Classes like HypnoBirthing and HypnoBabies promise an alternative to relieving labor pain, teaching women to use hypnotic techniques to make the experience of childbirth relaxed, meditative, and positive. But how does hypnosis work and is it effective for labor pain?
What is hypnosis?
When you think of hypnosis, you may picture a hypnotist swinging a pocket watch saying, “You are getting sleepy,” or possibly making you cluck like a chicken. In reality, hypnosis is quite different. When used in labor, the technique is typically self-induced and involves entering a state of deep relaxation coupled with intense concentration.
Some practitioners of hypnosis liken it to everyday experiences such as being engrossed in a book or being lost in thought. You are intensely focused on a thought or feeling of your choice, and less aware of your immediate surroundings.
How does hypnosis help with labor?
HypnoBirthing and HypnoBabies, trademarked childbirth preparation programs, are built on the premise that our culture is fearful of childbirth and that approaching the experience with fear actually makes it more physically painful. The idea is that fear triggers the “fight or flight” response, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing pain and potentially impeding the progress of labor.
Both programs offer classes that help “deprogram” negative thoughts related to labor and teach you specific techniques, such as specialized relaxing breathing, guided visualization, and focusing on positive, affirming thoughts.
What hypnotherapy techniques are used in labor?
Three techniques are commonly used during labor:
- “Glove anesthesia” involves imagining that your hand is numb and can remove sensation when it touches other body parts.
- “Time distortion” helps you experience the rest periods between contractions as longer and the time during contractions as shorter.
- “Imaginative transformation” helps you perceive your contractions as non-painful sensations or surges of energy.
Does hypnosis work?
More research is needed, but some studies have found that women practicing hypnosis during labor are less likely to request pharmacologic pain relief. Other research has linked hypnosis with a lower perception of pain during labor, shorter labors, and better Apgar scores, a system of assessing a newborn’s health.
While these studies are encouraging, it’s important to note that testing the effectiveness of hypnosis is challenging. Random, controlled studies are the gold standard in medicine, but women generally can’t be randomly assigned to a hypnosis group or non-hypnosis group in labor since techniques must be learned during pregnancy and require regular practice and motivation. Therefore, it’s possible that women who choose to practice hypnosis would be less likely to choose pharmacologic pain relief regardless.
Where can I learn more?
Interested in how hypnosis can be used to treat other conditions? One Medical Group’s Kevin Fell, MD, discusses the benefits of hypnosis and how he incorporates hypnotherapy into his practice.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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