birthing waves/sensations”.

Fighting fear

“Fear releases adrenalin and the fight or flight response,” explains Heidi. “It is in this state that we experience pain because if we have fear, the body holds back and the birthing becomes extended and the body cannot relax to do what it needs and knows to do. The mind will create what your mind dwells upon most and your body will follow. One needs to reserve one's energy so that the body can do what it must do.

“When there is no fear, we release oxitocin instead of adrenalin. The cervix opens beautifully, the birth canal opens slowly, the baby is relaxed and there is no anxiety. When mother and baby aren’t in a distressed state, the body releases its own anaesthetics and the birthing is powerful and joyous.”


Visualisation plays a key role. The course encourages women to visualise a peaceful, joyous birthing and to practise this daily. Heidi’s picture was of herself, and later her baby, wrapped in soft, shining, silver light.

“For me, it was exactly the way I learnt to drive a car. My father showed me once and I rehearsed the actions in my head every day for months. When I finally got behind the wheel, I knew what to do.”

During hypnosis you are fully aware of what is going on. It is a state in which the critical mind can be put to sleep, explains Heidi. In order to successfuly self-hypnotise, you learn to work in the subconscious mind. It is in the subconscious mind that you can change things.

Heidi drew up a birth plan with her midwife, partner and hypnotherapist. “It happened 90% the way I wanted it to be," she says. "I still experienced discomfort, but it was minimal." She points out that she had to compress her preparation into two months instead of three, and that the self-hypnosis was therefore shallower than it might have been otherwise.  

Mother and son today

Heidi's baby has been easy, healthy and happy since birth. She attributes his calm, peaceful nature to the way in which he was brought into this world and to the way he interacts with his parents. She continues to use self-hypnosis, however, for instance when he doesn’t want to fall asleep. This calms her, and in turn calms her baby.

Heidi says pregnancy became a spiritual growth path. She says she has learnt humility, and to distance herself from her ego - something all mothers must learn. “I would definitely recommend this technique. It has shown me how important it is for mother and baby to go through the birthing process together as a team.

"I created my ideal birthing for me. It wasn’t all as planned, but it was fantastic.”

(Ilse Pauw, Health24)


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