A lot of mothers will admit they don’t look back on the process of labour too fondly.
But the Duchess of Cambridge has revealed that for all three of her births she used a self-hypnosis technique that meant she ‘actually really quite liked labour’.
Hypnobirthing uses controlled breathing, visualisation and meditation to keep women relaxed during birth, and minimise pain. It has become increasingly popular among mothers-to-be seeking a drug-free birth.
The Duchess made her revelation on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast, hosted by author Giovanna Fletcher, the wife of McFly musician Tom. The interview was done as part of the Duchess’s Five Big Questions on the Under Fives survey, which aims ‘to give every child the best start in life’.
The Duchess said there was nothing ‘hippy dippy’ about hypnobirthing. ‘I’m not going to say William was standing there chanting sweet nothings at me,’ she said. ‘He definitely wasn’t! I didn’t even ask him about it. It was just something I wanted to do for myself.’
So, does it work? Here, two mothers share their views…
After the Duchess of Cambridge (pictured cradling George) said she used hypnobirthing to help her overcome morning sickness, the Daily Mail asks whether it could help you
HYPNO HEAVEN: I took myself to a sun drenched beach in the Seychelles
Eimear, 38, said the method left her feeling ‘grounded and calm’ during delivery
Eimear, 38, is a writer and mother of Ruadhán, four, and Donnacha, two. She says:
Standing on a deserted, sun-drenched beach in the Seychelles, I inhaled, then exhaled deeply, focusing intently on the rhythmic crashing of waves on the sandy shore in front of me.
In reality I was more than 5,000 miles away, in a birthing pool at my local hospital in the rural Scottish Borders.
However, through the power of hypnobirthing — and specifically the visualisation skills I’d learned at private classes in the lead-up to my due date — I was able to take my mind to a place where I felt relaxed, safe and able to cope with the pain of my contractions.
For me, it was the tiny island in the Indian Ocean where my husband Malcolm and I had gone on our ‘babymoon’ — our last holiday as a couple before our baby arrived — a few months before.
It’s fair to say that for the most part I’m the least ‘woo woo’ person you’re likely to meet. I’ll take a painkiller over a crystal any day, and worship at the altar of modern medicine. The moment I found out I was expecting, I knew I wanted a hospital birth, with drugs and an operating theatre within easy reach. So it was with more than a drop of scepticism that I signed up for a course of weekly group hypnobirthing classes at around five months.
They promised to impart techniques including controlled breathing and achieving a deep state of relaxation through meditation, with the aim of having an ‘active’ — that is, not lying on your back — labour and, ideally, a ‘normal’ delivery.
Friends had recommended them but I wasn’t convinced that the mind could really triumph over the pain of labour. The idea of being ‘relaxed’ made me scoff.
Fast forward to May 2015, and as the first contraction hit me like a sledgehammer, I silently whispered a prayer of thanks for the skills I had in my mental armoury.
Deep, rhythmic breathing helped me manage the pain at home for three hours before we went to hospital, where, to my delight, I was already 9cm dilated.
Fast and furious it may have been, but I felt in control.
Eimear is pictured above with her two sons Ruadhan and Donnacha. She used hypnobirthing in both deliveries
By staying on top of feelings of fear and anxiety, I stopped stress hormones affecting the production of oxytocin, a chemical that progresses labour, and I moved to the final stage quickly and with just a few puffs of gas and air.
When it was decided by an obstetrician that I required a forceps delivery — thanks to a combination of a big baby and narrow pelvis — I still didn’t lose faith in hypnobirthing.
I know that for some women, unexpectedly having a ‘medicalised’ birth can trigger feelings of failure. But hypnobirthing gave me a way to contribute.
Breathing through the spinal block being administered, I visualised myself with my baby in my arms while theatre staff prepped me ‘down below’ — and I truly believe that using my mind helped me feel involved in my son’s birth.
Despite things not going to plan, hypnobirthing meant I felt nothing but joy when Ruadhán, all 9lb 1oz of him, was laid on my chest. And needless to say, when I was pregnant again in 2017, I did a refresher hypnobirthing course and felt absolutely confident the skills could help me achieve the normal delivery I wanted.
They didn’t let me down. After a seven-hour labour — most of which I spent on that lovely beach — my second son Donnacha (pictured left) was born.
It was the most peaceful moment. I was in such a deep meditative state that I barely felt any pain and despite the fact he weighed a healthy 9lb 5oz, I needed just one small stitch. I walked back to the postnatal ward a few hours later to tuck into fish and chips for lunch.
Using hypnobirthing can never guarantee a perfect birth, if such a thing even exists.
However, having used it through two very different deliveries, in both it kept me grounded and calm, and gave me a sense of ownership over my labour. I hope Kate looks back and feels the same way.
HYPNO HELL: Positive thoughts can’t do much when you’re in such pain
Lynn, 41, said she wouldn’t try it again
Lynn, 41, is a stay-at-home mum to Eric, four. She says:
Listening to the Duchess of Cambridge describe her three birth experiences, I couldn’t help but feel wistful.
Her account of an easy and stress-free labour, all thanks to the skills she’d learnt in hypnobirthing classes, was exactly what I’d imagined for myself before giving birth. Unfortunately, it was far from the labour I got.
It was my first pregnancy and, as I was no longer with Eric’s father, I knew I’d be alone. It was a daunting prospect and strengthened my desire to feel in control over my labour in any way I could.
I’ve always been a bit of a hippy and knew I didn’t want to give birth in a hospital. The idea of using the power of my mind to control the birth process really appealed to me — and I was fairly confident it would work, having used hypnosis to help me through a previous medical procedure that normally involves gas and air.
Plus, as my home was only 12 minutes away from the hospital, I knew that if something did go wrong, I could get there quickly.
Six months before my due date, I signed up with a private company where you build up a really strong one-on-one relationship with the midwife who will be with you during labour.
They were big advocates of hypnobirthing. So, as per their advice, I attended weeks and weeks of group sessions, guided meditations and one-to-one chats, and read loads of books on it.
I did daily guided meditations using CDs, so by the time I went into labour I knew what my mind and body needed to relax. I felt really well prepared.
My baby was two days overdue when I went into labour at about midnight on December 20, 2015. I’d been feeling awful all day and hadn’t realised labour had started until I was about to get into bed — and felt a huge contraction.
I rang the company, only to discover that the midwife with whom I’d spent months building a rapport was on holiday. Not only that, her back-up was off sick.Instead, my call was transferred to another midwife to whom I’d never spoken before, who knew nothing about my birth plan. I was filled with panic.
Lynn pictured holding her son Eric after he was born. The child is now four years old
She told me I wasn’t ready to have the baby and to just get in the bath and download an app to time my contractions. I tried to fumble with it but by this point I was in agony.
I tried to get ‘into the zone’ several times but it was impossible. When you are in that much pain and distress, there’s not much that thinking positive thoughts and trying to relax can do. I’d lost control and none of my careful preparation could get it back.
Another two hours passed and by this point I was begging the midwife to come out to me. When she saw my panicked face at the door and realised I was alone, her own face fell.
After realising I was 6cm dilated and that the baby was in distress, she called an ambulance, which sped me to the hospital.
Thankfully, once I arrived, my delivery was extremely quick and Eric was fine, weighing a healthy 7lb 11oz. But while he was OK, I was left upset and traumatised.
While I’d like to think that if I ever did get pregnant again I’d be open-minded enough to give hypnobirthing another go, the hard truth is that my first attempt was definitely not a success, and the idea of feeling powerless like that again would fill me with dread. I had no support.
I’m glad Kate had such a positive experience but I’m proof it doesn’t always work miracles. Giving birth is unpredictable, and sometimes the power of positive thinking isn’t enough to see you through it.
What is hypnobirthing? How does it work? And, what are the methods?
WHAT IS HYPNOBIRTHING?
Hypnobirthing is a method of pain management that can be used during labour to help women feel calmer and more in control. It involves a mixture of visualisation, relaxation and deep breathing techniques, typically learnt in the months prior to birth. It was originally developed to help women who were afraid of labour, in response to doctors observations that fear and tension could lead to a more difficult birth.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Tamara Cianfini, the founder of hypnobirthing company The Wise Hippo, explains: ‘A woman who is scared during birth will tense up and have a “fight, freeze or faint” response. Blood rushes to her arms to fight or her legs to run away. That means there’s less blood and therefore less oxygen and nutrients at the uterus muscle so it’s not as efficient and labour will be weakened or even stall. ‘Hypnobirthing is also about changing the mindset of the woman to believe that birth can be a positive, calm and relaxing process.’
WHAT ARE THE TECHNIQUES?
There are several hypnobirthing techniques, and which works best for you varies from woman to woman.
One technique is controlled breathing, which sees you breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth in order to help you remain calm. Humming as you breathe out can also help.
Another technique is visualisation. This can vary from imagining the birth you want, and even that your baby is already in your arms, to picturing yourself in a different setting where you feel more relaxed, be it a beach or a field. Meditation can also help you to ignore what’s going on around you and focus on your body.
Tamara says she often tells women to imagine a ‘cloak of protection’ they can wrap around themselves to dispel any negativity from their surroundings. She also recommends avoiding ‘hard’ medical terms such as contraction, preferring ‘surge’ or ‘wave’.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Practitioners claim that hypnobirthing helps with both the physical and mental aspects.
‘If a woman feels she has the ‘right’ birth —whatever that may be — it’s the absolute best start to motherhood,’ says Tamara. ‘There’s less chance of her suffering from postnatal depression and mental health issues if she has not been through any physical or emotional trauma.’
WILL YOU STILL NEED PAIN RELIEF?
It varies from woman to woman. ‘A good hypnobirthing teacher will never promise there will be ‘no pain’ or that a birth will ever go a certain way. In any hypnobirthing birth plan, all women know that the pain relief is there if they need it,’ says Tamara.
CAN YOU DO IT FOR HOSPITAL AND HOME BIRTHs?
Yes. The techniques learnt are transferable depending on your setting, and some women even practice hypnobirthing during a C-section to keep themselves calm. The Duchess of Cambridge said hypnobirthing also helped her when she was suffering from severe morning sickness. However, the majority of hypnobirths take place in a birthing pool to aid relaxation and because the warmth of the water increases blood flow to the perineum, which can lower the risk of tearing.
DOES IT WORK FOR EVERYONE?
Everyone can try it but the results will be different for every individual, and women should feel they can change their birth plan at any time during labour.