Hypnobirthing: a guest blog by Katharine Graves

Hypnobirthing has changed practice in birthing suites and will continue to do so.  There are many good things that have happened over the years, and all the time I am aware of improvements as we edge towards a more natural and woman-centred regime, but  nothing has made the practical difference that Hypnobirthing has.  It is very important that everyone is aware of and fully conversant with what is going on.

As yet there is little research on Hypnobirthing, though various studies point to the profound effect it has.  I hope this document will help you understand more about it.

The principle behind hypnobirthing is the fear-tension-pain premise put forward by Grantley Dick Read.  In our society, everyone ‘knows‘ that birth is painful so, however much a woman is looking forward to having a baby, which she undoubtedly is, that is the background in which she has grown up.  As long as that background is in place, she is unlikely, after she has had her baby, describe it as ‘the most wonderful and empowering experience of her life‘ which is what I frequently hear from hypnobirthing mothers.

We all know the procedures that go on with heart-breaking regularity in delivery suites.  It is wonderful that these medical procedures are available when needed, but we can’t help asking if they are needed as much as they are used today.  Hypnobirthing educates a mother, and equips her to deal with whatever turn her labour may take.  It cannot promise the perfect birth; nothing could – that would be unrealistic.  But it is amazing how often this is achieved.  Whatever the outcome, hypnobirthing makes a difference, and a very big difference too.  Hypnobirthing gives you the tools to have the best birth for you.

A hypnobirthing course is a full antenatal training.  It is based on knowledge, profound and simple logic, and information.  There is nothing new in birth, after all it has been around for a very long time, but hypnobirthing looks at the facts in a completely different way which makes a dramatic difference.  Midwives who are present at a hypnobirthing birth for the first time are amazed at the calmness of the mother and I often hear the exlamation, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.  I couldn’t believe how calm she was.‘

A hypnobirthing course lasts for about 12 hours, either 4 or 5 evenings or 2 days, and ideally a couple do the hypnobirthing course together.  They learn:

  • What hypnosis is
  • What hypnobirthing is
  • How the muscles of the uterus and the hormones work in a way which throws an entirely new light on this system
  • The power of the mind (greatly under-estimated by most people)
  • The physical aspects of birth, e.g.pelvic floor exercise, perineal massage, positions, back to back babies, breech babies.
  • Breathing and visualisations that work with the body
  • Relaxations to practice together
  • How to apply what they have learnt when they give birth
  • Common procedures in delivery suites
  • How to get all the information they need in order to choose the best course for them
  • How to release fear

You are also given The Hypnobirthing Book, and the Colour and Calmness Relaxation CD to play each night as you go to sleep to release fears and build a positive view of birth.  This will affect the hormones you produce, which will also affect your baby, and the efficiency and comfort with which you give birth.  You are also given a folder of handouts to continue your practice at home.

People come to a hypnobirthing course expecting to receive a lot of techniques to raise their pain threshold, take them to some spaced-out state so they don’t notice the pain, or not notice as the pain washes over them.  Yes, we give them breathing, visualisation and relaxation techniques, but these have been around for years, so what makes hypnobirthing so different, and so effective?  There are three things:

  1. The work to release fear, so that a woman looks forward to her birth with positivity and optimism.
  2. She learns to relax very deeply; much deeper than a short relaxation at the end of an antenatal class.
  3. Rather than just being told to go away and practice, she is given a simple programme that she can use to continue the work at home. All the best birth reports that I have received have also said, ‘And I practised lots.‘ 

Learning hypnobirthing is completely different from preparing for any other important event in our lives.  If we are preparing for an exam, we add more and more information, we do a trial run, and the night before we really cram it in, and then we produce it on the day.

Hypnobirthing does exactly the opposite.  With each practice a woman learns to let go, and let go, of her fears, her preconceptions, so that by the time she gives birth that perfect system that is already in place in her body and mind can shine forth and work as it is designed to do, comfortably and efficiently.  It is difficult to explain.  It is something you experience.

I have written The Hypnobirthing Book which fully explains hypnobirthing. Since hypnobirthing is having such a profound effect, it is important that all women consider how it can support them in giving birth.

Here is a mother’s description of hypnobirthing:

In late December, my husband and I attended – with a considerable degree of scepticism – your Hypnobirthing course. We had absolutely no idea what to expect and were worried it would be a bit hippie for our liking. In fact, it changed our lives forever and I wanted to say a huge thank you for the epiphany you inspired in us.

On Sunday, March 2nd we welcomed to the world little Felix, who arrived at 7:04pm weighing 8lb 1oz. Felix is heavenly and we are, predictably, crazy in love. But much more significantly – just a few months ago, I was one of those ridiculously well-educated but utterly-clueless-about-birth 21st-century, 30-something professional women who assumed I would march into hospital demanding an epidural and every single drug going. In fact, Felix was born with nothing more than a few sips of water and lucozade and the bath/birth pool to get us through a fairly arduous 16 hour of back labour with literally no respite between surges… No drugs or gas & air, no interventions, no stitches, no perineal tearing.. Just a lot of breathing, TOTAL faith in my body’s ancient wisdom and the perfect system that is already in place, and the spirit of you and Grantly Dick-Read guiding us through! 

Of course I realise how lucky I was to go into labour spontaneously, four days after his ‘due’ date, and not have the pressure of the NHS induction clock bearing down on me – but I’m convinced that my utter faith & conviction that baby knows best and that nature would take the right course played a huge part in that too. I also did an NCT course to meet some local mothers, and of six young, healthy women, I was the ONLY one not to be induced or have a C-section. That must count for something!

You were absolutely instructive in making the impossible possible and inspiring me to go and read Grantly Dick-Read in the original as well as discover many other sources of enlightenment and positive thinking about birth as a miraculous natural non-medical event. So thank you from us all from the bottom of my heart.  The positive changes in mental outlook you encouraged, and the way you taught us about things like the parasympathetic nervous system and so much more, are invaluable life lessons I will take forward far beyond the birth and parenthood.

I’ve already recommended you to many of my expectant friends, some of whom recently came to your course, and there are more of my friends coming to one of your courses soon. I’ll always spread the word about the wonder of Hypnobirthing in general and you in particular.


Hypnobirthing is a method for focusing the mind on the positives of birth so
that before and during the birth the mother can be calm and relaxed.  This enables the body to work efficiently in the way it has been designed to do, giving the best opportunity for a calm, easy, natural birth.  The method uses deep relaxation, information, logic and knowledge for both mother and birthing partner as a way of removing fears associated with birth and importantly providing tools for how remain calm in any circumstances which may arise during the birth, thus removing any unnecessary pre-conceived worries.

Birth is the most formative experience of our lives and, if a mother is calm and drug-free, her baby will also be calm and drug free.  Instead of birth being a traumatic experience for both mother and baby, it will be a gentle, natural experience with fewer interventions, which mothers describe as the most wonderful and empowering experience of their lives.  The baby will arrive in the world to be greeted by a mother who is calm and alert and ready to receive it.  This is how it forms its first relationship in this world, which is the blueprint for every other relationship throughout its life, and will have an effect on it throughout its life, and indeed on everyone it meets.  Time and time again, people observe that HypnoBirthing babies are different.  It is difficult to define, but there is a calmness and an alertness about them.  They have been observed to start to put on weight straight away, instead of losing weight for a few days while they recover from the traumatic experience of birth before beginning to put on weight and move forward again.  There are often reports that they are very calm babies who sleep through the night sooner.  As the children grow up, they take life easily in their stride and remain calm and happy.

Though women come to HypnoBirthing for a more comfortable birth, which time and time again it has been shown to deliver, in the long run the benefits for the baby are of even greater, and the  significance of this cannot be over-estimated.

Katharine Graves


A Midwife I know and Trust: Why I campaign for one mother one midwife care

Over many months I have been thinking a great deal about the importance of one to one midwifery care  or personalised care as the Government calls it.  Why am I so passionate and committed to seeing one to one midwifery happening in Bradford?

I am passionate about one to one midwifery care because I know what an enormous difference it can make to the experience women have during the childbearing weeks and months.  I really don’t think it is good enough for health services to say to a woman: ‘There you are!  You and your baby are alive and reasonably  well’.  And send them off to an unsupported home environment traumatised, exhausted, barely breastfeeding and with the minimum NICE visits to look forward to.  Similarly, it is unfair to expect that many women in the deprived areas of our city and district will be able to turn up to hospital to birth a baby, maintaining the best health and wellbeing of themselves and their baby and their wider family, on the minimum and fragmented care offered by the medical led NICE guidelines.

The evidence shows us that women supported by one to one care of a midwife, are more likely to have a normal birth, experience less pain in childbirth, are more likely to breastfeeding and continue to breastfeed and are less likely to have post natal depression.  Breastfeeding babies are 5 times less likely to be hospitalised for gastroenteritis, are less likely to be obese, less likley to suffer eczema,  less likely to have heart disease or diabetes.  Not breastfeeding a baby starts cost the NHS money from 8 weeks old, and new evidence shows that cutting the investment in maternity increases drop off rates for breastfeeding.  Moreover, we now know that personalised maternity care significantly reduces the risk of premature labour, miscarriage before 24 weeks and still birth.  Having a midwife you know and trust can save your baby’s life.

My Story:

I would not class myself as a vulnerable woman but I lived for 9 years in the deprived community of Girlington and 10 years on the Allerton council estate, my husband worked away and was on a minuscule salary as an archaeology PhD student(!) and so for most of this period I was having to manage a home, up to three small children, and a baby  –  all on a very low income.  Unsurprisingly I suffered from post natal depression and so I know the difference one to one care made for me.

With my first child, 19 years ago I was not referred to midwifery care by my GP and only found a midwife late in pregnancy.  Case loading was in operation then in the local teams and so not only did I  have continuity of care from my midwife, it was likely she or a midwife I knew and knew me would be attending my birth at home.  My birth was a long and difficult one and although I had a dream baby I was traumatised by the birth, regularly having flashbacks.  I remember with gratitude the care I received from this midwifery team – but most of all the couple of hours I was able to spend with my midwife 4 weeks after the birth going through what happened and why – debriefing we would call it today.  I had a lot of emotional work to do after that – not least because I was still struggling with loss of a previous child, but it helped move me forward: I did not get stuck at the birth.

Contrast this with another difficult birth – my fourth child.  I had a midwife who did not really support my choice of homebirth ( when I saw her which was not often), I had one in sixty midwives on call so had to accept a complete stranger into my home and birth, there was a fiasco because I was having a water birth and she did not know  how to deal with this.  I was transferred in for bleeding with another set of midwives.  I returned home that evening unbelievably exhausted. Within a week my husband was back at work ( no paternity leave in those days) I had 2-3 perfunctory visits from 2 different midwives ( I remember just 2 visits but cannot believe this is all I had but it could have been) I was discharged at 10 days.  I had no opportunity to debrief or  talk through what had happened with the midwife who attended the birth which I desperately wanted/needed to do.  My husband started working away again at 4 weeks.  At 8 weeks both he and I were utterly exhausted and depressed.

Because of that experience, with our fifth child we took the advice of the supervisor of midwives to whom I had complained during the pregnancy of my fourth child, when I realised the level of the fragmented care that I was supposed to accept for my fourth child: we booked an independent midwife.  Better late than never! My husband was training to be a teacher at the time, the cost represented 20% of our then income and it took us 2 years to pay it off but it was worth every penny.  We were given timely information, the birth went smoothly because there was no interference.  The difference in postnatal care was enormous:  Our independent midwife kept us in check, visiting us daily until I begged her not to because I did not need it.  We were not discharged for over 2 months because they wanted to ensure we did not suffer postnatal depression – she had the knack of ringing me on the day I had done too much so she could gently remind me of my priorities and I would go to my bed and leave my job.  Michelle always said self employed women were the worst for taking too little time off around the baby!

I tell my story because I want to demonstrate in my own life – as much as others – why personalised care is so important and why I am so passionate and committed to seeing it happen on the NHS before my daughters have children.  Not every woman needs the kind of care I needed.  Different women have different social and emotional needs.  BUT women and babies NEED the investment of one to one midwifery care in order to remain healthy, to care and guide them when they are not, and to help us pick up the pieces and to carry on if it all goes horribly wrong.

Up until now whenever I have raised the possibility of case loading in Bradford I have been told it is impossible, too expensive, too difficult for midwives, women will just have to live with the (unacceptable) levels of care I faced for my fourth child.  But now we have a practising NHS midwifery team with a solid  business plan who can do it and are doing it to Tariff; and making a difference to the lives of ordinary women living at the rougher end of the Wirral.  I want this to happen for women in Bradford, especially for the women living in Girlington, Manningham, Little Horton, Barkerend where rates of infant mortality are high and many women struggle as I did to make ends meet..  It makes such a difference, SUCH A DIFFERENCE.

I know that midwives cannot wave a magic wand and give us the money to fix the car and pay the bills, they could not give my husband paternity leave or bring him home from working away.  But what they did was bridge the gaps  – of the understanding and skills I needed, give me some social and moral support so I could keep going, get me to a place where my social network could take over.

If we invest in this one mother one midwife project, if the CCGs take the needs of women seriously enough to ensure it happens, we will be investing in the health and wellbeing of not just women and babies but their families and their communities.  It makes that much of a difference.  19 years ago I was a young traumatised mum living in Girlington and my midwife was Julie Walker. Julie Walker is head of midwifery.  I have just stepped down after four years as chair the MSLC and I own an international birthpool business.  It really does make that much of a difference.Image

Find out what YOU can do to make a difference: http://m4m.org.uk/takeAction.php