Hypnosis in the Delivery Room

From the WebMD Archives

It isn't for every woman, but "hypnobirthing" certainly has its fans, including Carla Breakey, a 38-year-old home business owner from Idaho. And rave reviews from women like Breakey are helping this method of natural childbirth grow in popularity around the globe.

Breakey used hypnobirthing for two of her three children. Hypnobirthing teaches women how to hypnotize themselves to manage their labor, helping them to relax and let their bodies take over. The theory is that, in the absence of fear and tension, severe pain does not have to accompany labor. In this calm state, endorphins -- naturally occurring chemicals in the body that can relieve pain -- replace the stress hormones that contribute to pain, proponents say.

"I enjoyed the experience a lot more and was a lot more present when I used hypnobirthing," Breakey tells WebMD. For her first child, Breakey had a standard hospital birth with an epidural. That time, she says, "I felt like I was fighting the labor, and after the epidural was administered, I couldn't feel anything, which was scary."

That's why she, along with her husband, Jeff, decided to try hypnobirthing for their second child. "I was very skeptical the first time, but the experience was unbelievable. I was relaxed, and it really does help with the pain," she says. "With hypnobirthing, I felt confident, and when the contractions would come, they weren't scary at all."

And although some experts warn that undergoing any type of drug-free childbirth requires a high level of determination and commitment, proponents say hypnobirthing really can help ease women's fears about the birth process.

"Hypnobirthing is a childbirth process that includes a major focus on many of the techniques used in hypnotherapy to relieve fear," Pat Burrell, RN, a hypnobirthing therapist based in State College, Pa., tells WebMD. "It integrates factual information on the childbirth process along with hypnosis." Burrell is also an instructor with the American Board of Hypnotherapy and an executive board member of the Hypnobirthing Institute in Epsom, N.H.

"Other childbirth processes approach pain as a given and try to find ways to deal with pain, from medication to massage, but hypnobirthing teaches women to transform the sensation of pain so that it feels like something else," she says. "The healthiest way to deliver a baby is to be very relaxed and allow the body to do it. Once labor begins, it has its own momentum and mom really doesn't need to do much of anything."

Hypnobirthing can also be used along with other birthing processes ranging from Lamaze to pain-killing drugs, Burrell says.

Couples learn the technique by taking between four and six classes, starting after the first trimester of pregnancy. "The partner is the hypnotherapist and helps the woman get into a trance-like state, where she is fully conscious of what her body is doing," Burrell explains. "She is very relaxed, which provides a safe and healthy environment for the baby and the mom."

Burrell says hypnobirthing creates a strong bond between the couple as well as between the mother and her baby.

The cost varies across the country, and many insurance companies do reimburse for hypnobirthing classes, she says.

Debbie Wagner, a clinical hypnotherapist in Bellevue, Wash., has taught hypnobirthing to hundreds of expectant mothers since the early 1990s."I have had great success with it," she tells WebMD. "Many women have told me that they had a sense of control that wasn't present [in previous births] after using hypnobirthing."

But some experts warn that hypnotism may not be enough to help everyone endure the powerful pains of labor. Yvonne Thornton, MD, PhD, a senior perinatologist at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, says she would counsel women to think long and hard before they decide to try hypnobirthing or any other method of drug-free delivery.

"If you really want to have a drug-free birth, you have to be committed to the program or technique because if you are not really committed, it's a farce," she tells WebMD. "Some people have a fairy-tale idea about the true nature of labor, but it is painful. It is one of the most painful crisises that the woman has to endure."

For more information on hypnobirthing, call the HypnoBirthing Institute at (603) 798-3286.