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The Power of Birth Hypnosis (AKA Hypnobirthing)

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

When a woman experiences fear in Labour, their stress and tension increases, this is described as the Fear-Tension-Pain syndrome (Grantly Dick-Read, 1920). Since then, Obstetric care providers have observed that education and stress management strategies are effective in decreasing the level of subjective pain. Some women even report feeling no pain during their labours, as they have changed their perception of the sensation. Hypnosis has been used successfully for the management of pain sensations for centuries. There is a metaphorical ‘nerve gate’ in the base of your spine (dorsal horn) which collects information from nerve -endings and controls whether signals are communicated to the brain to be interpreted as pain. With hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) you can effectively close this gate, so sensations are not felt as painful, this has a whole variety of benefits, but none more so than the use of hypnosis in Childbirth.

There have been many studies to demonstrate the efficacy of hypnosis during childbirth, one of the most interesting articles to date has been a meta-analysis of these studies. “Hypnosis for Pain relief in Labour and Childbirth: A systematic review” (British Journal of Anaesthesia, 2004), the article states:

“This report represents the most comprehensive review of the literature to date on the use of hypnosis for analgesia during childbirth. The meta-analysis shows that hypnosis reduces analgesia requirements in labour. Apart from the analgesia and anaesthetic effects possible in receptive subjects, there are three other possible reasons why analgesic consumption during childbirth might be reduced when using hypnosis. First, teaching self-hypnosis facilitates patient autonomy and a sense of control. Secondly, the majority of patients are likely to be able to use hypnosis for relaxation, thus reducing apprehension that in turn may reduce analgesic requirements. Finally, the possible reduction in the need for pharmacological augmentation of labour when hypnosis is used for childbirth, may minimize the incidence of uterine hyperstimulation and the need for epidural analgesia”.

Using hypnosis during childbirth is not just pain relief however, it aims to give mothers the skills required to maintain and achieve calmness, relaxation and focus, before, during and after birth. The skills and visual techniques are similar to what athletes practice before a race or competition. It is not about distracting the mother, it’s about teaching her to internalise her thoughts and feelings and become in tune with her body and the birthing experience. Hypnosis does not involve being asleep or unable to remember what is occurring, you will not be unconscious, just deeply within your body and receptive and responsive to your own needs.

When your body is comfortably relaxed and prepared, the birth hormones will be in full swing, think Oxytocin! Oxytocin, aka the Love Hormone, is produced by your body when you are warm, safe, cosy and relaxed. You produce it when you’re in love, during breast-feeding , when making love and believe it or not, during childbirth! It’s the most important hormone during childbirth in fact, it’s the force behind every contraction, it works so well that women are often given a synthetic version of it to speed up (or start) their labour. Oxytocin likes dim lighting and a relaxed and intimate mood, so you can imagine why there may be issues producing it naturally in a hospital environment! When women are told they are “failing to progress”, or upon arriving at the hospital the contractions start to subside, this is why. Women need Oxytocin to labour effectively, adrenaline on the other hand is like the nemesis of it. Adrenaline will cause the Oxytocin (and parasympathetic system) to shut down – the stress response aka ‘fight or flight’ – which will stall labour and could even drag it out over several days. The main contributors to a happy and successful birth are: A relaxed mother who has learned self-hypnosis and is informed and in control, and a safe environment with a birthing partner who is trusted and present throughout the childbirth. These two factors will provide a calm and peaceful environment and increase the flow of that oh-so-important Oxytocin.

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