IT has long been reported in the media about the benefits of hypnotherapy during labour thanks to a number of celebrities who have spoken of its pain reduction techniques.

Now expectant mums at Royal Bolton Hospital are being offered the treatment, which has been used by TV presenter Nadia Sawalha and Hollywood actress Jessica Alba, that not only promises to help them relax but also make giving birth an enjoyable experience.

Midwives at the hospital have been offering hypnobirthing to pregnant mums since May and have already seen positive results — birthing is quicker, there is less need for interventions, such as forceps, and women have said they feel more in control or empowered.

Annabel Nicholas, birth suite manager at the hospital, said: "People automatically assume birth is going to painful and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn't have to be.

"Hypnotherapy isn't about hypnotising the mum-to-be. It's about teaching them and their partners self-hypnosis – achieving a deep level of relaxation, teaching them about the different stages of labour, how to get rid of anxieties and fears, and changing their perception.

"If you can relax, there is better oxygen to the uterine muscle (muscle of the womb), the body will work better and that will help lower the pain as well. You wouldn't run a marathon without training for it; hypnobirthing is like that - training to give birth."

The midwives are now offering their fifth course to couples after launching the service five months ago.

Ms Nicholas said: "The results have been very positive in terms of shorter labour, needing less pain relief or intervention, such as forceps or the suction cup, and more positive normal birth outcomes. The people who have been through the programme are having empowering birthing experiences – they feel like they have really achieved something – which is fantastic to see.

"They don't perceive it as being painful so it isn't. The techniques can be used after the birth as well because coping strategies and relaxation techniques can be of benefit to everyone's daily lives."

The concept of painless childbirth through positive thinking is not actually new. Back in the 1930s, British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read wrote a book called Childbirth Without Fear and there has been a revival in this way of thinking.

The course, which costs £125 per couple, is five sessions long is offered to four couples at a time, who each get a book and CD that they can view to practice the techniques themselves at home. All the funding from earned from the programme goes back into the NHS.

Ms Nicholas added: "We only take four couples at a time because it's quite an intensive programme. But it's not a magic fix. It does require work on their part as well and it's a lot of work. We teach them affirmations like, 'my birth will be simple and easy' and 'I will approach this birth confidently', which can help put them in a positive frame of mind in the run up to and on the special day.

"It's much better if you can use your own hormones to help with birthing and those hormones are going to be released in greater amounts the more relaxed you are. For healthy mums having a baby, the body knows exactly what to do and the baby knows exactly what it is doing. It's having that trust in your own ability."

At the moment the Bolton has three midwives trained in hypnobirthing and it is hoping to expand the service and train up more people.

Midwife Anne Eastwood put herself forward to learn about hypnobirthing after witnessing a mum-to-be schooled in the techniques, virtually "breathing the baby out".

She said: "I'd not seen hypnobirthing before. The lady didn't have any pain relief whatsoever. She came in and breathed the baby out. I was totally amazed and didn't stop talking about it for weeks."

Nicola Johnston, 39, from Tyldesley, used hypnobirthing techniques when having her second child, Jessica, and says it made a "big difference".

The administrator, who is also proud mum to Charlie, aged six, and married to HGV driver trainer Dave, said: "I was sceptical about hypnobirthing. I thought, do you have to go into a trance? It was only when I read the leaflet about it we decided to give it a go.

"It was great. It made big difference. When I had Charlie, I expected it to hurt. I came into hospital only two centimetres dilated but thought I was about to give birth there and then. He got stuck and forceps were used to deliver him. But with Jessica I was at home for longer, using the breathing and relaxation techniques.

"Dave came with me so he helped and I breathed through the pain. By the time I came into hospital I was eight centimetres dilated and it was a completely different experience."

Mrs Johnston said that because they used hypnobirthing, dad Dave had a much bigger part to play.

She said: "I had a water birth, although I had to get out in the end. I had music on in the background and I was using the techniques. Dave was sitting behind me and holding my hand. I found hypnobirthing gave him a bigger part to play. With Charlie, he didn't know what to do. Dave just looked like a spare part. With Jessica he was there and was helping me and it was a lot better.

"The birth was over in 50 minutes and Jessica was born weighing 9lbs 1oz. There was pain but I'd say hypnobirthing helped and I'd definitely tell other mums to do it."

For those who want to try hypnobirthing, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust also offers taster sessions which give an overview of the course and what is involved for £30.