The aim of hypnosis for childbirth, or hypnobirthing as it is commonly known, is to help women give birth in a relaxing, calm environment free from stress, anxiety or fear.
Being anxious, tense and stressed during labour (all very common feelings at this time) can prevent the birthing muscles of your body from working as they should. The hope is that by attending hypnobirthing classes you can learn techniques to foster a sense of calm and tranquillity.
In this article, we’ll look at hypnobirthing in more detail, how stress influences pain and how hypnosis for childbirth can help you gain confidence and feel empowered.
What is hypnobirthing?
Hypnobirthing is the term used to describe using hypnosis in childbirth. The idea is that as an expectant mum, you attend hypnobirthing classes to learn self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques. You can then take what you’ve learnt into the delivery room.
The ultimate goal of hypnobirthing is to provide you with a better birthing experience. Of course, all births are different and hypnobirthing is not a guarantee that all will run smoothly. Rather, it looks to give you back control and a better chance of feeling relaxed, calm and happier throughout.
It is an increasingly popular choice for mothers looking for a natural approach, i.e. those who would rather steer clear of medication/drugs during the process. It is also popular for those who feel anxious about giving birth. This may be the case if it is your first child, or if you had a stressful past experience during childbirth.
The link between stress and pain
During labour, if you feel anxious, highly stressed or even scared – stress hormones (like adrenaline) will be released into your body. Adrenaline is the hormone that puts us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means your blood will be pushed towards the bigger muscle groups in your limbs, in case you need to run away from the impending ‘threat’.
In this case, the perceived ‘threat’ is giving birth, something that no matter how fast you run, you cannot get away from! With the blood flowing more readily to these muscle groups, your womb is not getting as much blood/oxygen, which can make the muscles less efficient.
Stress hormones can also make the body less likely to produce oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ which eases the pain of labour. While stress is naturally going to happen when you’re in labour, keeping it at a low level can help your body better cope with the process and help reduce your perception of pain.
Attending hypnobirthing classes can help you learn the techniques you need to lower stress levels and invite calm into the delivery room.
What will I learn?
One of the most important parts of hypnobirthing is looking at birth in a positive light. For some mothers, hearing horror stories of other people’s experiences, reading up on what ‘could’ go wrong and expecting pain can increase anxiety. Instead, hypnobirthing classes will encourage positive language, such as:
- ‘Surges’ or ‘tightening’, not ‘contractions’.
- ‘Practice labour’, not ‘false labour’.
- ‘Birth breathing’, not ‘pushing’.
With this foundation, your classes will be made up of self-hypnosis techniques, visualisation and breathing exercises. All of these are designed to help you gain a sense of control, reduce stress and ease anxiety.
You may also learn about the ideal positions for birth to help shorten the length of labour and assist your body’s natural functions. You will likely be given materials to take home too so you can practice out of the classroom.
Benefits of hypnobirthing
According to those who have used hypnobirthing, the following benefits can be gained through this technique:
- Higher chance of a shorter labour.
- Reduced chance of surgical/medical intervention required.
- Higher chance of baby feeding and sleeping well.
- Increased sense of bonding between mother, father and child.
- Reduced recovery time for the mother.
As this is an all-natural approach there is no risk of harmful side-effects, something that appeals to a lot of expectant mums.
There is a lot of noise out there about childbirth but remember, there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you’re pregnant, exploring all your options and learning more about the different approaches is a great first step to figuring out how you want your birth to go.
Ultimately we are all different, and it’s important to listen to yourself and what you want from your birthing experience. It should be an empowering and magical experience, so any way you can harness that is worth investigating.
The following studies were conducted and highlight ways that hypnosis can be used and the clinical and scientific outcomes.
Study 1: Hypnosis Allows for Less Medication and Less Labor Pains
Hypnosis for Pain Relief in Labor And Childbirth: A Systematic Review.
Results: Women who used hypnosis required significantly less pain medication. This study also found that women who used hypnosis reported having less severe labor pains.
Notes: This study reviewed a number of studies where hypnosis was used during pregnancy and childbirth.
British Journal of Anesthesia. 2004 Oct;93(4):505-11. Epub 2004 Jul 26
By: A. M. Cyna, G. L. McAuliffe, M. I. Andrew
Author Affiliations: 1 Department of Women’s Anesthesia, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide, South Australia 5006, Australia. 2 Department of Anesthesia, Lyell McEwin Hospital, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Study 2: Hypnosis – To Shorten Labor, Reduce medication to control pain or to lengthen pregnancy if expectant mother goes into labor too early
Evidence-Based Clinical Hypnosis in Obstetrics, Labor and Delivery, and Preterm Labor.
Results: The authors report that the use of hypnosis has been proven to shorten Stage 1 and 2 of labour, while also leading to a significant reduction in the use of medication to control the pain. The authors also note that hypnosis has been used to significantly prolong the length of pregnancy when an expectant mother goes into labour too early.
Notes: This paper reviews various academic studies conducted on the use of hypnosis in labour and delivery.
Int Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Vol. 55, No. 3, July 2007
By: D. Brown, D. C. Hammond, Private Practice, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Study 3: Hypnosis – Infertility
Infertility and Pregnancy Loss: Hypnotic Interventions for Reproductive Challenges. Healing from within: The use of hypnosis in women’s health care (pp. 191-212)2000.
Notes: This study reports on the use of hypnosis and imagery-based techniques to help women feel more empowered when dealing with miscarriages and infertility. Based on 15 years of experience in this field, the author concludes that hypnosis can really help at three points in the infertility process. First, it can bring a greater acceptance of the diagnosis. Second, it can help the patient cope more easily with infertility treatments. And third, it can help them to deal with any miscarriages.
By: Susan G. Mikesell
Study 4: Hypnosis – To Help Embryo Transfer at Fertility Clinic
Impact of Hypnosis During Embryo Transfer on the Outcome of In Vitro Fertilization-Embryo Transfer: A Case-Control Study.
Results: Those who received hypnosis had a 30.2% implantation rate compared with only 14.4% in the control group. This study concluded that not only did hypnosis help to double the rate of embryonic implantation, but it also helped to improve the subject’s attitude towards fertility treatment.
Notes: This study compared two groups of women undergoing embryo transfer (ET) at an Israeli fertility clinic. Ninety-eight women used hypnosis to help them during this process and 96 acted as the control group and followed the normal procedures. During the pre-hypnosis session, every patient was requested to choose a very pleasant life experience to relive. The hypnotic state was induced by the same hypnosis therapist using eye fixation, relaxation, and permissive and indirect suggestions. It was suggested that the patient compare the procedure of ET with the reception of long-awaited and very welcome guests. Only when the patient was thought to be at an adequate trance level (approx.. 10 minutes) was the ET procedure initiated. After ET, and previous to dehypnotization, the patient was given posthypnotic suggestions to produce calm, relaxation, and optimism for the future.
Fertility and Sterility. 2006 May
E. Levitas, A. Parmet, E. Lunenfeld, Y. Bentov, E. Burstein, M. Friger, G. Potashnik
Author Affiliations: a Fertility and IVF Unit, b Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Soroka University Medical Center, and c Department of Epidemiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel
Study 5: Self-Hypnosis for Labor and Childbirth
Antenatal self-hypnosis for labour and childbirth: A pilot study
Results: Seventy-seven antenatal women consecutively taught self-hypnosis in preparation for childbirth were compared with 3,249 parity and gestational age matched controls. Of the women taught antenatal self-hypnosis, nulliparous parturients used fewer epidurals: 36% (18/50) compared with 53% (765/1436) of controls (RR 0.68 [95% CI 0.47-0.98]); and required less augmentation: 18% (9/50) vs 36% (523/1436) (RR 0.48 [95%CI 0.27-0.90]). Conclusions: Our clinical findings are consistent with recent meta-analyses showing beneficial outcomes associated with the use of hypnosis in childbirth.
Notes: The institute where this study took place had used antenatal training in self-hypnosis for over three years as a tool to provide relaxation, anxiolysis and analgesia for women in labor. To assess the effects of hypnotherapy, they prospectively collected data related to the use of hypnosis in preparation for childbirth, and compared the birth outcomes of women experiencing antenatal hypnosis with parity and gestational age matched controls. Methods: Prospective data about women taught self-hypnosis in preparation for childbirth were collected between August 2002 and August 2004. Birth outcome data of women using hypnosis were compared with routinely collected retrospective data from parity and gestational age matched women delivering after 37 weeks gestation during 2003.
Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, 2006; 34 (4):464-469
By: Allan Michael Cyna, Marion I. Andrew, Georgina L. McAuliffe
Study 6: Effect of Hypnosis on Labor and Birth Outcomes (focuses on pregnant adolescents)
The Effects of Hypnosis on the Labor Processes and Birth Outcomes of Pregnant Adolescents
Submitted, revised, February 13, 2001. Journal of Family Practice
By: Alice A. Martin, PhD; Paul G. Schauble, PhD; Surekha H. Rai, PhD; R. Whit Curry Jr, MD, Gainesville, Florida
Results: When labor and delivery outcome measures were compared in the 2 groups, significant differences favoring the hypnosis intervention group were found in the number of complicated deliveries, surgical procedures, and length of hospital stay. Only one patient in the hypnosis group had a hospital stay of more than 2 days compared with 8 patients in the control group (P=.008). None of the 22 patients in the hypnosis group experienced surgical intervention compared with 12 of the 20 patients in the control group (P=.000). Twelve patients in the hypnosis group experienced complications compared with 17 in the control group (P=.047). Although consistently fewer patients in the hypnosis group used anesthesia (10 vs 14), Pitocin (2 vs 6), or postpartum medication (7 vs 11), and fewer had infants admitted to the NICU (1 vs 5), statistical analysis was non-significant. This study provides support for the use of hypnosis to aid in preparation of obstetric patients for labor and delivery. The reduction of complications, surgery, and hospital stay show direct medical benefit to mother and child and suggest the potential for a corresponding cost-saving benefit.
Notes: This study evaluated how childbirth preparation incorporating hypnotic techniques affected the labor processes and birth outcomes of pregnant adolescents. The study included 42 teenaged patients receiving prenatal treatment at a county public health department before their 24th week of pregnancy. They were randomly assigned to either a treatment group receiving a childbirth preparation protocol under hypnosis or a control group receiving supportive counseling. The hypnosis focused on the educational preparation of the patient while in hypnosis to create the expectation of a normal labor and delivery, develop a conditioned response of comfort and confidence, and facilitate an increased sense of control in achieving a healthy delivery. The subjects in the treatment group received a 4-session sequence of standard hypnotic interventions incorporating childbirth preparation information (in which they were instructed in the methods and benefits of focused relaxation and imagery to increase the likelihood of a safe and relatively pain-free delivery.) The sessions provided an opportunity to experience and practice hypnotic induction and deep relaxation. The suggestions directed toward the expectant mothers during the hypnotic state focused on the conceptualization of pregnancy and childbirth as a healthy natural process. Suggestions were also given to help the patient respond to possible complications, in the event they might occur. These suggestions were designed to increase the patient’s sense of trust in her physician and her confidence in her own ability to manage anxiety and discomfort. Hypnotic inductions also included ego-strengthening techniques and suggestions for a relatively discomfort-free delivery and suggestions for the application of the hypnotic techniques to other stressful periods in their lives. In each session the patients were given the opportunity to ask any questions of concern regarding the method or the pregnancy.
Study 7: Hypnosis to Help Achieve Uncomplicated Birth
Hypnosis to Facilitate Uncomplicated Birth
Results: Women receiving prenatal hypnosis had significantly better outcomes than women who did not. Further assessment suggested that hypnosis worked by preventing negative emotional factors from leading to a complicated birth outcome. Attention only was associated with minimal differences in outcome over the no-contact group. Concludes that the routine prenatal use of hypnosis could improve obstetric outcome.
Notes: The purpose of this study was to determine if prenatal hypnosis could facilitate uncomplicated birth. Following a psychosocial assessment, 520 pregnant women in their first or second trimester of pregnancy were randomized to receiving prenatal hypnosis or attention-only groups. The goal of the hypnosis was to reduce fear of birth and parenthood; to reduce anxiety; to reduce stress; to identify specific fears that might complicate the labor process (addressing them whenever possible); and to prepare women for the experience of labor. The attention-only group was matched to a no-contact comparison group.
American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Volume 46, Issue 4, 2004, pages 299-312
By: Lewis E. Mehl-Madrona MD, PhDa, University of Arizona College of Medicine
Study 8: Self-Hypnosis for Pain Relief During Labor
The Effect of Hypnosis on Pain Relief During Labor and Childbirth in Iranian Pregnant Women
Results: Women described their feelings about hypnosis during labor as: a sense of relief and consolation, self-confidence, satisfaction, lack of suffering labor pain, changing the feeling of pain into one of pressure, a decrease in fear of natural childbirth, lack of tiredness, and lack of anxiety. They expressed increased concentration on the uterus and cervical muscle, awareness of all the stages of labor, and having “positive thoughts.” Births were perceived as being very satisfactory compared to their previous experiences.
Notes: This study describes the effect of hypnosis on pain relief during labor and childbirth. Using a qualitative approach, 6 pregnant women were trained to use self-hypnosis for labor. Outcomes were analyzed using Colaizzi’s procedure.
International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Volume 57, Issue 2, 2009 pages 174-183
By: Marzieh Abbasia, Fery Ghazia, Ann Barlow-Harrison, Middelsex University, Lond, United Kingdom
Mehrdad Sheikhvatanb, Medical Sciences/Univeristy of Tehran, Tehran, Iran
Fatemeh Mohammadyaric, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran
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