Can hypnobirthing take the pain out of childbirth? Course offered at Colchester Hospital

Mark, Becky and children Dexter and Jemima.

Mark, Becky and children Dexter and Jemima. - Credit: Archant

Evidence suggests that women who want to get motherhood off to the best start possible should learn deep relaxation and breathing techniques.

Mark, Becky and children Dexter and Jemima.

Mark, Becky and children Dexter and Jemima. - Credit: Archant

Hypnobirthing has produced such astonishing results that parents-to-be in north east Essex are now being offered free classes. Sheena Grant reports.

When Becky was pregnant it seemed every woman she spoke to was keen to give her a childbirth horror story.

It’s hardly the most sensitive conversation to have with someone preparing to go through the pain of labour but Becky had another reason for very politely telling these women she would rather not listen to their tales of doom.

For her, childbirth wasn’t going to involve pain. The word - or any others with negative connotations - just wasn’t in her vocabulary. Instead, giving birth was to be a positive experience, something to embrace and look forward to.

Mark, Becky and children Dexter and Jemima.

Mark, Becky and children Dexter and Jemima. - Credit: Archant

Becky, like a growing number of women - including, it’s said, the Duchess of Cambridge, is a hypnobirther.

The self-hypnosis programme involves parents-to-be (the course is for dads too) learning deep relaxation and breathing techniques that all the evidence shows results in an easier, comfortable and often drug-free birth.

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Yes, that’s right. Comfortable. Any woman who has given birth without the benefit of hypnobirthing might be a little sceptical but those in the know insist it’s true.

“I was really looking forward to labour,” says Becky, mum to Dexter, two-and-a-half and Jemima, who is just five weeks old.

Sitting down are 21 of the 25 Trust midwives who have been trained in hypnobirthing

Sitting down are 21 of the 25 Trust midwives who have been trained in hypnobirthing - Credit: Archant

She and husband Mark did a hypnobirthing course at Colchester Hospital before the births of both children and say it had incredible results.

“I wasn’t worried about giving birth because of the hypnobirthing,” she says. “I felt that way with both my labours and I would again. I wouldn’t say the experience was actually enjoyable but I don’t look back on it with horror. I’ve got very happy memories.

“All I needed for both labours was a bit of gas and air but many women who hypnobirth don’t need any drugs at all.”

Becky is convinced that hypnobirthing gives women the best possible start to motherhood and is also good for the newborn baby.

“Both my children have been very contented and relaxed,” she says. “From day one we had to wake Dexter for a feed after six hours of sleeping. I’m convinced it’s down to the hypnobirthing that he was such a chilled baby. It’s early days with Jemima but she seems the same. We’ve been really lucky.”

And it appears the evidence about hypnobirthing is more than anecdotal. Statistics collected at Colchester Hospital show that 59% of women who hypnobirthed between August 2011 and April 2012 needed no pain relief at all, 79% had a natural birth and 55% experienced a labour of six hours or less.

The hospital has now decided to offer free hypnobirthing classes to all parents-to-be living in north east Essex. 25 midwives employed by the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust have been trained in hypnobirthing - more than any other hospital trust in England - and the trust is increasing the number of courses it runs from one a month to six.

In early 2011 Colchester became only the second NHS hospital trust in the country to offer hypnobirthing but, until now, it cost £250 a course.

Midwife Teri Gavin-Jones, parent education co-ordinator, was one of the trust’s first hypnobirthing practitioners and says the facts speak for themselves.

“Since we introduced hypnobirthing classes, it has grown in popularity, partly through word-of-mouth and also because people have read about it,” she says. “It enables women to feel confident and in control of their birth. Hypnobirth has had a huge impact on how women feel about labour. It’s also an excellent way to get women’s partners more involved in their pregnancy and labour.”

She believes most hospitals now offer hypnobirthing classes but it is common for them to charge.

Mrs Gavin-Jones, who has been commissioned to write an academic book setting out the evidence to show the efficacy of hypnobirthing and last year visited Portugal to speak at an obstetric conference about the technique, says the evidence shows that women in north east Essex who have used hypnobirthing experience shorter labours, can reduce the need for pain relief and are having higher percentages of natural births.

When Becky and Mark did their first course, hypnobirthing was less well known.

“They gave us an information pack about all sorts of things and hypnobirthing was one of them,” says Becky. “I don’t like the whole medical side of labour so the idea of having a more relaxed, natural and back to basics birth appealed to us. The midwife recommended it and although we had to pay, it was money well spent.”

The course comprised a weekly two-and-a-half-hour session for four weeks with “homework”. “There was a book and lots of relaxation scripts, which your birthing partner reads to you. You have a CD and DVD as well. You don’t have to do the extra stuff but it works better if you do,” says Becky.

“It’s called hypnobirthing but you’re not putting yourself in a trance. It is more about getting into the zone, being prepared and achieving a deep sense of relaxation. Another part is understanding what is happening to your body during labour. If you don’t know, pain and adrenaline take over and are much stronger than oxytocin (a hormone released during labour that creates feelings of contentment and reduces anxiety). If that happens it makes birth much more painful.”

Hypnobirthing courses also teach a more positive approach to childbirth, ditching much of the vocabulary usually associated with labour in favour of words with more favourable connotations. Contractions, for instance, become surges and pain becomes pressure.

“You are not thinking to yourself: ‘This is going to hurt’,” says Becky. “Rather, it is one step closer to your baby being born and using the techniques you have learned to manage it. On both occasions I was able to get myself into the zone. Both births were quick. With Dexter it was 10 hours start to finish and with Jemima it was even quicker.

“I was probably a bit too relaxed with her. I had some surges on the Monday night into the early hours then they stopped completely and started again on Tuesday night. I thought it was another false alarm and slept through the surges for a few hours before I thought I’d better just start timing them. They were coming every six or seven minutes but I was relaxed and thought I would read my book for another hour. At 3.30am I woke Mark. My mum came to sit with Dexter and we arrived at the hospital at 4.30am.

“I wanted a water birth and got in the pool at 5am. Jemima was born at 5.45am - three and a quarter hours from start to finish. We left hospital the same day. People I know who haven’t hypnobirthed seem to have much tougher experiences.”

Becky was lucky in that both her births proceeded without complications. But, she says, one of the beauties of hypnobirthing is that it prepares you for anything.

“You have an idea of what you want to happen but you’re also prepared if complications do arise,” she says. “I had a friend who ended up having a Caesarean but the hypnobirthing helped her remain calm and relaxed. It prepares you for whatever comes your way.”

For men too, the course has many positives, says Mark. “Blokes don’t often know a lot about childbirth and doing the course made me feel I knew what was going to happen. Also, I had a role. I knew what I had to do, having the room set up as we wanted it and asking the right questions. It makes so much sense.

“We tried not to speak to anyone who had a bad experience and would stop people if they tried to tell you things you didn’t want to hear. We saw videos of people who had hypnobirths and someone came to class who had used the techniques. It was all positive. You’re encouraged to keep in touch with others in the group too.We’ve made some really good friends we still see regularly.”

Even hearing women screaming in the background on the labour wards when they attended classes did not make Becky dread her births.

“Teri is a brilliant trainer,” she says. “She would just tell us: ‘They are clearly not hypnobirthers’.”

For more information about free hypnobirthing classes contact Teri Gavin-Jones on 01206 742424 or email:

Courses last 10 hours and suit women who are at least 16 weeks pregnant. They are provided at Colchester General Hospital and at community hospitals in Clacton and Harwich.