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'I was tested to the limit': How hypnobirthing is helping women during labour

“Some people think it’s new age, hippy dippy. It’s anything other than that. It’s very practical, down to earth.”

HYPNOBIRTHING HAS BECOME more and more popular with expectant mothers in recent years.

The process helps women to prepare to give birth through utilising breathing and relaxation techniques, mindfulness and positive visualisation.

Many maternity hospitals now recommend hypnobirthing as one of the techniques women can use to help them through their pregnancy and labour.

hypno leaflet National Maternity Hospital National Maternity Hospital

Aisling Killoran is a certified hypnotherapist and psychotherapist. About 13 years ago, she moved into the area of hypnobirthing.

“A couple came to me who were struggling to conceive. I helped them with that and when the woman became pregnant she asked me to help her with hypnobirthing.”

The techniques used in hypnobirthing focus on breathing and relaxation, as well as guided imagery.

Aisling explains the latter means taking the woman “to a place that represents comfort and relaxation” while getting her to “connect with her body and imagine having a birth that is safe and swift”. Partners are also taught ways in which they can be supportive during labour.

11411814_1461115024188147_3226494167938548250_o Aisling Killoran

Aisling, who is based in Dublin, says hypnobirthing can help women get over fears they may have about pregnancy and giving birth.

Her classes last about two-and-a-half hours, with anything from two to eight couples. Expectant parents are talked through birthing preferences and issues they may encounter during labour.

Aisling says the technique is “not designed to mask pain” but can help reduce it, noting: “About 75% of the more than 1,000 women I’ve helped didn’t need pain intervention during labour.

I’ve had women say to me, ‘My husband is coming along with me and he’s sceptical.’ I say, ‘Come along and be sceptical.’ Scepticism is healthy, it keeps us grounded.

Aisling says this attitude was more common when she started teaching hypnotherapy over a decade ago, but people are “very seldom” sceptical now, given how mainstream the practice has become. The technique has been around for a long time, but has been gaining popularity in recent years.

C-sections and pain relief 

Aisling says hypnotherapy also prepares women for the fact they may need pain relief such as an epidural or have to undergo a Caesarean section.

“They have an open mind. They mentally prepare as much as they can and if they end up needing pain relief or a C-section that’s absolutely fine, they know they’ve done everything they can and shouldn’t feel bad about that.

“Hypnobirthing is about helping mothers make an informed choice, they know medical intervention might be needed.”

IMG_5414 Rachel and Noah shortly after his birth

Rachel Dempsey is one of the women Aisling trained during pregnancy. She says she found the techniques she learned during hypnobirthing classes very useful and they helped her to remain calm during labour 12 weeks ago.

“I’m quite into alternative therapies anyway … I wanted to have a good birthing experiencing. I tried accupuncture too,” Rachel explains.

She says, ahead of her labour, she was hoping she wouldn’t have to get pain relief, but was open to this if she needed it.

[Hypnobirthing] is not dogmatic … Whatever has to happen on the day, it prepares you to go with it and trust the doctors and midwives. Don’t put yourself under pressure.

“I went into labour at home at 1.50am. My support team was my mum and my sister. I thought, ‘I’ll ring them in a few hours, there’s no point in us all getting no sleep.’

“I managed it alone until around 6am when I rang my sister, who arrived at my home at around 7am. My mum arrived at 7.30am and we transferred to Holles Street by around 8.30am, Noah arrived within 32 minutes.

Rachels says she “couldn’t have hoped for a better birthing experience”, something she credits to hypnobirthing.

‘Don’t be upset if you can’t have a natural birth’

Claire Brett is a hypnobirthing teacher based in Cork, who has been training expectant parents, in-person and over Skype, for eight years.

“It’s very much all about brain training and reconditioning the mind to see birth as a more positive experience, it’s so often seen as a negative thing.”

She says hypnobirthing “very much embraces all kinds of births” and can also help women who have previously had a traumatic birth to have a more peaceful birth this time around.

“Some people in my class will know they are going to be induced, some people in my class know they are going to have a C-section. People are open to tools like epidurals too,” she says.

Claire has an 18-month old daughter, Jessica.

IMG-20160813-WA0009 Claire and Jessica

“I was tested to the limit with my own daughter’s birth, I was hoping to have a natural birth but my stubborn little lady was breech and I unexpectedly had to have a C-section.

There I was, after teaching hypnobirthing for years, hoping for as natural a birth as possible. I learned to adapt my techniques to suit the situation. I went into the C-section playing by relaxation music … It wasn’t what I expected but it was still a wonderful birthing experience.

Claire says going through an unplanned C-section has “enriched” her classes as she can use her own experience to help women who may encounter the same thing.

“Some people get very upset when they don’t have a natural birth. It’s okay if it doesn’t happen.”

Claire says many of her classes are attended by healthcare professionals as well as expectant parents.

“I’ve noticed the medical profession really taking it more on board now, I’m making recordings for midwives to help them in their role as support for the birth experience. It’s seen more as the norm now, rather than something new age.”

Premature babies 

Sadhbh Devlin used hypnobirthing when pregnant with twins seven years ago. She didn’t take any classes, teaching herself the technique instead.

“I can be very tightly wound and get myself into a panicky state, I knew I couldn’t get that way during labour.

“I can suffer from anxiety, particularly in new situations. I didn’t want that to happen during labour. My sister’s friend had just had a baby and recommended [hypnobirthing].

“She gave me a book about it and I bought some CDs. I did it off my own bat, I didn’t do any courses. I listened to it every night before I went to sleep.

Sadhbh Devlin Headshot 1 Sadhbh with her daughters, Lile and Sábha

“Twins have a tendency to come early and in my case they did. I went into labour on last day of work [before maternity leave] … I went home and got into bed and my water broke, I was 34 weeks.

I was really calm, my husband was running around freaking out. He said I was abnormally calm. I felt in control.

“I had to have an emergency section … one of the babies was ready to go but one was in an oblique position, she was breech and got into distress. I thought, ‘That’s fine, let’s go, let’s do this.’ I was offered pain relief but felt I didn’t need it.

“I didn’t have the gentle birth experience, but I felt in control the whole time.

“As the girls were early they were in the special care unit. I was in the ward without them after the section. Maternity wards are really noisy – babies screaming, people getting food … I also used the relaxation tracks then.

“I was so emotional and all over the place … I was in a lot of pain and everything was really up in the air. I used the tapes to block out the noise. They really helped,” Sadhbh tells us.


A 2015 study carried out in the UK on about 680 women found that those who used hypnobirthing had a greater reduction in “the levels of anxiety and fear that they expected to feel during labour and birth” than women who didn’t use the technique. It found no significant difference in terms of how many women used an epidural.

An international study by Cochrane, an independent network of researchers, last year found that – in a study of almost 3,000 women – fewer women who had used hypnotherapy needed pain relief medication for labour, but it didn’t impact the number of women who used an epidural.

The report states: “Hypnosis may reduce the overall use of pain medication during labour, but does not seem to reduce the use of epidurals. Women using hypnosis are no more likely to have a normal vaginal birth.”

It adds that more high-quality research is needed “to say whether hypnosis helps women feel more satisfied about their pain relief in labour, nor whether it improves their sense of coping with labour”.

‘In control’

Kathy Cleere is a midwife who helped introduce hypnobirthing at the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital in Dublin.

She says hypnobirthing classes offered by the Coombe are very popular and usually booked out months in advance.

Kathy tells “The whole point of it is to prepare mentally for birth, it’s a completely normal life event and not something to be frightened of.

“When women are afraid they produce adrenaline and that can really affect their labour.”

Kathy says, in her experience, women who use hypnobirthing feel calmer and more in control during labour – even if they have to go through a C-section.

It’s not just for women who have a normal vaginal birth with no assistance at all. Many women are going to have to get pain relief, it’s not about whether pain relief is good or bad.

Kathy says hypnobirthing helps women to make decisions during labour “that are right for them”.

“It helps them to remain calm and connect with their baby, and know it’s going to be okay … They’re in control and not scared, that’s the difference and that’s what I see.”

Read: ‘I see my daughter crying in pain, her body bending over. We can’t wait two years’

Read: ‘If this many people were dying in another way, there’d be war over it’

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