Is Hypnobirthing Right for You?

Sandra Gordon
July 30, 2015

Hypnosis during childbirth may help you feel more in control of your birth experience. But how does it work?

With Mother Nature in charge, childbirth can be an intense and scary experience if you don;t feel in control. But there are things you can learn to make your birth experience what you envision. Could using hypnosis during childbirth help you have the birth of your dreams? It's possible.

What Is Hypnobirthing?
Simply put, it's self-hypnosis you learn to do for childbirth, and it can put you in a state of inner absorption, concentration and focused attention. "It helps women remain calm and in control during birth," says Cynthia Overgard, the owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, a prenatal education center in Westport.

The format of classes can vary across the country. In Overgard's classes, "We teach women the same techniques they would learn in a yoga class, which includes facial relaxation, focus and breath. The majority of class is education -- understanding the role of your mind and physiology during the process of birth. What we know is that when a birthing mother experiences fear or stress, she secretes adrenaline instead of oxytocin, which tightens the cervix and makes her labor feel more intense." By learning to stay relaxed and in control, this method can help labor be less intense.

In general, you can expect to learn breathing and self-hypnosis techniques to use during labor that can help keep your mind and body comfortable. The hypnotic state you learn to induce is similar to the tranquility of getting absorbed in a movie or a good book. "Through deep relaxation, we can get messages past the conscious mind -- the doubting, evaluating, judging mind -- and into the subconscious mind," Overgard says.

The calmness and deep level of trust you experience may help you better manage labor's physical stress. It can be as easy as closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, allowing yourself to relax and letting your mind focus on your breathing. Some programs, including Overgard's, come with self-hypnosis CDs, which women are encouraged to listen to as they fall asleep at night, she says.

The Birth of a Movement
Although hypnosis in childbirth may seem like one of the latest trends in childbirth, it has actually been around for decades. "There were obstetrical groups using hypnosis since at least the 1960s," says Dr. R. Whit Curry, Jr., a professor and faculty member with the Department of Community Health and Family Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. However, the movement gained national recognition when Marie Mongan published her 1989 book "HypnoBirthing: A Celebration of Life."

Dr. Curry and his research team conducted a pilot study in 2002 that found that women who used hypnosis before and during labor were less likely to require medication to augment labor or request an epidural compared with the women who didn't receive hypnosis preparation. The hypnosis group was also less likely to require major medical intervention, such as a C-section or a forceps delivery. Other studies since then relating to hypnosis during pregnancy have been mixed.

A 2015 study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology involving 680 pregnant women, for example, found that self-hypnosis training during labor didn't significantly reduce the use of epidural anesthesia, but the women in the hypnosis group did report less fear and anxiety about childbirth than they anticipated.

Still, "the goal of hypnobirthing isn't to have a natural birth," Overgard says. "It's simply to stay calm and in control." And as a result, "the majority of women end up having a natural birth because it ends up feeling like an available option to them," she says.

Pros and Cons
A downside to this method is that childbirth hypnosis classes are an added expense. The cost for classes across the country can range from $250 to $500 for 12 hours of instruction. Another potential negative: If you and your doctor or midwife agree that your labor needs to be induced, the techniques you learn may not stand up to the power of pitocin.

Then again, "I've had numerous clients who've had pitocin and successfully used their hypnobirthing techniques to stay calm and focused, with no epidural despite the added intensity of the pitocin," Overgard says. "The bottom line is that women have a right to feel at peace with their births, no matter what they choose or how they deliver. Hypnobirthing is about empowering them to make their own choices and birth their own way."

Sandra Gordon writes about parenting, health and nutrition and pregnancy-related topics. She used hypnosis for the birth of her second child.

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