Hypnobirthing Techniques for Pain

steph mcgee hypnobirthing teacher holding a brown antenatal doll in the head down, chin in position whilst explaining hypnobirthing techniques for pain

Steph McGee

I’m a Trauma Informed Clinical Hypnotherapist on a mission to help. Hypnosis feels like a magic wand. But in truth? The real magic is you.

Hypnobirthing is often described as a pain relief method.

But it’s not

Hypnobirthing is the most proactive way to prepare for a better birth.

And while birth hypnosis has been shown to reduce the use of pain relief drugs AND birth interventions.

Hypnobirthing is not an analgesic. And it’s not an anaesthetic.

But these fabulous Hypnobirthing Pain Techniques might make you feel otherwise!

Especially the Glove Anaesthesia Technique!!

So before we dive into all these Hypnobirthing Pain Techniques.

Let’s cover the basics:

What is Hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a gorgeous combination of birth meditations, deep relaxations, breathing techniques and hypnosis for birth.

Which combined with birth knowledge and antenatal education can help you feel more relaxed, calmly focused, empowered and confident through pregnancy & birth.

 

So strictly speaking:

Different to natural pain reduction techniques…

Hypnobirthing aims to stop pain before it starts.

Or at least keep pain at bay so you can get further through labour before reaching for the gas and air or an epidural.

So I’m sharing The Best Hypnobirthing Pain Techniques.

You don’t need to practice them all.

In fact, if you are doing a Hypnobirthing course, they might not all be included!

But take a look through. Do your research. And do what feels right for you.

 

Always check with your Midwife or Medical Consultant before using Hypnobirthing or any kind of relaxation technique. Even if you are teaching yourself – Hypnobirthing may not be recommended for people with certain conditions.

black woman in blue jeans and a wide brimmed black hat sits on a leather sofa reading a birth book in a library to improve her birth knowledge and reduce her fear of pain

1. Birth Knowledge

Calling this a Hypnobirthing pain technique might seem a bit of a stretch.

BUT

Birth knowledge is as crucial as all the other methods listed here.

Childbirth is an all consuming and powerful experience. It can vary in length from hours to days. Sometimes even weeks! And you might have to make decisions about medical interventions.

The natural birthing process builds in intensity. And right when your body is working at full throttle theres a ‘no going back’ tipping point that can flood even the most confident birthers with fear.

So knowing how you might feel emotionally AND physically matters.

Knowing how birth works. Your natural birth needs. Where you want to give birth and why. What pain relief options are available to you. The pros and cons of all your choices.  And making informed choices – freely and without coercion or threat MATTERS!

 

So birth education and good quality antenatal classes help demystify birth helping you loose the fear; loose the expectations of a painful or stressful experience and give birth more easily.

And let’s face it.

Feeling relaxed and confident in yourself helps in all aspects of life!

“For far too many, pregnancy and birth is still something that happens to them rather than something they set out consciously and joyfully to do themselves” – Sheila Kitzinger

An example of a calm birth setting and hypnobirthing comfort measures a white pregnant woman is lying on her side in bed using a pregnancy pillow for support and resting deeply

2. Calm and Relaxing Birth Setting

Where do you want to be when you feel tired, stressed or under the weather?

HOME

Because home is where you feel most relaxed. Home is where you can rest and be comfortable. And home is where your calm hormones flow!

So when thinking about your birthing environment?

One of the things you’ll learn on your hypnobirthing course is to think ‘home comforts‘ and ‘comfort measures‘.

From home birth to hospital birth. Induction to cesarean section.

Think Comfortable. Calm. Safe. And Private.

Because this can help you:

  • Quieten your busy conscious mind
  • Switch off and relax
  • Increase your comfort
  • Reduce your stress hormones
  • Reduce or prevent pain

 

So what helps you feel comfortable?

What will make your birth environment calm?

It’s easier to relax in a quiet, comfortable space than somewhere noisy or busy or that you’ve never been before.

Whether you are labouring at home or in hospital?

Creating a calming birth setting is like setting a stage.

Comfort measures to consider for your calm birth environment:

 

  • Lighting – dim the lights to create calm and support melatonin production.
  • Candles – candles are incredibly soothing & naturally hypnotic (battery operated if in hospital!). Fairly lights are a nice alternative.
  • Quiet – no one births on a lively dance floor but keeping conversation (and people) to a minimum as labour intensifies means the brain has less work to do. You’ll find it easier switch off and find your birth zone too!
  • Music – calm, slow, repetitive music has been shown to calm the mind & reduce stress
  • Temperature – make sure the temperature is comfortable. No sense making your body work any harder than it needs to!
  • Scent – essential oils are a popular choice with multiple aromatherapeutic benefits and can be used as one of your easiest hypnobirthing anchors
  • Comfy clothes – pjs, sweats or the simple act of taking your bra off (if you wear one). Wear comfortable clothes that allow easy movement.
  • Comfort measures – from gentle massage to a relaxing shower or a snuggle in bed.
  • Waterwarm water reduces pain and a pool increase movability
  • Soft furnishings – get comfy with blankets, pillows or cushions. As one of my mindful mamas once said – you’re never too old for a teddy bear!
  • Support & Movement – think natural instinctive movement. Plus birth stools, birth balls, peanut balls, CUBs and wedges. Ask your midwife what’s available in advance!
  • Relaxing activities – it sounds strange but you might have a lot of time on your hands. So have a list of relaxing activities that can be applied to any environment and will help you loose a few hours. Ideas might include a gentle walk, a good book or a funny movie.

Why do comfort measures matter?

The birthing body needs a large blood flow to the pelvic area. So feeling relaxed and comfortable helps to support the parasympathetic (calm) side of the nervous system.

And it helps quieten the sympathetic (fear) side of the nervous system that diverts blood away from the pelvis and uterine area and is notorious for increasing muscle tension and pain.

So get birth smart.

Start planning your calm and relaxing birth environment!

“Asking if birth is painful is like asking if sex is good. It depends where you are, who you are with and how many people are watching!” – Kemi Johnson

white pregnant woman holding bright pink balloons and smiling positively to demonstrate the positive emotions of feeling confident in pregnancy and birth

3. Avoid Negativity

Fear and negative thinking plays a huge role in raising stress hormones, increasing pain levels and slowing the natural progression of childbirth.

Obstetrician Dr Grantly Dick-Read theorised that over 90% of pain in natural childbirth was caused by fear and the expectation of pain.

And Obstetrician Michelle Odent adds to this by saying that all conscious thinking needs to stop for pain-free birth to unfold. Even saying that a quiet mind can allow a baby to slip out quickly and easily while the birther is an ecstatic state.

 Quiet Mind = Relaxed Body = Spontaneous Birth

 

So a BIG part of Hypnobirthing is aimed at reducing stress, fear and negativity.

Giving you confidence in yourself, confidence in the birth process and allow your mind to be quiet & still. This helps all your energies to flow into your birthing body – to create a more efficient and pain-free labour.

But it’s easier said than done!

Why?

Negative thinking & fear is an important function of survival.

Let me explain:

Think back to the dawn of humanity.

Imagine you are a cave person living in a cave.

You want to go out and hunt.

But there’s a growling brown bear outside. Do you:

  1.  Think positively – assume everything will be fine and go & get food – you’re hungry!
  2. Think negatively – assume the bear will eat you & stay home – hungry but alive!

Choose 2

Staying alive is always the priority!

 

So people who were better at negative thinking were more likely to survive and pass their negativity bias on to the their offspring.

The neurological roots of this negativity bias were first identified by psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman in this 2001 study which concluded that negative thinking had 4 key attributes that made it more dominant than positive thinking:

  1.  Negative potency – negative thoughts are stronger than positive thoughts
  2. Steeper negative gradients – negative thoughts grows faster than positive ones
  3. Negativity dominance  – combinations of thinking result in the negatives outweighing the positives
  4. Negative differentiation – negative thinking is more varied, complex and elicits more responses

So we all have a strong and natural tendency towards negative thinking!

So it takes WORK to think positively about birth

How Hypnobirthing Reframes Birth Fear and Anxiety:

  • Learn how birth works – your body is amazing!
  • Understand the process of medicalised birth including choices around induction and caesarean birth
  • Positive affirmations to reframe specific birth fears
  • Listen to birth relaxations & meditations to visualise a positive birth
  • Practice birth hypnosis to emotionally rehearse a positive birth experience & positive sense of self
  • Read positive birth stories
  • Watch positive birth videos
  • Reduce general stress – avoid the news or stressful tv shows, avoid people who drain you and avoid taking on more work based stresses than you have to.

Pregnancy should be seen as a time to take unnecessary stress off!

Pregnancy is a time to reframe birth fears or anxieties. Believe in your bodyResolve self doubts and worries.

And it takes time.

Hypnobirthing is a layering process.

 

“Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body” – Ina May Gaskin

steph mcgee having a calm, natural, ivab in place, in a pool using the hypnobirthing technique of warm water for pain relief at the JR Oxford Spires Maternity Unit, a midwife out of shot but her arm can be seen palpating steph's bump

4. Warm Water

Water birth is not unique to hypnobirthing. But hypnobirthing classes bang on about it so much you’d be forgiven for thinking it was.

Water is a fabulous method of natural pain relief.

It’s so good it’s recommended in the NICE  guidelines!

The water in a birth pool is kept at body temperature. So it’s warm, naturally soothing and widely reported to create a more comfortable birth experience.

Birthing in water offers weightless and freedom of movement. It soothes the muscles and promotes feelings of calm. And the birth pool itself helps promote a feeling of privacy, even when you have a midwife or two nearby.

Warm water helps to soft the perineum which helps to reduce pain and tearing.

One of my clients with a history of precipitous birth was told by her midwife to wet a maternity pad and pop it into her pants the moment she felt labour starting!

 

“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life” – Ina May Gaskin

calm birth setting with a candle burning and a white pregnant woman in the background lying on her side being massaged by a female birth partner who's using the light touch massage hypnobirthing technique for pain

5. Massage techniques for labour

“Therapeutic massage may relieve pain by way of several mechanisms, including relaxing painful muscles, tendons, and joints; relieving stress and anxiety; and possibly helping to “close the pain gate” by stimulating competing nerve fibers and impeding pain messages to and from the brain.”

Says The Harvard Medical School

And Hypnobirthing recommends massage techniques for pain!

There are loads of techniques so finding the one that’s right for you is key.

My favourite birth massage techniques are:

  • Light touch massage – a simple back stroke, just up & down in a simple heart shape
  • T stroke – T across the shoulder blades then down towards the sacrum
  • Sacral massage – a doula’s favourite – a firm ‘butterfly style’ massage on the sacrum
  • Arm stroke – helpful if the back is a no-go & doubles up with glove anesthesia!

 

“There is a secret in our culture and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong” – Laura Stavoe

6. Breathing Techniques

Birth is all about muscle movement and hormone production. And when your muscles are WORKING you need to breath!

So hypnobirthing classes will teach you breathing exercises!

When you breath in a calm, relaxed way it sends a message to body and mind that you are safe. This message creates calm throughout out your body, relaxes your muscles and can reduce the labour pains caused by muscle tension.

The key to any hypnobirthing breathing technique is long and slow (sometimes described as deep breathing).

So in a nut shell – Think long breath in. And long breath out.

Which is the complete opposite of what you’d do if you were scared!

Start with my free surge breathing visualisations script. And my free down breathing script.

And remember. Birth breathing is for life. Not just birth. Calm breathing helps to create a sense of relaxation and calm thats helpful for post birth recovery, breastfeeding and parenthood.

“We cannot birth our babies through sheer force of will. We need to learn the more subtle, the equally powerful, path of surrender” – Sarah J Buckley

three multicoloured hot air balloons floating in a clear blue sky which are a hypnobirthing visualisation using hypnobirthing breathing
white arrow pointing down symbolising the hypnobirthing pain technique of head down muscle relaxation in labour

7. Progressive Muscle relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a full body muscle relaxation exercise that invites you to imagine your whole body relaxing form the top of you head down to the tip of your toes. Known as a body scan in Mindfulness,  mindful meditation is often toe to head instead.

PMR is a famous technique in both chronic and acute pain management. It also forms part of most relaxation techniques and scripts.

Pain causes the body to tense or ‘guard’ itself. Helpful when you have an injury you need to protect.

But unhelpful when the only sensations you are feeling are the spontaneous muscle movements of normal childbirth.

By learning to instantly relax your whole body, progressive muscle movement can act like an instant stress and pain reliever.

But the key to this tool is practice.

With practice a PMR can be instant. When pain levels are higher it may need more focus. But building that deep connection between your body relaxing and letting go with a single thought?

Priceless.

“Fear leads to Tension leads to Pain” – Obstetrician, Grantly Dick-Read

pain white background displaying blue marbles that are hypnobirthing pain technique

8. Blue Marble Technique

It doesn’t need to be a marble and it doesn’t need to be blue. But this beautiful hypnotic touch anchor is so simple you’d be crazy not to use it.

The way it works:

Hold a blue marble when you practice your birth hypnosis or hypnobirthing relaxation you will create an anchor between holding the marble and that calm state you go into.

Once fully developed. Just hold your marble to feel as deeply relaxed as you feel with your hypnosis – without using your hypnosis!

You can use a Blue Marble anchoring script or a touch anchor script. Or you might like to try just holding your marble whilst you use a script your hypnobirthing teacher has given you.

The blue marble technique is commonly used to help with chronic pain and symptoms of the menopause. So it’s easy to see why it might be helpful in labour!

“In giving birth to our babies, we may find that we give birth to new possibilities within ourselves” – Mayla Kabat-Zinn

colourful autumn leaves in pink, red, purple, gold and green to demonstrate the vibrancy of hypnobirthing colour anchors for natural pain relief

9. Hypnobirthing Colour Anchors

Colour anchors are a powerful tool for helping with physical and emotional pain. And it’s one of my favourite self-hypnosis techniques!

Based upon your best hopes, your hypnotherapist will guide you into the deeply relaxed and comfortable state that you DO want to feel in labour. You are then invited to bring to mind a colour that represents that positive state of being.

With practise, your hypnotherapist will help you develop the connection between that positive state of being and your anchor colour. So that by the time you go into labour, all you need to do is bring to mind your colour anchor and you can instantly feel deeply relaxed.

You can read more about colour anchors here. And use this free hypnobirthing script to find your colour anchor.

Once you have your colour anchor there are several ways of bring it into your holistic birth preparation:

  • A blanket or shawl
  • Clothing
  • Affirmations and positive birth visualisations
  • Hypnobirthing scripts and hypnosis

Colour Anchors are a classic hypnosis for pain management technique. So you can expect your hypnotherapist or hypnobirthing teacher to use the widely.

How you use your colour anchor is only limited by your imagination. So let your colour flow through your hypnobirthing practice!

“Sit in the centre of your courage: fear may be part of the journey but courage will overcome it every time. And please listen to my words. You were born to do this. You were born to do this” – Philomena Canning

swinging pocket watches a common misconception in the use of birth hypnosis for pain

10. Birth Hypnosis & relaxations

When most people think of child birth they think of screaming and pain. And probably imagine someone with their feet in stirrups.

Not helpful when Dr. Dick-Read teaches us to relax, reduce the tension and release the pain!.

Not helpful when we are built to birth!

And as Henry Ford said:

Whether you think you Can or you think you Can’t? You’re right!

So birth relaxations & birth affirmations help you to visualise a positive birth experience and reframe the way you feel about birth in a comfortable way.

Birth hypnosis (also known as self-hypnosis) helps you to not only visualise but mentally rehearse, anticipate and feel your positive birth experience. And reframe your expectations of birth on a deeper subconscious level, free from the barriers of the inner critic or critical mind that tells you “can’t”.

By visualising and mentally rehearsing a good birth experience you can reframe your expectations and like a sports person – mentally rehearse your muscle movement, energy flow and hormone production well in advance.

The best time to practice self hypnosis is before bed. Bedtime is when we are at our most relaxed. And what could be nicer than drifting off to sleep with positive thoughts about pregnancy and birth?

N.B. Those suffering with severe birth anxiety may find relaxations and hypnosis easier during the day to begin with. And hypnobirthing relaxations can be played as back group music as long as it is safe to do so.

“When you change the way you view birth, the way you birth will change” – Marie Mongan

woollen gloved hands resting on top of each other to demonstrate the warming effect of glove anesthesia technique in hypnobirthing

11. Glove Anaesthesia Hypnosis

Glove anaesthesia is such an effective natural pain relief it’s used for dental extractions!

YES.

People actually get their teeth pulled out with nothing but the power of their mind to relieve the pain! (Look it up on Youtube if you don’t believe me!)

And although this powerful technique is widely described as ‘hypnosis’. It’s actually originates from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

So what is it?

Glove anaesthesia a technique that utilises your natural ability to switch off to pain. Pain is a natural mechanism to tell us that something could be wrong. But as mammals, ignoring pain can sometimes be a better survival technique than responding to it.

Dropping to your knees in pain after graze will not save you from a hungry tiger!

But ignoring the pain and running might!

So when the benefits out way the risks we can all modulate pain. (That means ignore it completely).

And glove anaesthesia takes advantage of that natural ability.

So you won’t find a hypnobirthing class on the planet that doesn’t teach the glove technique in some form.

How it works:

Stroke your hand repeatedly with a relaxation track that tells you to imagine all tension flowing away. You can feel your hand. And you are aware of your hand. But your hand becomes numb and free of all pain and discomfort.

Once your hand is suitably desensitised. You’ll be invited to transfer that numbness to wherever you want it to be.

The Key:

You have to start with the hand. Studies have shown that the head and core body are much harder to mentally anaesthetise. So imaging yourself walking into a cool numbing sea won’t work for birth!

But then hands?

The hands can be anaesthetised very easily and that numbness can then be transferred to the head or core body – wherever you want it – with the same positive anaesthetic effect and none of the side effects of the pharmaceutical alternatives. Yes epidurals – I’m talking to you!

“I became a fierce advocate for gentle birth as a solution for the most pressing problems of our times – a solution that begins at the source” – Robin Lim

white pregnant woman with long brown hair modestly covered with white cloth and relaxing in a milk bath with flowers demonstrating the relaxed confidence that comes from the hypnobirthing practice of gentle fear release

12. Fear Release Hypnosis

They say it’s not our thoughts that are the problem. It’s the thinking we have around them.

Mindfulness teaches that fearful thoughts are not facts. They are just thoughts. And that while the instinctive repose might be to squash down negative thoughts, rationalise them or argue with them. That just creates more negative thinking and more stress.

So mindfulness suggests that by noticing negative thoughts instead of responding – we can maintain a state of peaceful equilibrium.

And hypnosis (to a certain degree relaxations as well) can help soften unwanted fears and anxieties but visualising a gentle release of them.

Hypnotic fear release techniques invite you to imagine a beautiful scene where you would naturally be inclined to relax such as:

  • Beautiful Beach
  • Calm River
  • Lush Woodland

Then your hypnotherapist will introduce as fear release mechanism such as letting all unwanted thoughts or feelings to drift up towards a cloud, or drift down stream along the river.

A well written fear release hypnobirthing script won’t ask you to specifically visualise your fears (which could be triggering for some people). Instead you just know they are there and feel the gentle release within body and mind as they leave you beautifully calm and relaxed.

The dial or control room technique

This technique is best done 1:1 with your therapist or hypnobirthing practitioner. Once in a deeply relaxed, hypnotic state you’ll be invited to turn down anything you don’t want to a safe and comfortable level that feels right for you. And of course, turn up anything that you do want!

If you have experienced a traumatic birth there are more advanced techniques that can be helpful. The Dr David Muss Rewind Technique has over taken the traditional Bandler 3 step rewind technique with an astonishing 90% success rate. And it can be a simple as just 2 sessions. You can read more about the Rewind Technique here.

 

“Birth isn’t something we suffer but something we actively do and exult in!” – Sheila Kitzinger

Conclusion

These are the best hypnobirthing techniques for pain.

But pain has its uses. So listening to your body and responding to its needs in labour is important. And being confident will help you hear your natural birth instincts.

Feeling a discomfort might be a message to move or do something differently. Sometimes it might be saying you need help.

While no one wants pain in childbirth – pain is a communication system.

And the less you fear pain?

The more you can embrace the normal instincts and rhythms of your birth. The more comfortable you can feel. And the more confident you can be in saying what you need.

And doing your relaxation practice is key!

More Hypnobirthing Blogs

Keep reading to keep learning!

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