How does hypnosis for birth 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. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings but not let them control us.

We’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. 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 birthing is not physically demanding. It is. But it is also natural. Because we’ve been conditioned to expect pain and view birth as a medical procedure, anxiety and fear can be amplified, which in turn can intensify pain in the delivery room.

So, how then can something like hypnosis ease pain? How can hypnosis help us feel calm and collected in the delivery room?

To answer that question, it’s important to define hypnosis.

Hypnosis is a state of heightened relaxation in mind and body. It’s similar, in a sense, to what you feel during deep meditation. Yet, there’s a key difference: During hypnosis, the mind becomes much more receptive to suggestion. (For a more in-depth comparison between the two, watch Grace’s Q&A on the topic.)

Hypnobirthing empowers expecting mothers to use positive, calming suggestions during labor to help reduce anxiety, relax the body and decrease awareness of pain. The result is a gentler, calmer, more joyous, and possibly more comfortable, easier labor.

What Hypnosis Is and What It’s Not…

Many people think, mistakenly, that hypnosis causes us to lose control; as though, once you’re in a trance, the hypnotist has complete control over our actions This simply isn’t the case.

Nevertheless, you’ve likely seen a depiction or two like this before on TV. It starts with a person concentrating on a swinging watch and being told they feel sleepy, very sleepy…

In reality, hypnosis is empowering. Although the word hypnosis is derived from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep – and yes, many people are so relaxed they fall asleep during hypnosis – but usually, people are very much awake. Yet, there is a sense of ease and letting go that is reminiscent of sleep.

Practitioners have been using hypnosis for centuries to help people. These days, hypnosis can address everything from sugar addiction and quitting smoking to weight loss and easing first trimester symptoms.

So, how exactly does hypnosis help us achieve specific goals?

Well, the deep state of relaxation we reach during hypnosis allows us to reframe thoughts because the mind is so open to suggestions. It’s a state of deep relaxation and deep concentration, and when we relax and concentrate the mind, we can reprogram the subconscious with positive, more helpful suggestions. In effect, we’re overriding the automatic, often negative patterns of thought that the subconscious has learned to believe.

With childbirth, as mentioned, we’ve been taught to expect pain and suffering in the delivery room. And as the due date nears, our expectations can turn to anxiety and fear. Using hypnosis, we can reframe these thoughts prior to and during labor, helping to soothe the body and mind. Hypnosis helps us replace our fears about childbirth with positive thoughts and actions.

How Hypnosis During Labor Works

So, you might be wondering: I won’t have a hypnotherapist in the delivery room with me. How can I even be hypnotized?

Hypnosis for birth uses a few techniques – namely, self-hypnosis, deep breathing and visualization.

Self-hypnosis is essentially achieving a state of relaxation by yourself. You’ll use a script and breathing techniques to help the body and mind relax and l go deeper and deeper into a state of hypnosis.

You remain aware and totally in control of your thoughts and body throughout the experience. It’s a lot like daydreaming, or getting caught up in a good book. You’re hyper-focused.

Once you reach this natural state, you can begin reciting hypnoaffirmations, silently or aloud, to provide your subconscious with positive suggestions to  promote relaxation during all three stages of labor. These suggestions can have a powerful effect on how the body reacts.

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.

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.

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.

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 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?

Researchers have long examined the medical benefits of hypnosis. And there’s a significant amount of evidence that shows a range of benefits, including:

  • Less reliance on pain medication
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Improved pain tolerance
  • More positive experiences
  • Fewer surgical interventions

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.