Hypnobirthing isn’t really hypnosis, and it’s not just for birth

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A couple months into my pregnancy, my mom gave me and Andreas a gift certificate for 12 hours of private Hypnobirthing training with a certified instructor. The initial lessons were challenging, not because the practice itself was all that difficult (both Dre and I have had lots of exposure to and belief in focused breathing exercises, guided meditation, etc) but because the program felt, well, sort of silly

The program can feel hokey, especially the language. It touts an alternative birth vocabulary, claiming it’s not a contraction, it’s a “surge”! It’s not pain, it’s “sensation.” It’s not a “complication,” it’s a “special circumstance.” You don’t push, you “breathe the baby down.”

The program also included some relaxation exercises that felt gimmicky, with lines like, “You can feel yourself becoming twice as relaxed.” I kept thinking, so what’s twice as much feel like? What about ten times more relaxed? What about 8 to the 12th power more relaxed?

Oh, and the music on the included CD was stereotypical twinkly new age stuff.

BUT! Despite our dubiousness, Andreas and I were both immediately recognized that the concepts and methods were going to be super valuable. It makes a lot of sense to me that anxiety and fear of pain are some of the biggest mental blocks in natural childbirth, and I know from personal experience that when I’m dealing with fear and anxiety, focusing on my breath is the best thing I can do for myself. It’s not really hypnosis — it’s just breathwork. Meditation, really.

So while I knew right away that hypnobirthing wasn’t really about hypnosis, it took me a while to recognize that it’s not really about birthing either.

Ok, let me back up. What is hypnobirthing? Basically, the program is just a series of scripts of guided meditations that you use during your pregnancy and labor. Ideally, your labor partner reads you the hypnobirthing scripts, but there are also CDs that you can use if your partner isn’t into it. The idea is that through the use of relaxing music and these scripts, you can keep yourself in a calm, meditative state during your labor, better managing your pain and having a smoother natural birth experience.

So if it’s just breathing exercises and guided meditation, why do they call it “hypnosis”? My theory is that the author doesn’t want to scare away people who might balk at the words “meditation” or “yoga.” Hypnobirthing is yoga breathwork for the mainstream; focused meditation that you can buy at the strip mall. I mean, it was on Dr. Phil and Good Morning America for godsake!

I doubted that Hypnobirthing would result in the “PAIN FREE BIRTH” that the hypnobirthing(tm) marketing materials claimed. But the way I saw it, focusing on grounded breathing exercises was an excellent practice for me regardless of the eventual outcome during labor. So while I hoped it would make the delivery process smoother, I recognized that my monkey brain could benefit from focused breathing.

I started doing the breathing exercises at night during my second trimester to help myself fall back asleep after getting up 6+ times a night to pee … and lemme tell ya, that shit worked LIKE A CHARM. Usually, my midnight wake-ups would find me spiraling into a brain-warp of little anxieties and fretting over work or the pregnancy. But thanks to the twinkly new age music that I thought I’d hate, I was able to reign my brain in and focus on my breath. I almost always fell back asleep within five minutes or so. I still woke up a million times a night, but I really did fall back to sleep quickly. I mostly used my own little mantra to follow my breath: Breathe, release. Breathe, release.

When, at 37 weeks pregnant, I tried doing External Cephalic Version to flip my stubbornly breech baby, I used the hypnobirthing methods to stay calm and focused through the 20 minutes of the doctor digging his hands into my belly and trying to wrestle the baby into position.

When it was clear the Version had failed and I would not be having the natural childbirth I wanted, I used the hypnobirthing methods to stay calm. There are those that say the mother’s state of mind influences the fetus, and I didn’t want my anxiety over a breech presentation and a hospital birth to stress out the fetus. Breathing, breathing. I just kept breathing.

And when I ultimately ended up with the most sterile, medicalized hospital birth imaginable, I used my hypnobirthing breathwork to stay focused and centered through all the beeping and fluorescent lights and masked medical workers. Spinal anesthesia? Breathe, release. Breathe, release. The eerie sensation of my numbed lower body being sliced open and jacked around as they pulled the baby out? Breathe, release. Breathe, release. The nausea that came when the doctors pulled my uterus out of my body to sew it up? Breathe, release.

It wasn’t the natural childbirth that I’d prepared for, but there was no denying that the hypnobirthing helped.

And in the months since Tavi’s birth? Waking up at 3am for the third nursing of the night, trying to fall back asleep … breathe, release. Breathe, release. It still helps me fall back to sleep easily. In the moments when he’s inconsolable, despite being nursed, changed, swaddled, and snuggled? Breathe, release. Breathe, release. The breathing helps me stay calmer. (Not always calm. But calmer.)

So, while I don’t think hypnobirthing is hypnosis, and I didn’t use it in the context of natural childbirth, it was definitely beneficial to my pregnancy, birth, and even parenthood.

Comments on Hypnobirthing isn’t really hypnosis, and it’s not just for birth

  1. Agreed! I just started using these at around 34 or 35 weeks, so it was a little too late for me to do the ‘full’ program. Mostly, I just listen to the guided relaxation cd every night, but it -really- does help me get to sleep more easily and quickly, and to get back to sleep more easily and quickly when I wake up every two hours to shift positions.

    I should probably go through the rest of the CDs, but since I transferred them to the harddrive on my netbook (which doesn’t have a CD drive), I don’t know which file is which, so I’ve got to dig through and figure out which order to listen to it all in. XD

    Still, I’d definitely recommend, if not Hypnobabies, -some- kind of guided relaxation thing to -any- pregnant woman, because the ability to relax and sleep is significant. If this complete skeptic can benefit from it, just about anyone can!

  2. I read this book and took a class too. It helped in many ways, as you have noted. It also was helpful in that I was not afraid of contractions. They still hurt, but I wasnt afraid.

    • I still need to read the materials you gave me. This post seems like a good prompt for me remind me to get to that. Thanks again for the loan!

  3. it helped my monkey brain fall asleep too! i listened to the "Baby come out NOW" at 40 weeks….he didnt come out till 42 weeks. so did it work to get the baby out? no. but it helped me fall asleep for those two weeks.

  4. I tried to go the hypnobirthing route myself. But, when it became totally obvious at 40 weeks and 1 day that my body was not having being pregnant anymore (high blood pressure) but that the baby was not quite ready to come out (I stuck at 4 cm for over 17 hours despite water breaking) I had to accept the pitocin and epidural. But it all worked out! And like you, the skills I learned from the hypnobirthing come in handy when my brain won't stop spinning or when it's 3 am and I can't get the baby to sleep!

  5. Sounds like an invaluable parenting tool for all stages… Toddler slapped you? Breathe, release. Unwanted parenting advice? Breathe, release.

    I had a big problem with a couple different birthing resources I used that referred to the pain of childbirth as "sensation" or "discomfort." Give me a #%$% break! I guess maybe its like that for some women, but Jesus Christ I was SCREAMING in labor and I don't think downplaying it so much helped me out at all. I know with my first baby, I was totally unprepared for the pain of childbirth from the way I had read about it in books like those. Although of course nothing can really explain or prepare you for the pain of childbirth, either. But according to some of these books, I would just get down, grunt a little, push the baby out and maybe need a little bandaid and a lollipop after.

    What helped a lot was practicing breathing while in actual discomfort like you said, with the pains of pregnancy. I don't know if the way I read about breathing exercises would have helped if I didn't have a background in them (I grew up with a recurring pain disorder that I've been "breathing through" since childhood.)

  6. I read and used the Hypnobirthing cd as well. I found parts of the book sort of problematic – and immediately rejected the notion of "painfree" birth (as well as the assertions that third world women and animals birth without pain). But the meditation for calming and the idea that fear leads our bodies to experience more pain than necessary I could totally get behind. I listened to the cd a lot to fall asleep to and I really think it helped me stay calm and centred for the birth of my daughter. Of course I felt pain during the birth, (lots of it) but the labour was such an amazing experience and there was only about 10 minutes during transition when the pain felt overwhelming. It was an amazing birth – every breathe of it!

  7. fascinating account. i recently started working at a new-agey/hippie baby and maternity store. we hold a lot of workshops and classes about alternative birthing and parenting, and not being a parent yet myself, a lot of it is new to me. hypnobirthing is something i'd never heard of before, and now i talk about basically every day.

    ok, off to the store's anti-vaccination talk. lol

    • I did hypnobirthing, yes. Although they talked all about hypnotic anesthesia techniques too, so my assumption was that since both programs are trademarked, they're just trying to differentiate between the two with various Special Words and Copyrighted Phrases to make them seem more different than they are.

      I don't know that's the case, however. Just my assumptions.

      • I'm not sure how different they are, only that I know a few people that have used both for different births prefer the Hypnobabies course… Never heard of anyone preferring Hypnobirthing to Hypnobabies, but I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to use for my upcoming birth 🙂

        • This. Hypnobabies and Hypnobirthing are two different programs, and everyone I've heard of who has taken both preferred Hypnobabies because it does use the same hypnosis techniques to produce anesthesia that people who cannot have anesthesia use. My Hypnobabies instructor has a colleague who used self-hypnosis for her hysterectomy, and Hypnobabies incorporates the same techniques. If you watch actual Hypnobabies birth videos, it's so amazing to see these women – they are completely calm and in control.

  8. I had a girlfirend years ago go through the hypnobirthing process and then become an instructor. She tweaked it a bit for me to use for marathon training. It was fantastic. I assigned colores to different parts of my body from my feet to my neck and learned how to breathe into those areas when I needed to address tension or pain. It was revolutionary for me and continues to be something I use particularly durring physical challenges. It is AWESOME! Ten years later I am still using my hypno-running.

  9. Thank you for reminding me how much I used the skills in that book while I was still pregnant. I too had one of the most medicalized births imaginable…but while I was still "with child" the skills I was reading about helped immensely. I was depressed I didn't get to use them how they were "intended", but thank you for pointing out how I can still make use of the practice in my life now!

  10. I agree!! I ended up with a c section too & my hypnobirthing skills came in incredibly handy for the entire process and after. I also utilized the cds provided by our instructor to relax and keep my mind from spiralling into anxiety while I was pregnant. I really should utilize the techniques now…I need a little 'centering.' Thanks for the reminder!!

  11. I've done the CalmBirth course – which is the Aussie version of Hypnobirthing… and also used the Hypnobabies meditations. All of them are muchos helpful me thinks… who doesn't need a remind to chill the frigtrain out?

    As a total hippy though, I freaking LOVE the surges shit though 😉

  12. I contemplated this, but then thought it looked a bit too New-Agey, but hearing this perspective, it may be worth a second look!

  13. My former boss gave me her copy of this book just last week, and I was like "I dunno, I might flip through it." But you pointing out that it can be used in more ways than one convinced me I should give it a read. Good job!

  14. im so glad you posted this. i was just thinking about signing up for a class. i dont know anyone who has used this method, but the relaxation part of it speaks to me. im still not sure what to do – but so glad to have read your account. xx

  15. Yes! Although I found the language and the accompanying videos incredibly cheesy and a bit unnatural, I credit hypnobirthing with getting me through my hideous posterior labor.

    Also, I can almost credit hypnobirthing's CD for causing my mother to fall asleep at the wheel while transporting me to hospital at 4am. Almost, but not quite – go mom! Afterward, I noticed that the CD has a huge warning on it – DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS WHILE OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE.

    Oops.

  16. Very interesting! My yoga breathing skills (plus my awesome doula and husband!) were what got me through 33 hours of unmedicated labor. I read "Birthing From Within", as it seemed to be the only book that had several different specific techniques (and instructions on practicing them) for dealing with labor pain. I've definitely heard of Hypnobirthing, but I had no idea it was pretty much exactly the same thing that I had been doing already. 🙂

  17. "Hypnobirthing is yoga breathwork for the mainstream; focused meditation that you can buy at the strip mall. I mean, it was on Dr. Phil and Good Morning America for godsake!"

    You took the words right out of my mouth!

    I just finished the book, and I was hoping to learn or gain something new from it, but I find myself rolling my eyes through most pages thinking "Yeah, but I already DO that when I'm in pain!". I suppose for me, breathing and concentrating on bringing myself into a relaxed state is a natural response to a stressful or painful situation. One day I cut my leg open to the bone and managed to stay so calm that I drove myself to the hospital with very little fuss, no tears, and no run red lights! I'm hoping I can transfer that sort of calm state of mind to my upcoming labour in September. Fingers crossed!

    I did however, like the rainbow visualisation. I am finding it useful to get rid of my migraines!

  18. Awesome. I'm about 38 weeks pregnant, and I took a Hypnobirthing class that finished a few weeks ago. I was on the fence, but I had a ton of cash left in a medical flex spending account, and childbrith classes are covered, so…..

    I've done yoga and breathwork, but the new agey language just always knocks me right out of whatever calm and relaxed state I'm in – my brain just says, "Seriously? Come on!" and then I'm out. But this was pretty good, with the exception of some of what you talked about – what IS twice as relaxed? Your breathing is at the perfect rate? Perfect? Kind of pushes my perfectionist buttons. But I managed to tune most of that out, and I've been using it to get back to sleep at night, and to go more deeply into savasna during my yoga classes (especially when I get the extra new agey instructor I dislike).

    It's really nice to hear that you benefited from the techniques without fully embracing all the language and such. I've been talking to a friend about it, and I told her I just can't quite drink the kool-aid on this one, so I hope it works if you're not a total follower of it.

  19. I went through the Hypnobirthing experience, too, and although I didn't use the CD meditations during labor, I did use the slow breathing during the "surges" mixed with light touch massage in between and it totally worked for me. I meditatively labored in a tub for three hours that really felt like 15 minutes had passed and I fully dilated during that time. I would absolutely do it again! The whole experience was amazing. And I totally love these stories about how even if the experience didn't turn out how you had expected, that you all made the most of it and found benefit from the practice. I think that's so key! I was a little skeptical of Hypnobirthing going in and kept my options open for whatever may happen, but I'm so glad I tried it, because it really worked for me. I wouldn't say it was painless, but it was certainly fearless!

  20. I used the actual Hypnobabies home study program and have absolutely loved it! It's made me feel so positive, prepared and empowered! We still have 2 weeks left until our birthing time, but I can't wait to put everything I've learned into action!

  21. I used HypnoBirthing with my 2nd birth and Hypnobabies with my 3rd. Hypnobabies had deep hypnosis, so it is definitely something to look into next time.

    I agree that both programs gave me tools that were useful for more than just the birth!

    If anyone is interested I have gathered over 250 birth stories of moms using hypnosis for childbirth at http://www.pregnancybirthandbabies.com

  22. I have been practicing the Hypnobirthing method for a few months now and so far I have loved it and have been excited about a peaceful natural birth. It’s a very soothing method for a naturally anxious person! I am currently 38 weeks into my 2nd pregnancy and just found out that my stubborn little guy has decided to flip on me and I have been trying my best to stay relaxed. It’s been hard not to freak out at the thought of possibly loosing my envisioned perfect birth. I’m not sure how I stumbled across this post but it has been helpful to know you had a similar experience and made it through. You and your baby are ok and we will be too! Nothing in life is perfect, thats what makes the ride fun right?! Thanks.

  23. As a certified HypnoBirthing, The Mongan Method practitioner, I am beyond thrilled that there is a new 4th edition of the book out and new updated birth videos! Very fresh and relevant!

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