Self-Hypnosis During Labor May Have Advantages
Brianna Beard, a 37-year-old mom from Florida, had an intense fear of giving birth before she got pregnant two years ago. The day she found out she was expecting, she realized she had to face reality. There was no turning back.
Beard did thorough research on pregnancy and birth-related topics and chose to prepare herself for the journey by listening to hypnosis recordings created specifically for pregnancy and birth, a practice commonly known as hypnobirthing.
"Day by day with each hypnosis, I felt an amazing sense of ease, I felt empowered and confident," recalled Beard, who used the Grace hypnosis app. "The most important day of the Grace app program was the day where you visualize what you would do if your birth doesn't go as you plan. While at first it felt counterintuitive—as Grace shares this to be a normal response—it helped me confront any residual lingering fears."
With a home birth plan and 30-plus hours of labor at home, Beard ended up in the care of the local hospital with an emergency C-section. But Beard credited the Hypnosis for Birth program for helping her stay calm and peacefully accept "the birth [she] was destined to experience."
Florida-based hypnotherapist and author Grace Smith, the voice behind the Grace app, said her Hypnosis for Birth series is a little different from the original four-week HypnoBirthing course, a childbirth education training program created and registered as a trademark by the late Marie Mongan. Though the term "hypnobirthing" has evolved into general use, the original Mongan Method requires certification from the HypnoBirthing Institute in Pembroke, New Hampshire.
While Smith is a certified HypnoBirthing practitioner, after her own birth experience she felt the need to create a program that includes additional support on how to handle any potential last-minute changes to a birth plan.
Hypnosis and pregnancy
Hypnosis puts you in a deeply relaxed theta brain-wave state, which helps soothe all of your nerves, whether they're related to pregnancy, work or world events, Smith stated.
"The more relaxed and calm you are, the more relaxed and calm your womb will be, which is a wonderful thing for both you and baby. Hypnosis is a process of conditioning, so the more you listen, the more second nature the information in the recordings will become," she said, adding that even if you discover hypnosis a week before your due date, any amount of listening is infinitely better than none.
Fears around childbirth are intensified by all the stories we hear from people and see on TV, not to mention our own expectations about how the birth should go. These factors all add to heightened levels of stress and anxiety, which the hypnosis aims to help you overcome with peace, calm and a joyful, surrendered attitude, resulting in a "happy birthing day, come what may," Smith said.
"Fear causes constriction and tightening, neither of which are helpful when your baby is making their way down your birth canal. Deep relaxation, peace, and a connection to your breath and baby allow for the body to relax, loosen and open up," Smith added.
Hypnobirthing uses positive thoughts, visualizations and breathing techniques to help women achieve a deep state of relaxation, said Deborah Lee, M.B.Ch.B., a sexual and reproductive health specialist at Dr Fox, an online pharmacy in the United Kingdom. It can be practiced alone or with a partner during labor.
Does it work?
Hypnobirthing has its advantages and disadvantages. As a safe and natural technique, it aims for women to have a gentle and positive labor experience by staying confident and in control, with less pain and reduced need for pain relief. Additionally, the goals are shorter labor, increased positivity and better mental health after birth.
For the most effective use, the technique needs to be fully mastered, which requires time and commitment. Different hypnotherapy schools teach different techniques and terminology, Lee said, which might be confusing.
It's also important to remember that labor is different for everyone and events often unfold beyond your control.
Research on hypnobirthing
Women who used self-hypnosis required significantly less pain relief, were less likely to ask for an epidural and were more pleased with their pain control after birth than those who had not used this technique, according to a 2006 review of the Cochrane database that included 14 studies.
Another study conducted in 2011 grouped 520 women in their first pregnancy to receive usual care or usual care with additional prenatal hypnosis. Women in the hypnosis group had significantly better outcomes, the study stated.
Self-hypnosis during labor was more effective than standard medical, educational and supportive care in reducing pain, and also shortened the first stage of labor and resulted in better Apgar scores after the assessment of the newborn's condition, according to a 2011 literature review published in Clinical Psychology Review.
A 2013 Danish study, however, didn't have such favorable results. The study involved 1,222 women in their first pregnancy who were put into three groups: self-hypnosis, relaxation and usual care group. The study reported no difference in the outcomes between the three groups.
"It's always difficult to prove the success or failure of any specific medical intervention. Research techniques open themselves to criticism, and there will always be pros and cons," Lee concluded.
Some people view hypnobirthing as some kind of "quirky, modern, stage show," Lee said, but it has nothing to do with reality TV shows and the typical trance-like state. It's not brainwashing and doesn't put the mom-to-be into a deep sleep—she still functions completely normally.
"Even if complications happen in labor, hypnobirthing remains a useful technique. It can help both the woman and her partner stay calm when things are happening beyond their control," Lee said. "If a woman has had birth trauma in her previous labor, hypnobirthing can help her cope much better with the next labor and delivery."