What is hypnosis for labour and birth?
Hypnosis is a state of deep mental and physical relaxation that a person can go into to enable them to focus intensely on a thought or feeling, blocking outside distractions. In this state it’s thought the mind is more open to suggestions that change our beliefs and behaviours. When a woman prepares for labour with hypnosis, these suggestions aim to replace fear and expectations of pain with confidence that birth is safe, gentle and even comfortable.
This type of hypnosis doesn’t involve the trance like state where you see people on television running around on stage. Instead, it’s a learnt technique where women hypnotise themselves using deep breathing, visualisation, and affirmations or hypnosis scripts. For example, a woman using this technique in labour may concentrate on her deep breathing, taking her further into a hypnotic state, and visualise her body opening and her baby easing downward with each breath.
Hypnotherapists stress that you can't be made to do something that is against your will or ethics while in hypnosis, that you can choose to come back to your normal state whenever you wish, and that you are fully awake, aware, and in control during the experience .
In childbirth hypnosis programs, women and their partners are also taught a new vocabulary to describe labour and birth, to break the traditional association of birth with pain. For instance, women may call a contraction a surge or refer to her waters releasing rather than rupturing.
While the idea of entering an altered mental state makes some people feel uneasy, hypnotherapists say we all experience this state in our everyday lives. Daydreaming, being deeply engrossed in a book or movie, or driving somewhere on ‘autopilot’ and having no memory of the journey when you arrive are all described as examples of the hypnotic state.
How does hypnosis for labour work?
Hypnosis advocates believe that when a woman feels fear during childbirth, her body releases stress hormones that trigger the body's "fight or flight" response. This causes muscles to tighten and interferes with the birthing process. By training the subconscious mind to expect a safe, gentle birth, they say women can avoid going into the fight-or-flight state, allowing for a smoother labour and birth.
Supporters say women can respond to learned hypnotic suggestions so well that they release natural "feel-good" hormones, such as endorphins and serotonin, while giving birth. This, they say, relaxes the mother's muscles and nervous system to the point that she feels less pain – or even no pain at all.
The idea that hypnosis might ease labour by helping women avoid the fight-or-flight state hasn't been verified in studies. However, experts agree that this makes sense based on the understanding of how the body works.
What are the advantages of using hypnosis for labour?
Unlike a medication or medical procedure, therapies such as hypnosis are difficult to evaluate scientifically. However, although better research is needed, there are several studies that show mothers who used hypnosis during their labour needed less pain relief medication and rated their pain as less severe.
Hypnotherapists don't promise a pain-free birth but many mothers who used hypnosis report only feeling discomfort or a sensation of pressure during childbirth. Others report less success. However, hypnosis may be a good choice for mums who want a pain relief option other than medication. And unlike medication, hypnosis has no side effects or risks.
Hypnosis programs for childbirth present birth as gentle, perhaps even comfortable, and teach women that they can rely on their body and mind to get through the process. For some women, this is in keeping with their beliefs about birth, and they may find a hypnosis program the best childbirth preparation class for them.
What are the disadvantages?
Learning self-hypnosis takes time and usually money. It’s thought that to be most successful, hypnosis for birth needs to be practiced regularly. Most teaching techniques are run through a series of classes and it’s then encouraged you practice at home. Signing up to a course isn’t always necessary though. There are books and CDs that women can obtain to teach themselves.
Because many women who study self-hypnosis for childbirth hope to avoid pain medications or medical interventions, it's possible you'll feel disappointed if you end up asking for further medicated pain relief or needing interventions .
Is there anyone who can't use hypnosis during labour?
If you can afford the time to learn it virtually anyone can use self-hypnosis. Hypnotherapists say the only real requirement is the willingness to hear the suggestions, and practice and implement recommended methods of relaxation..
Although many mothers who study self-hypnosis for childbirth hope to avoid medications, interventions, and caesarean sections, self-hypnosis can help women in any type of delivery.
Where can I learn hypnosis for childbirth?
In the United Kingdom, there are two major programs for teaching hypnosis for childbirth: HypnoBirthing and Natal Hypnotherapy. There are also many practitioners who offer their own hypnosis for childbirth courses. Usually an internet search will bring up any courses that run in your area or your midwife should be able to provide some recommendations .
Most programs are taught via a series of classes but you can also buy the books and CD sets on their own (the same materials used in the classes) and study them on your own. It’s then recommended you go through the techniques in the book and the CDs are listened to daily .