Overview: How does hypnosis for childbirth work? Can hypnosis really help reduce pain during delivery?
For many expecting mothers, as their due dates near, anxiety and worry about labor increases. This is completely natural. However, it becomes problematic when this anxiety and worry controls you.
Know you aren't alone. In fact, we’ve been conditioned to expect the worst in the delivery room.
Every sensationalized depiction of labor on TV and film makes delivery seem excruciatingly painful. The delivery room – on TV, at least – feels intense, cold, depressing, and scary. And you’ve probably heard some horror stories from friends and family.
That’s not to say childbirth is not physically demanding. It is. But it is also natural.
Our conditioning to expect pain amplifies anxiety.
Hypnosis offers a solution. By practicing hypnosis during labor, we can bring a sense of calm and focus into the delivery room. We can reduce tension and anxiety, and focus our attention away from the pain.
These are some of the reasons hypnosis for childbirth results in: shorter hospital stays, improved pain tolerance, more positive memories from the delivery room, fewer epidurals and pain meditations and fewer surgical interventions.
What Hypnosis Is and What It’s Not…
Hypnosis is empowering. We like to say it's meditation with a goal.
The reason: Hypnosis allows us to reach a deeply relaxed, calm, and focused state of mind, similar to meditation. However, once we reach this state, we can use positive suggestions, affirmations, and visualization to reduce fear and anxiety.
Therefore, hypnosis offers support in two key ways to expecting mothers:
- During Pregnancy – Practicing hypnosis during pregnancy can help reduce feelings of anxiety and expectations of pain. You can work to remove your fears, before you get to the delivery room.
- During Labor – Using hypnosis and visualization in the delivery room can help you remain calm, free of anxiety, and focused on your breathing. Similarly, you can use this to focus your attention away from pain.
Why does hypnotherapy work?
The relaxed state of hypnosis alters the way our brains process information. Our critical, conscious mind turns off. And we open a direct line of communication with the subconscious.
The subconscious holds our beliefs, expectations, fears, anxieties, triggers, and attachments, and during hypnosis, the subconscious is very open to new information.
Therefore, we can provide suggestions to help the subconscious form new ways to respond to stimuli. For example, if you have anxiety leading up to your due date, hypnosis can help you identify the “why”, and then provide positive suggestions to help reframe this anxiety.
You might assure your subconscious that “childbirth is natural, safe, and that you will have a positive experience.”
Learn more about hypnosis during child birth:
How Hypnosis During Labor Works
Once you reach this natural state, you can begin reciting hypnoaffirmations, silently or aloud, to provide your subconscious with positive suggestions to promote relaxation throughout labor.
Specifically, hypnosis helps you:
1. Reframe Negative Thoughts
Many expecting mothers feel anxious and fearful at the hospital. In our current society, the subconscious often associates childbirth with uncontrollable pain. But it doesn’t have to be like this – you can have a conscious, empowered childbirth experience, with the help of hypnosis.
We can use hypnosis to reframe these negative associations and replace them with happier, healthier patterns of thought. For example, we might teach the mind to view childbirth as a joyous, happy, even spiritual experience. By transforming negative associations with childbirth into a healthy approach, mothers can diffuse and uproot anxiety in the months and weeks leading up to their due dates.
2. Relax the Body and Mind
During labor, stress and anxiety cause the muscles to contract and the body to release stress hormones and adrenaline. Our bodies have a natural reaction to these hormones, which can cause the labor to be more strenuous, and even more painful.
Hypnosis allows us to relax both the mind and body. Using hypnosis, we can reduce anxiety (helping to limit the release of stress hormones and adrenaline) and reduce tension by relaxing the body.
It is more than possible to give birth with comfort and without fear. A woman’s body knows how to give birth, and hypnosis helps us trust that.
3. Manage Emotions
Our emotions affect our perceptions of pain. Stronger emotions are associated with more intense pain; therefore, by remaining calm and peaceful in our thoughts, we have more control over our emotions and, consequently, our perception of pain.
Hypnosis also helps us feel safer and limits the emotions of fear, panic, and anxiety. The result: Mothers feel confidence during labor; they feel in control and present for the birth.
This is so important because a mother’s emotions directly affect her baby. Her thoughts convey information to the child in her womb. In other words, emotional security begins in utero.
4. Focus Attention Away from Pain
Hypnosis can also help us to reduce the awareness of pain. How exactly? The state of heightened awareness and focus enables us to direct and alter our thoughts. With pain, often we focus on the sensation, which unfortunately, intensifies what we feel.
Why not focus on bringing our babies into the word in a calm, joyful, loving manner instead?
Using hypnosis, we have more control over our thoughts, and can therefore guide the mind to pay less attention to the sensation. We can choose to relax and be compassionate towards ourselves. There are many techniques for achieving this – focusing on a happy visualization, for example – which can help us limit our perception of pain.
Overcoming the “Fight or Flight” Response
Our bodies want to protect us during stressful or scary times. And they have a pretty nifty way of doing that. It’s called the “fight or flight” response.
Here’s how it works: When we feel anxiety and fear, the fight or flight response kicks into action. The body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which slow blood flow, contract the muscles, and increase the heart rate.
And the more stress you experience, the greater the response.
For pregnancy, the cycle could look like this:
- During labor, fear, anxiety and stress trigger the release of cortisol and adrenaline
- The muscles tense up, the heart speeds up and the blood stops flowing freely
- Tense muscles make it more difficult for the uterus to open, and adrenaline can slow or even stop labor
- As a result, labor slows down, becomes more stressful and pain intensifies
Thankfully, healthy thinking has a positive impact that is as, if not more, powerful. Birthing hypnosis techniques allow us to relax the mind – this reduces the amount of cortisol and adrenaline the body produces – and relax the body, which helps to make for a smoother delivery. In fact, research has shown that using hypnosis for labor can lead to faster deliveries, fewer complications, and less pain.
Benefits of Hypnosis for Labor and Pregnancy
The calming effect that hypnosis has offers many benefits to expecting mothers and their babies, both emotionally and physically.
Many mothers who use hypnosis during labor, for example, say that, overall, they have a more positive experience in the delivery room. Stress and anxiety can make delivery a painful memory. But with hypnosis, mothers feel more in control, calmer and/or present during birthing. Hypnosis helps them create a positive memory.
Yet, this is just one of many potential benefits. Hypnosis can also provide:
- Gentler Birthing: Because it helps relax body and mind, and reduces stress, hypnosis can make labor more comfortable, less painful and shorter. This is one of the most common reasons mothers turn to hypnosis during labor.
- Less Reliance on Medicine: Many mothers choose hypnosis because it reduces the need for pain medication and epidurals during labor. Plus, hypnosis can help reduce pain, without side effects. Yet, although hypnosis can be a powerful analgesic, many mothers still use pain medication along with hypnosis.
- Reduced Pain: Advanced hypnosis like distraction (in which you refocus your attention away from pain) and numbing (in which you visualize numbness in the body) are two of the most common techniques used to reduce pain.
Does Hypnobirthing Work? A Review of Research
Here’s a look at the some of the research into hypnosis for birth, showing many different benefits.
Fewer Epidurals. A recent 2016 study showed a positive effect of pre-labor education in relaxation, breathing and other techniques greatly reduced interventions. For example, just 23% of the group that received pre-labor education required an epidural. The standard care group? Nearly 70%. The study also showed the education group had fewer caesarean births.
Improved Pain Perceptions. One of the earliest studies, conducted in 1968, examined the effect of hypnosis on perceptions of labor pain. The results: Mothers who utilized hypnosis felt more comfortable late in labor, required less pain medication, and rated their experiences as less painful.
Shorter Labors. In 1990, researchers found that hypnosis resulted in a shorter first stage of labor (by almost 3 hours!), improved pain tolerance, more spontaneous deliveries, and better newborn health scores. The same study found that women highly susceptible to hypnosis also experienced lower depression after birth.
Less Time in the Hospital. Hypnosis has also been associated with shorter hospital stays. For example, a 2001 study showed that women practicing hypnobirthing spend less time in the hospital after birth, as well as required fewer surgical interventions.
Less Reliance on Pain Medication. A 1993 study showed that hypnosis led to more births without analgesia and decreased labor times in the first and second stage of labor.
Learning About Hypnosis for Childbirth
Whether you’re a few weeks from your due date, or your due date is eight months away, you can start planning to use hypnosis for birth. Here’s how you can get started.
You have a few options: Books, 1-on-1 sessions with a certified hypnotherapist, and hypnosis for birthing classes. All of these methods can help you learn the techniques you will use in the delivery room.
- Can I Teach Myself? Yes, you can teach yourself hypnosis. Self-hypnosis works by reading examples and following scripts to reach a state of hypnosis.
- How Do I Learn Self-Hypnosis? Self-hypnosis is best learned through practice. Check out Grace’s video to learn how to easily reach a deeply relaxed state of mind. Once you have a script to follow, you can try self-hypnosis in the comfort of your home!
- What Can I Do to Prepare? Hypnosis for birth programs encourage you to practice and prepare weeks prior to your due date, but it’s never too late to start. You’ll learn helpful techniques to use in the delivery room, and you can create a unique plan for your birth.
Start preparing yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by embarking on your journey with hypnosis for childbirth today. Grace Space offers a variety of resources and techniques to practice hypnosis on your own Plus, you’ll have access to a private support community to help you along the way. You can have a healthy, comfortable childbirth, and we’re here to help.