The term and concept of hypnobirthing was first coined by US hypnotherapist Marie Mongan in 1989. Although there are no official figures, Google search data shows that interest in the subject has doubled over the past decade or so. While some therapists credit its success on word of mouth for the rise in popularity, a spell of celebrities using hypnobirthing has also been credited. The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba have all either confirmed or been rumoured to have practiced hypnobirthing.
It’s easy to assume that hypnobirthing is a concept that only applies to the mother-to-be. That is far from the case. Dads, or birthing partners, have a tremendously important role to play in hypnobirthing from creating the perfect environment to coaching through techniques, but can also benefit from it themselves. So we’ve put together this guide in partnership with Birthing Matters to help you understand what hypnobirthing is, how dads can get involved, and how dads can benefit.
What is hypnobirthing?
Our beautiful addition to the family! Vivienne Jane Kane. So proud of @KateGoodlandx for having the most amazing water birth with no pain relief at all #mygirls #hypnobirthing pic.twitter.com/a6BM4CkFM1— Harry Kane (@HKane) August 8, 2018
In its simplest terms, hypnobirthing is a set of relaxation and visualisation techniques designed to help women eliminate fear and anxiety about birth and replace it with a positive and calm approach. It is primarily used for labour and the birth, but it can also be used to remove the stresses of everyday life during pregnancy. Many women turn to hypnobirthing if they want a natural or pain-relief-free birth, even though there are no guarantees it will be pain free.
There are a whole range of different techniques used in hypnobirthing, and some work better for others. But the main focus is around mindfulness, visualisation, relaxation, positive affirmation, deep breathing and self-hypnosis.
It is designed to create a somewhat unique connection between the mind and the body to remove the fear and anxiety so commonly associated with childbirth. Hypnobirthing takes plenty of practice and while it is possible to learn on your own, most people turn to private practitioners who recommend beginning courses from around 25 weeks into the pregnancy.
What hypnobirthing is not
The biggest misconception around hypnobirthing is that it is a form of hypnosis, where the women enter a hypnotic trance and have no control over their thoughts or actions.
Instead, hypnobirthing is used to help focus on the physiological process and the experience of birth. Rather than enter a hypnotic state, it helps to remove external stimuli - a commotion in the hospital hallway, the beeping of a monitor, the buzzing of the air con system, the flickering of faulty lightbulb, the constant vibration of a phone thanks to an overeager relative hoping for an update.
Does hypnobirthing work?
There are very few studies into the effectiveness of hypnobirthing, and it is by no means the promise of a pain-free labour. There is no one-size fits all solution to hypnobirthing. Everyone’s body is slightly different, as is everyone’s mind, and they all work and react differently. A set of techniques that helps towards a quickfire, pain-free birth for one woman may not work at all for another.
The important thing to understand is that hypnobirthing isn’t some hippy, fairy, free spirit fad. It’s based on science, physiology, psychology and education.
A Positive Birth Experience
There are four key principles that form the concept of hypnobirthing and lead to a positive birthing experience.
1. Education and knowledge
While mindfulness and relaxation take a lot of the attention when it comes to hypnobirthing, knowledge and understanding of how the woman’s body works during pregnancy, labour and birth is absolutely essential. The education pillar arms mums and dads-to-be with all the information they need to ensure the woman can make the best, most-informed decision for her and her baby.
It helps to encourage using logic and understanding to approach anything that may arise during labour - being offered a sweep, an examination or induction, for example. Women aren’t required to accept any medical procedure or examination during pregnancy or labour, even down to an internal examination. It empowers them to assess what the benefits are, what the risks are, and if there are alternatives, to come to the best decision for them, their body, their birth and your baby.
2. Confidence and control
Hypnobirthing requires the woman to have confidence and control over her mind and her body- confidence to make informed decisions, confidence in her ability to give birth in a positive way.
It is a long established fact that confidence allows a person to feel more relaxed and calm in stressful situations. The body produces a chemical called oxytocin during labour, which is used to keep labour progressing. When stressed, the body also produces adrenaline which hampers the production of oxytocin and could, therefore, lead to a longer labour.
The feeling of being out of control is something that many women fear heading into labour, but hypnobirthing teaches the confidence to feel in control of every situation that may arise during the birthing process.
3. Calmness and relaxation
Probably what you’ve heard most about hypnobirthing, it empowers the woman to be calm and relaxed throughout the entire labour and birth. Remaining calm and relaxed is essential to the production of oxytocin, which helps the uterus to contract and progress labour, which is why hypnobirthing is so often linked with a quicker labour.
When a woman isn’t feeling relaxed and calm, the adrenaline released by the stress counteracts the oxytocin - the two can’t work in conjunction. The adrenaline sends oxygen to the extremities and moves it away from the uterus, slowing contractions and slowing labour.
Hypnobirthing teaches a host of scripts, breathing, and visualisation techniques that enable your partner to reach the required state of calmness and relaxation, and importantly, stay there.
4. Trust - body and baby
Another common fear women have when they approach labour for the first time is that they don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what to do.
Hypnobirthing teaches them that birth is a completely natural process and their bodies are equipped for it. Everything about their reproductive physiology is designed to facilitate labour and birth. And it’s important to know that.
Such are the advances of modern medicine that over time, giving birth has become viewed as a medical process, and doing it naturally is the somewhat obscure way. Instead, birth is a completely natural process that sometimes requires medical intervention.
Hypnobirthing helps women to learn to trust their body and their baby to know what to do.
Dad’s role - Why hypnobirthing isn’t just for mums
Dads can sometimes feel a bit helpless and a bit useless during labour, which is totally understandable - your partner is doing this incredible thing by bringing new life into the world, the midwives and doctors are crucial should they be needed. You’re just there to tell her to breathe, right? Wrong.
Your role as birth partner shouldn’t be overlooked in any birth, but it is absolutely vital in hypnobirthing. The chances are that you’re her birthing partner because you know her better than anyone, you’re who she trusts more than anyone else, you’re her biggest source of comfort and reassurance.
Importantly in hypnobirthing, you’ve been through the learning process and understand exactly what your partner needs and wants to ensure a calm, relaxing and positive birth. Given you’re not the one doing the pushing and not the medical professional, you’re responsible for creating the perfect environment to enable that positive experience - citing relaxation scripts, dimming the lights, ensuring there’s a certain smell or sound, prompting techniques and more.
It’s important not to forget how useful you can be to the medical team. Your understanding of your partner can be extremely helpful if they feel something isn’t quite right. You know the difference between when your partner needs some gentle encouragement, when they need a stern talking to, and when something really is wrong.
What hypnobirthing teaches dads
It’s equally important that you, as the dad to be and birthing partner, go through the entire hypnobirthing learning process with your partner. It not only gives her the strongest possible chance of a successful positive birthing experience, but helps to bring you up to speed on every aspect of the birthing process. Men arguably know even less about the physiology of birth than women. And the more you understand, the less stressful the whole process will be for both of you.
It not only ensures that she has the highest chance of a successfully positive experience, but also to ensure she has the highest chance of a successfully positive experience.
It’s vitally important that you both practice the techniques throughout pregnancy so that by the time labour comes around, they are second nature to you both. Creating a connection between the mind and the body requires training. You cannot expect to understand what your partner needs when the time comes if you don’t practice and practice.
How dads can benefit from hypnobirthing
Labour and birth can be an extremely stressful situation for men, too. And those feelings of feeling out of control are arguably stronger and more frequent among men. But it doesn’t need to be. Dads-to-be can apply the same hypnobirthing techniques to remain calm and relaxed, while empowering them to feel confident that they know what to do.
Practicing the techniques with your partner throughout pregnancy will mean that the same anchors - scripts, techniques, music, scents etc - will also have a relaxing effect on you and help towards you having a more positive birth experience.
Your role as the birthing partner extends beyond helping your partner bring your child into the world. The so-called ‘golden hour’ post-birth is an equally important part of hypnobirthing and ensuring a positive experience.
Skin-to-skin contact is almost always talked about in relation to the mum, but it can be done by dad, too. Not only is it wonderful for dads to create that early bond and connection, there are some circumstances in which the mother is unable to do skin-to-skin contact. In this situation, it’s just as important for the birthing partner to do it in order to help regulate your baby’s body temperature and breathing rate.
If you and your partner have opted for the hypnobirthing path, it’s understandable she (and you) would want the time postpartum to be as relaxing and positive as possible as well as the labour. And you can help here, too. You can help to ensure there are minimal distractions or stresses, whether it’s ensuring the scent remains in the air, keeping the sounds or music on, keeping the lighting right or even ensuring the medical teams talk to you unless they specifically need to talk to mum.
A dad’s experience of hypnobirthing
Alastair Reed and his wife, Natalie, turned to hypnobirthing after what he describes as “losing control” during the birth of their first child, Isla.
“The first birth had quite a big impact on us. When we reflected on it, we both felt like we could have been better prepared,” he explains.
“But I also felt shell shocked, seeing my partner go through these things and not being able to help.”
Hypnobirthing had been recommended to the couple by a close friend, and determined to avoid the stresses of the first birth, they committed to it for baby No. 2. Amid the daily chaos of raising a young child, Alastair and Natalie carved out time to discuss Natalie’s plans and hopes for the birth.
“Natalie had really clear ideas and my role was to support her to create the right environment and support through the techniques,” Alastair says.
“She wanted a homebirth, and wanted the room to be darker with ambient lighting. Natalie pre-made a playlist of calming and relaxing music and we discussed what snacks and comfort food she wanted.
“We practiced a lot of breathing techniques and came up with a number of positive affirmations to boost her morale and remove the negative. We found the psychology of that really important.”
Natalie’s positive affirmations
“My body and my baby know what to do”
“I am strong, we are safe, I can do this”
“I look forward to my baby’s birth”
“I feel calm, relaxed and at ease”
When it was time for Ottilie to make her arrival, Alastair said it felt completely different for both of them. Natalie got her calmer, positive birth experience, as did he.
He says: “I was a panicked bystander when Isla was born, but having a clear and specific role was really empowering for me. I was a calm facilitator this time around. I didn’t need to ask Natalie about every little thing - if she wanted this or that - we had already planned as much as we could, so I was clear what I needed to do to help create the best environment.”
“Because I knew so much more about the process and what Natalie wanted, it meant I was able to discuss things with the midwives, too. That was also really empowering for me and meant Natalie could concentrate on the techniques.”
He adds: “We worked together as a team right through the hypnobirthing process, and I think that was something that came out of it post-birth too as we settled into life with a new baby.”
To Natalie from Birthing Matters for being a fantastic source of advice and insight when it comes to hypnobirthing, and especially the importance of dad in the process.