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Hypnobirthing: How Does It Work?

Kate Middleton said she used hypnobirthing techniques to get through labor, and she 'really quite enjoyed it'.

Hypnobirthing is a form of clinical hypnosis—also called hypnotherapy—that can be used during childbirth to help relieve anxiety, fear, and pain.

There are many forms of hypnosis, but hypnobirthing uses a specific program led by trained healthcare professionals. This overview will detail how hypnobirthing works.

Hypnobirthing is often used as a general term to describe childbirth that occurs in a state of hypnosis, or extreme relaxation. While the term itself was coined with the creation of one specific program, there are two main types of hypnotherapy for childbirth that are popular today.

HypnoBirthing

HypnoBirthing was developed in the 1980s by Marie F. Mongan. Mongan was an educator and hypnotherapist whose goal was to make natural childbirth more accessible and enjoyable. 

Hypnobabies

This is a program that was built in the late 1990s based off a program by Gerald Kein called The Complete Painless Childbirth Program. Kein is a hypnotist and founder of the Omni Hypnosis Training Center. His program is the basis of Hypnobabies, founded by Kerry Tuschhoff to take the idea of hypnobirthing a step further than the Mongan Method.

With the Hypnobabies program, the goal is to achieve a much deeper state of hypnosis that claims to be so powerful that it can mimic the effects of anesthesia in some people.

While these two types of hypnobirthing have their differences, the overall goal of each is the same—to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain for a more enjoyable and peaceful natural delivery.

Prenatal Conditioning

Hypnotherapy for childbirth begins during pregnancy, with a reframing of the entire delivery process. Instead of focusing on negative aspects of delivery like pain and danger, parents are educated on the mechanics of birth using more positive terms. For example, “labor pains” may be replaced with “uterine surges” to help parents understand the labor process in a nonthreatening way

Body awareness is another key component of these programs during pregnancy. Hypnotherapy programs focus on changing the mindset of delivery from a painful process to a joyful experience. Increased body awareness is also important, and helps the parents feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment during labor.

Some studies suggest that conditioning mothers to enter a state of calm relaxation when labor begins can help reduce the release of certain neurotransmitters and improve the strength and effectiveness of the work the uterus does during labor.

The next key element in hypnotherapy for childbirth is the actual process of hypnosis. There are several levels of hypnosis, and each of them results in varying degrees of pain relief, (referredt oas hypnoanalgesia).

Hypnoanalgesia is achieved by training the mind to temporarily loosen connections to sensation in a particular part of the body. Usually, this involves taking the pain response associated with uterine muscle contractions and assigning them to other areas of the body with a technique called focused reappraisal.

An example of this would be reconditioning the belief that uterine contractions are painful by considering that other muscle contractions—like in the biceps—are not painful. The focus then becomes on appreciating the muscle contractions as a means to achieve the desired goal of the birth of a baby.

Support

A final key element in hypnotherapy during childbirth is the presence of a trusted support person. This person—usually a family member, intimate partner, or doula—is trained in the hypnotherapy process as well. They act as a guide along the process, as well as a source of comfort and support.

Research suggests that a support person helps the laboring person feel protected and safe, allowing them to reach a deeper state of hypnosis.

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