Hypnosis for Childbirth: HypnoBirthing and HypnoEpidural

Hypnosis for childbirth has garnered a lot of attention in recent years and even has a celebrity following with the likes of Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian reportedly using the techniques to make their experiences easier.

If you’re pregnant and worried about giving birth, you might have wondered if the techniques would work for you.

Fear causes pain

Forget the image of a hypnotherapist waving a clock and taking control of your mind. “The definition of hypnosis is relaxation plus focus,” said Cynthia Overgard, founder of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, a prenatal education center in Westport.  Just like yoga requires relaxation and deep breathing during a physically challenging moment, hypnosis can do the same for the pregnant mom.

HypnoBirthing, a specific hypnosis method and program, is based on the idea that fear and tension will cause pain. When a woman is in labor, oxytocin—an endorphin known as the feel-good, love hormone—not only produces contractions but can help the mother to have a safe, comfortable birth.

“Where birth ends up getting complicated for humans is that women often don’t feel 100 percent safe, trusting and relaxed,”

And when that happens, a woman’s body stops producing oxytocin.  Adrenaline starts to rise, and it redirects blood flow away from the cervix and the uterus into the arms and legs. The result is a flight or fight response, which can make a woman feel anxious, fearful, and even prevent her cervix from dilating and slow down labor.

“Adrenaline or fear, literally (and) physically, turns off labor,” Overgard said. “This goes way beyond just positive thinking. This really comes down to the chemical hormones. It’s a total, pure science.”

How hypnosis can help

HypnoBirthing uses tools like deep breathing, visualization and relaxation techniques that can help the woman maintain a calm body and mind. During labor, she might dim the lights, keep the room quiet and play relaxing music. 

Another major component of the program is listening to guided relaxation, which is an intentional way to practice hypnosis and condition the mind and body to be calm and relaxed. Mothers also listen to birth affirmations which can make them feel confident in their ability to give birth. 

“Your subconscious mind is hearing messages that bypass the conscious mind, and they change the beliefs in your mind,” Overgard said.

Word choice is important

Another focus of hypnosis is on the words used before and during labor and delivery. “The words we say and the words we hear have a direct impact on the physiology of our body,” Overgard said. In fact, when reassuring words are used as women were administered a local anesthetic, they experienced less pain, according to a study in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

There are subtle ways that you can change the words that are used that can really change that whole experience,” said Dr. William Camann, co-author of the study and director of obstetric anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. For example, in HypnoBirthing, “sensation” is used instead of “pain” and “surge” instead of “contraction.”

Does it really work?

According to the HypnoBirthing Institute, mothers who used the method were less likely to have cesarean sections, interventions and pre-term babies.

Yet measuring how effective hypnosis is really depends on your goals, especially because childbirth can be so unpredictable. So if your hope is to use hypnosis to try to avoid an epidural but end up getting it anyway, “you could be very disappointed. Plus, if you use hypnosis, it doesn’t mean you can’t also have a doula or get an epidural. “Many of the different methods of labor pain relief are compatible with each other.

“The goal of HypnoBirthing is not natural birth,” Overgard said. “The goal is to be calm and in control.”

HypnoEpidural vs. HypnoBirthing

HypnoBirthing utilizes tools like deep breathing, visualization and relaxation techniques

HypnoEpidural requires the services of a clinical hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapist will do minimum of five hypnotic sessions prior to birth. Hypnotic suggestions are placed in the subconscious to simulate the feeling and effects of anesthesia and/or an epidural. Potential fears, birth preconceptions and misconceptions and existing and potential relationship issues are addressed during the sessions. The tools learned during the sessions are utilized during pregnancy and childbirth.

HypnoBirthing is complementary to and often used with the HypnoEpidural.

The Birth Whisperer Utilizes the HypnoEpidural Technique and HypnoBirthing Method

Cynthia Marie, is a clinical hypnotherapist who works with expecting mothers throughout their pregnancies. Through hypnosis, clients have experienced shorter labors and a significant reduction in pain. In addition to relaxation techniques and visualization, she uses the hypno-epidural technique to simulate what an epidural would feel like. And instead of using the word “pain,” she talks about allowing your body to become focused, calm and relaxed,”.

Hypnotic techniques, suggestions, and breathing methods have been used for birthing for many generations and entered the mainstream. However, the common understanding is that it is beneficial for those who don’t want to take the risk of pain medications affecting the baby.

During the last 10 years several comprehensive studies have shown a number of additional benefits. A review published in the British Journal of Anesthesia in 2007 explained that it decreased the need for analgesia and anesthesia provided the mother with a greater sense of autonomy and control. The ability to relax, reduced fear and apprehension, enabling more awareness of the process, while diminishing the experience of pain.

Other studies have shown a decrease in complications related to the birth, fewer nights in the hospital, an average of 3 hours shorter time in labor, and an absence of postpartum depression. Due to the shorter hospital visits,  reduced need for anesthesia, and less complications.

Recordings of each session are taken for practice at home, via phone or Skype session. The HypnoEpidural is most effective when practiced often and it is similar to practicing in instrument. Three to six sessions are recorded and given to the client to listen to during the pregnancy and for use during the labor and birthing process. Clients are also given an extra recording recorded by the Birth Whisperer to bring to the hospital in case an emergency cesarean is necessary.

For a first pregnancy, the initial session should be scheduled at week 30-33. This will give you plenty of time for practice, since the average first pregnancy is 40 weeks. Terms are often shorter for subsequent pregancies, so it’s best to start around week 28. With twins, you should start at week 25. If you are past these dates and wish to utilize the HypnoEpidural for pain-free and joyous childbirth and labor…still inquire with the Birth Whisperer, and she will do her best to make this goal a reality.