Q. I've heard that you can be hypnotized to make labor less painful. Is that really possible?
A. Silly television stunts and stage acts in which hypnotists wave pendants and command people to moo like cows or eat ice cream out of their shoes have given hypnosis a bad rap. In fact, hypnosis--also called hypnotherapy--is a respectable tool for overcoming fears and pain. The American Medical Association has approved of hypnosis as a medical intervention since 1958, and hypnotherapy is now used to conquer everything from smoking to migraine headaches. Hypnosis has been used routinely in many countries for more than 50 years to help women manage childbirth pain. It's now catching on in the United States as well. Many hospitals and birth centers now offer classes in "hypnobirthing," the term used to describe hypnosis during pregnancy and childbirth. Hypnobirthing helps women alter their conditioned or learned reflexes to pain.
How does it work? Basically, hypnobirthing teaches pregnant women how to achieve a state of focused relaxation so they can take advantage of the human body's natural ability to anesthetize itself against pain. This meditative trance isn't that different from what you experience if you do yoga or if you practice the breathing techniques taught in some childbirth classes. About a quarter of women who try hypnosis say they suffer no pain at all during childbirth. Some researchers believe it's effective because, in a hypnotic state, the part of the brain that controls concentration is able to direct other areas of the brain to reduce or eliminate awareness of pain. In other words, if your brain isn't paying attention to what hurts, then you won't feel it. Researchers liken this to the ability some people have to study or read when there's a lot of noise and commotion around them.
If you want to add hypnosis to that bag of tricks you're planning to bring to the birth, sign up for a hypnobirthing class at your local hospital or find a certified private practitioner. Ideally, you should start learning hypnosis techniques several weeks before your due date to give you time to master them. You can find a hypnotist through the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (630-980-4740; www.asch.net) or the American Psychotherapy & Medical Hypnosis Association (www.apmha.com).
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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