HypnoBirthing for a More Natural Childbirth

HypnoBirthing Natural Childbirth

Many women are adding some hypnosis for a more natural childbirth. This is not new or mysterious. Forget about the mind-controlling Svengali from the movies. This hypnosis is not about making you walk like a chicken or bark like a dog.

Hypnosis for pregnancy has been around for more than 100 years. Self-hypnosis classes for natural pregnancy have been around for the past 30 years. These classes are called HypnoBirthing. The goal of HypnoBirthing is a less painful, less anxious, more stress-free labor that may reduce your need for pain medication.

What Is Hypnosis, Self-Hypnosis, and HypnoBirthing? 

Hypnosis – or hypnotherapy – comes from the Greek word hypnos, which means sleep. In reality, hypnotherapy does not put you to sleep. You are fully awake, but you are in a trance-like state of deep relaxation. In this state, your thoughts become more focused. You may be highly responsive to verbal repetitions and mental images that can help you gain control over unwanted emotions and unpleasant feelings. This response is called hypnotic suggestion.

Hypnotherapy can be done by a trained hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapist could be doctor or a mental health professional. Once you learn the techniques of hypnotherapy, you can practice these techniques on your own. This is called self-hypnosis. You learn to put yourself into a hypnotic state. Theses techniques might include meditation, deep breathing, relaxation, and visualization.

HypnoBirthing is a series of classes in self-hypnosis for labor and childbirth. The goal of HypnoBirthing is to free yourself of emotions like anxiety and fear that lead to pain, and to gain control of the birthing experience in a way that will help you reduce or cope with pain. The ultimate goal is a better birthing experience. Hypnobirthing may reduce your need for pain medication during labour and delivery.

The Who and Why of HypnoBirthing

During most of the last century, the dominant model for childbirth in America was the medical model. According to this model, natural childbirth is too dangerous and unpleasant for most women. Medical management of pregnancy, especially pain management is safer. Partly due to this model, 99 percent of American women give birth in a hospital and most women get epidural anesthesia for pain control.

During the last 60 years, a countermovement has been pushing for a more natural approach to childbirth with less intervention and less medication. Natural childbirth has been advocated by midwives and by women themselves. A 2013 survey of 2,400 American women who recently gave birth in the hospital found that 59 percent of the women believed that any medical intervention, including epidural anesthesia, should only be used if medically necessary. Despite these wishes for a more natural childbirth experience, only 17 percent of the women achieved a completely natural birthing experience. Sixty-seven percent had an epidural.

Most women who give birth in the hospital are encouraged to take a hospital-based preparation program like Lamaze or husband-coached childbirth. Although these classes prepare women for childbirth with education and support, they have not really increased the number of women being able to achieve natural childbirth. HypnoBirthing does not emphasize coaching. It emphasizes self-hypnosis for self-control and self-management.

The goal of hypnoBirthing is to allow more woman to have a more natural experience with less need for medication. Even if an epidural is chosen, HypnoBirthing may be able to reduce the fear, and anxiety of labor and delivery. Many studies show that less fear and anxiety results in less pain. That’s where self-hypnosis can help. Common reasons why women choose HypnoBirthing include:

  • To increase the chances of natural childbirth
  • To have less fear, anxiety, and pain
  • To reduce fear and anxiety during a first pregnancy or after an unpleasant prior pregnancy
  • To have a shorter labor and shorter recovery
  • To have a deeper bonding experience with their baby

How Does It Work?

Although hypnotherapy for labor and childbirth has been around for a long time, the term HypnoBirthing was developed by Marie Mongan and introduced in her 1989 book, Hypnobirthing: A Celebration of Life. The basic theory is that every women has a strong and natural maternal instinct for natural childbirth. Self-hypnosis can help a woman find this inner strength. There several theories that try to explain how hypnotherapy might work:

  • Brain scan studies show that hypnosis reduces activity in parts of the brain responsible for the emotional reaction to pain signals. Learning and practicing self-hypnosis may reduce the way you react to pain during labor.
  • Self-hypnosis may allow you to achieve a deep state of physical and mental relaxation. In this state, stress hormones are reduced. This may relax blood vessels that supply the womb with blood and oxygen, making contractions during labor and delivery more efficient.
  • Hypnotherapy may help release brain chemicals called endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.

HypnoBirthing classes are usually given once per week over 5 weeks. It is best to start classes at about 25 to 30 weeks of your pregnancy. This will give you enough time to learn and practice. Classes include various exercises to induce self-hypnosis, such as focused breathing, relaxation, visualization, and meditation. You will also learn about nutrition and fitness to prepare you for labor and delivery. Along with the classes, you may get a book and CD to use at home. HypnoBirthing classes are given by health care providers who have been trained and certified in the Mongan Method by the HypnoBirthing Institute. These providers include nurses, medical doctors, midwives, and hypnotherapists.

Does HypnoBirthing Work?

There have been several studies that have looked at hypnotherapy during childbirth and compared hypnotherapy childbirth to childbirth without hypnotherapy. A review of these studies found that women who used hypnotherapy had less pain, shorter labor, less hospital days, and less need for epidural than women who did not use hypnotherapy.

According to birth reports released by the HypnoBirthing Institute, only 20 percent of mothers who took HypnoBirthing classes used an epidural (compared to about 75 percent of women who did not use hypnoBirthing). The HypnoBirthing mothers had a 17 percent C-section rate, compared to the U.S. average rate of 32 percent.

How Can I Get More Information?

Bottom line on HypnoBirthing is that there is a good chance it can improve your birthing experience. The skills you learn in self-hypnosis can also be used after birth. In case you don’t know, having a baby in your life can also produce stress and anxiety. Ask your pregnancy care provider about a HypnoBirthing class.

Check out Dr. Carrie Noriega’s blog on her own experience with HypnoBirthing here. Carrie is an expert medical doctor, so you will find her story very interesting.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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