After hearing advocates swear by the practice, Jenni Mortimer attempted hypnobirthing with her first child.

The promise:

Hypnobirthing is the practice of mindfulness and meditation to remove the fears associated with childbirth. Through visualisation, relaxation and deep breathing techniques, the practice is said to reduce anxiety and fear, and even cut down on pain, making for a peaceful birth experience.

While pregnant I did some research in online parenting groups and found hordes of hypnobirth advocates swearing their experience of childbirth was not only less painful but also made for an empowering and positive start to motherhood.

Armed with this knowledge I decided to give it a go for the birth of my first child.


The history:

The person accredited with the origin of the term Hypnobirthing is Michelle Leclaire O'Neill, in 1987. She wrote books on the subject, based on research by English obstetrician Dr Grantly Dick-Reid.

Another follower of Dick-Reid was Marie Mongan, who, when she had her first baby, practised his techniques and became a convert.

Seventeen years ago, Mongan founded the Hypnobirthing Institute in the US and the practice began to take off across the globe, largely still through word of mouth.

The science:

Most of us have been led to believe that a woman in labour will experience excruciating pain, therefore we hold an unprecedented fear of giving birth.

Hannah Dahlen, Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, told ABC News that hypnobirthing works because it helps to remove this fear.

Dahlen says fear causes muscle tension, which exacerbates the pain and can result in a long, painful birth or unnecessary intervention.

Advocates of hypnobirthing argue that focusing on breathing, positive thoughts and relaxation allows the body to do what it is biologically wired to.

Allan Cyna, a senior anaesthetist and hypnotherapist from Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital, says hypnobirthing also encourages women to focus on things other than the pain of birth.


"Instead of viewing a contraction as painful, women can focus on the excitement they feel to meet their child," Dr Cyna told ABC.

"By changing the meaning of the sensation, it becomes easier to cope with the pain."

The effectiveness of hypnobirthing as a pain reduction technique in labour is still subject to debate. A recent Cochrane review found though hypnobirthing did not cause any harm and mothers took less pain medication, it did not reduce the number of epidurals requested.

"I threw all practice out the window and leaned over a swiss ball, squeezing my husband's hand while telling my midwife I was going to the hospital." Photo / Getty Images

The reality:

I began reading a hypnobirthing book, "Your Baby, Your Birth", and listening to some - to be honest - pretty bizarre hypnobirthing podcasts early in pregnancy.

Every night I would read my book for "a positive birth" and even printed off the affirmations they tell you to post around the hospital room: "You are strong"; "There is no pain, there is only pressure."

I practised my breathing and even convinced my husband to listen to "hypnobirthing for the supportive partner", which I can assure you was nearly harder than the birth itself.

I was so ready.

So there I was, embracing my first few contractions. I was a powerful, strong woman able to breathe through the "pressure". I didn't even bother to wake my husband.

I was at one with my body and I was harnessing the power of the breath. I was so much more relaxed than I ever thought I would be. I even slept between contractions for the first four hours.

And then ... the real contractions began to hit and the breathing techniques became a hell of a lot less effective.

I lost more control of the pain and I yelled a whole bunch more. My cat yelled in return and vomited up a hairball during the commotion, my husband burnt some toast, and it was easily the least zen environment I have ever experienced.

So when my contractions were about eight minutes apart, I threw all practice out the window and leaned over a Swiss ball, squeezing my husband's hand while telling my midwife over the phone that I was going to the hospital.

On arrival, I was 4cm dilated and still able to get an epidural, which my exhausted body so badly needed.

The verdict:

"Every second of pain is so unbelievably worth it," writes Jenni Mortimer. Photo / Supplied

Though hypnobirthing by no means made things less painful for me, it did make me more prepared.

I was relaxed because I knew my plan and I knew I could do it, because all of "it" meant I got to meet my baby.

Do I think it worked to ease the pain of delivery? Absolutely not. Thankfully the epidural did and I safely delivered a healthy 4.5kg (9lb13oz) baby boy at 9.30pm after a 22-hour labour.

Though I don't think hypnobirthing is 100 per cent necessary, I do think some knowledge of the practice and finding a calming headspace to go to is invaluable.

The one piece of hypnobirthing advice I believe every expectant mother needs to hear is that your body is made to do this. It knows what to do. So be calm in that knowledge and know every second of pain is so unbelievably worth it.