Research is uncertain about whether hypnobirthing predictably makes birth easier or less painful. One meta-review of thirteen studies found that hypnobirthing did reduce labour pain, and produced better infant Apgar scores and a shorter stage 1 labour. Another study found that although self-hypnosis did not reduce epidural use, women felt less anxious and afraid during labour than they’d expected.
Incredibly to me, the training seemed to work for the mostly pain-free birth of my first son. I didn’t realise how well until I went through the painful and difficult birth of my second son. Even then, the techniques supported me, as they have other women, to stay calm, centred, and in charge even when urgent medical help is needed.
3. Using intuition to take back birth
Hypnobirthing affirms birth as a natural, normal event that can happen most of the time with minimal medical intervention. But regardless of what kind of birth a woman has, what really matters is whether she feels safe, treated with dignity and respect, and is empowered to make her own choices. Not all women want a “natural” birth, but they do want a good birth.
One way hypnobirthing supports good births is by teaching a decision tool called BRAIN (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Intuition, do Nothing?). This simple mnemonic device elevates intuition to the same power as mental cognition.
It empowers women to take control of their experience, using their heads and their hearts to make their own best choices.
BRAIN made a huge difference in both my sons’ births. When labour with my first son stalled, our birth team wanted to administer a drug to “get things going.” We asked them to give us a moment to talk about it.
The Benefits of declining the drug were high, and the Risks at the time were low. We knew of some Alternative natural methods to stimulate labour. My Intuition said try those first. They worked, and our first son was born just several hours later.
For the birth of my second son, using BRAIN, we accepted the advice to use the drug. We used it again after both births to handle postpartum hemorrhage. In each case I felt that we had made our choices freely, in partnership with our birth team, to keep everyone safe.
4. Accepting the experience you have
Pregnancy and birth are good training for motherhood; they often don’t go according to plan. “Love the labour you have, not the one you wanted to have,” is an axiom we were taught in class.
I’m glad we learned this because neither of my births looked like the class videos. In them, quiet, still women seemed to sigh gently, and birthed their babies wordlessly. Some hypnobirths look like that. Others are more expressive and primal. Some women need medical interventions, others do not. Some women feel pain and others don’t.
Hypnobirthing embodies a paradox. On the one hand, it presents the possibility that birth can be free from fear, pain, and excessive medical intervention. On the other hand, it’s equally important to embrace one’s birth experiences without judgment, however they unfold.
Sometimes hypnobirthing can turn into an ideology against which women evaluate their own and others’ births. I belong to a few online groups where women share their hypnobirthing stories. I have heard women say things like, “I caved in and got that epidural/induction/intervention,” or “I’m not sure if my c-section counts as a ‘hypnobirth.'”
To them and anyone else interested in hypnobirthing, I would say this: No one knows what can or should happen in your birth except for you. Hypnobirthing is a gentle invitation for women to connect with their intuition and imagine a different possibility for birth. It doesn’t guarantee a pain-free experience, and it doesn’t tell women to decline medical help to keep themselves and their babies comfortable and safe. It does put power and practical tools in women’s hands that support a positive experience, no matter what kind of birth they have.
Kate Isaacs, PhD is a mother to two boys, and an author, researcher, and consultant who has published and consulted widely in the business field. She has recently started writing about personal topics. She is not affiliated in any way with the hypnobirthing resources mentioned in this article.