Preparing for Childbirth With HypnoBirthing

Self-Hypnosis for Natural Childbirth

Pregnant woman listening to hypnosis audio with headphones

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HypnoBirthing, also known as the Mongan Method, is a childbirth philosophy that teaches self-hypnosis as a tool towards having a natural childbirth. You may be familiar with HypnoBirthing from stories in the news or online, where moms talk about having “painless” calm births. You may have seen videos of HypnoBirthing moms in labor who do not look like they are in the midst of childbirth. Orgasmic birth—when a woman experiences orgasm or orgasm-like feelings during childbirth—is also associated with HypnoBirthing.  

The hype on HypnoBirthing may seem too good to be true. As with any childbirth philosophy, what works for one woman may or may not be the best choice for another. That said, HypnoBirthing can work, especially for those who dedicate time to listen and practice the self-hypnosis audios. (The author of this article successfully used HypnoBirthing to have a natural, orgasmic childbirth with one of her four children. The method can work!)

History

HypnoBirthing was invented by Marie Mongan, a counselor, and certified hypnotherapist. While preparing for the birth of her own child in the mid to late 1950s, Mongan studied the childbirth philosophy taught by British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read, father of the natural childbirth movement and author of Childbirth with Fear.

Mongan had the intention of having a natural birth, but due to the routine use of drugs during labor, Mongan was anesthetized just as her child was crowning. She was unable to participate in the delivery, and forceps were used on her baby left bruises. Her second baby’s birth was a similar experience. However, for the third child, Mongan didn’t allow the use of any medications, was able to have her husband be present (a radical idea at that time), and succeeded in having the natural childbirth she desired.

Many years later, in the late 1980s, Mongan became certified in hypnotherapy. She began combining the childbirth philosophy taught by Dick-Read and what she knew about hypnotherapy to create a new approach to childbirth preparation. Also adding in breathing techniques and guided imagery, Mongan invented what is now known as HypnoBirthing. In 1992, the first edition of her book—HypnoBirthing: A Celebration of Life—was published.

HypnoBirthing is now an internationally known childbirth education method, with certified HypnoBirthing practitioners in 46 countries.

How HypnoBirthing Works

HypnoBirthing teaches many of the same key concepts as other natural childbirth methods. For example, the ideas that women have the right to understand and refuse interventions, that birth is a natural and normal process that doesn’t require routine interference, and that women should be allowed to have a support person by their side.

However, there are some core beliefs on childbirth education that make HypnoBirthing different. The philosophy behind HypnoBirthing is almost just as important as the methods and skills taught in the classes.

Beliefs About Childbirth Matter

The primary premise of HypnoBirthing is that women are socialized to believe that childbirth is not only supposed to be painful but has to be painful. They are also taught that childbirth is an event to be feared. This expectation of intolerable pain—along with fear—leads to tension in the body. Tension in the body leads to pain, which leads to even more fear, which leads to even more tension and more pain, and a downward spiral begins.

Instead of “fighting against” her own body, HypnoBirthing teaches a woman that her body already knows how to labor and deliver a child. If they can relax (not an easy task, but a possible one with self-hypnosis) and allow the body to work through labor and delivery, they will experience less discomfort.

Birth goes from a painful, terrifying process to an empowering, tolerable experience.

Focus on the Positive, Avoid Fear-Based Education

HypnoBirthing is also careful to avoid the nocebo effect. You have likely heard of the placebo effect, which is when a person experiences a positive effect from a medication or treatment just because they are expecting it to work. This is why a sugar pill can make someone feel better.

The nocebo effect is when someone is told about a negative side effect, and they experience that negative side effect only because their mind is expecting it to occur.

To avoid this, HypnoBirthing doesn’t believe women need to learn all the possible dangers of birth or pregnancy unless they actually apply to their situation. The additional information increases fear and could lead to actual negative symptoms.

Contractions and Pain vs. Surges and Pressure

Language is a big part of HypnoBirthing. Instead of having contractions (which brings to mind tightness and physical tension), HypnoBirthing instructors call contractions surges. They don’t call the discomfort of childbirth pain—they call it pressure.

These language tweaks may seem preposterous to those who have experienced severe pain in childbirth. The use of more positive language isn’t intended to dismiss or deny the painful, traumatic experiences some women have during childbirth.

Using positive language is meant to decrease the negative social messages we get about childbirth and provide the mind an opportunity to consider that childbirth might not have to be a frightening, painful experience.

Some women who use this method successfully have reported that contractions actually do feel more like “pressure” and not “pain.” Language matters.

Self-Hypnosis and Relaxation

As the name implies, HypnoBirthing puts a strong emphasis on hypnosis as a tool towards a positive birth experience. This isn’t the kind of hypnosis you might have seen in magic shows or in the movies, where someone “takes control” of someone else. You remain in complete control of yourself and your thoughts.

Audios and relaxation scripts are provided for you to listen to and practice repeatedly. You choose which scripts work best for you and focus on those. When the body is relaxed, according to HypnoBirthing, the body is able to proceed with the birthing process. Contractions are more effective, and fear is less likely to bring labor to a halt.

There are a variety of scripts provided as part of the course. For example, there is a script that focused on general relaxation, one that focused on having positive thoughts or affirmations on pregnancy and birth process, and a script intended for the active labor stage of birth.  

Repeated listening to the HypnoBirthing audios is key to success with this method. Without practice and re-listening, self-hypnosis likely won’t take place.

Learning the HypnoBirthing Way of Childbirth

HypnoBirthing is taught over five class periods, each meeting for about two and a half hours.

This is the general breakdown of each class session.

The History of Childbirth and the HypnoBirthing Philosophy

Unit 1 (which is week one) of the course focuses on critical concepts of HypnoBirthing. You’ll learn about…

  • the history of childbirth
  • where we get our ideas about birth from
  • what HypnoBirthing is all about
  • how your body knows how to have a baby already
  • vocabulary for having a calmer, better birth
  • videos of women birthing babies using HypnoBirthing

The videos shown in class are compelling. They are likely very different than the images and stories you’ve seen in popular media. Seeing women use HypnoBirthing successfully isn’t only motivating, but it also is key to changing your attitude towards birth.

Bonding with Your Unborn Baby / Preparing Your Mind and Body for Birth

Unit 2 focuses on bonding with your unborn baby and getting ready for childbirth, both mentally and physically. You’ll learn...

  • about the mind of your newborn and the awareness of babies in the womb
  • how to bond with your unborn baby
  • how to go into a state of deep relaxation quickly
  • breathing techniques
  • how self-hypnosis works
  • visualizations to use for self-hypnosis and relaxation
  • choosing the best care provider for you
  • your partner and/or doulas role at the birth
  • using massage and gentle exercises to prepare the body for birth

Advanced Self-Hypnosis and Visualization Techniques

Unit 3 of the HypnoBirthing course teaches you how to further advance your self-hypnosis and relaxation skills. You’ll also learn…

  • how to put together a birth preference list
  • using massage and touch during labor
  • how your body helps you labor
  • helping your body start labor naturally and avoiding induction
  • letting go of negative thoughts and fears

What to Expect During Childbirth

For Unit 4 of the course, you’ll learn more details on what to expecting during childbirth. Topics covered include...

  • how to know when labor begins
  • what’s happening in your body during labor
  • what to do if your labor slows down
  • how to create a positive environment for labor
  • guided imagery to prepare for a positive birth experience

Birthing the Baby and First Bonding Moments

The last class, Unit 5, focuses on the delivery of the baby as well as those first moments after your baby’s arrival. You’ll learn..

  • movement and positions for the baby’s descent into the birthing canal
  • scripts and visualizations for the delivery process
  • how to “breath” the baby down (HypnoBirthing doesn’t believe in bearing down, but teaches a gentler approach to delivery)
  • breastfeeding
  • bonding with your baby

Outside the Classroom Practice

In addition to class time, participants are expected to spend time outside of the classroom practicing and listening to the self-hypnosis audios. At least 20 hours of practice is suggested to have success with the method.

This may sound like a lot, but if you break it down into 30 minutes per day, you can reach 20 hours after just a month and a half. If you practice only 15 minutes a day, you can get there in 80 days (or about two and a half months.)

Research on HypnoBirthing: Does It Really Work?

Generally, there is a lack of research on childbirth methods. However, this is not the case for HypnoBirthing. The effectiveness of self-hypnosis for pregnancy and birth, as well as research on the HypnoBirthing technique in particular, actually does exist.

Some studies have found that women who use HypnoBirthing are more likely to describe their births as positive. They also report less fear, an increased level of control (compared to those who didn’t use self-hypnosis), and decreased use of medical interventions.

A rather small study in Australia found that women who used HypnoBirthing reported feeling focused, more confident, more relaxed, less fearful, and more in control. In this study, 51% of the participants did not use pain medications during labor.

On the other hand, other studies on self-hypnosis and birth have not found definitive benefits. A study published in BJOG compared women who were exposed to hypnosis training for childbirth (but not HypnoBirthing specifically) and women who did not receive this extra training. The self-hypnosis training consisted of two 90-minute group classes, plus audios to listen to at home.

Epidural use was the same in both the hypnosis group and the control. However, women who received self-hypnosis training did report less fear and anxiety after the birth.

Education Options

You can take an in-person group course for HypnoBirthing, study one-on-one (if an instructor in your area offers this), or self-study the techniques. 

If you’re lucky enough to find a HypnoBirthing course being offered locally, attending can help you connect with other parents and offer incentives to practice the techniques.

While every birthing method requires some practice, HypnoBirthing requires that you set aside time to practice and listen to the audios. A group environment can motivate you to practice and provides an automatic opportunity on your calendar for practice.

If a group class isn’t available, or you can’t attend (because you’re on bed rest, for example), you may consider a one-on-one class. This may be done in person or online via video conferencing

You can also teach yourself HypnoBirthing. The HypnoBirthing website sells the book, audios, and videos you need to prepare. The hardest part about doing a self-study is self-motivation—there is no one there to “make” you practice.

How to Find a Class

The official HypnoBirthing website has a search tool so you can find what they call “Gold Seal Accredited” educators.

If you’re lucky enough to have several options for educators in your area, call them and interview them. A good educator can make a difference in your experience. Ask them about their personal birth experiences, how long they’ve been teaching, and why they teach HypnoBirthing.

Part of matching yourself to a childbirth educator is also a matter of chemistry. One instructor may just fit you better than another, for no easily articulated reason. Go with your gut. Choose whoever you think you’ll learn from best.

Criticisms

HypnoBirthing’s emphasis on positive, gentle birth experiences may not prepare women who have their birth go differently. The expectations for a positive birth can be set so high that if that doesn’t happen, the parent may feel deeply disappointed or experience post-birth shame.

Also, HypnoBirthing is intended for uncomplicated birth and delivery. That doesn’t mean the techniques can’t or won’t work for someone with a more complicated medical situation. Fear reduction and positive visualizations can still be helpful. That said, the curriculum doesn’t address what to expect or do if your situation is outside the norm.

The cost can get in the way of access, with the average group class costing between $300 and 600. The wide price range is location dependent, with the fee being higher in places like Los Angeles or New York City. However, self-study can cost less than $200.

A person’s suggestibility may also affect how well the method works for someone. Some people are more sensitive to self-hypnosis than others.

Alternatives to HypnoBirthing

HypnoBirthing was the first childbirth method to officially emphasize the role of self-hypnosis for labor and delivery. However, they are not the only option if you want to use hypnosis to prepare for childbirth.

There are private childbirth educators who have developed their own methods using hypnosis. There are also counselors and hypnotherapists who offer childbirth preparation sessions, usually with an emphasis on hypnosis and not content-heavy on the childbirth education part.

If HypnoBirthing Isn’t for You

HypnoBirthing is only one option for childbirth education. You have many more options to consider!

If HypnoBirthing isn’t for you, you might consider…

  • Lamaze
  • The Bradley Method
  • BirthWorks
  • Birthing From Within
  • CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association)
  • an ICEA-certified (International Childbirth Education Association) childbirth educator

A Word from Verywell

HypnoBirthing is a childbirth education method that emphasizes the use of self-hypnosis and guided imagery to reduce fear, anxiety, and childbirth discomfort. The method requires hours of practice, which can be a struggle for some. However, for those that can complete the program and the recommended practice hours, having a less positive, more empowering birth experience is a real possibility. 

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  • Phillips-Moore, J. (2012). Birthing outcomes from an Australian HypnoBirthing programme. British Journal Of Midwifery, 20(8), 558-564. doi: 10.12968/bjom.2012.20.8.558

  • Swencionis, C., Rendell, SL, Dolce, K., Massry, S., Mongan, M. Outcomes of HypnoBirthing. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health 27(2), Winter 2012