The HypnoBirthing Technique: Everything You Need to Know
HypnoBirthing teaches self-hypnosis to combat fear and pain during labor. Learn more about the natural childbirth method and decide whether it’s right for you.
Having a baby is one of life's greatest gifts, and the ability to create, nurture, and eventually birth a brand new human being is nothing short of a miracle. Yet, when many women think about the actual process of giving birth, fear of pain (and how to avoid it) is at the forefront of their minds. Healthcare providers may be quick to offer drugs for pain relief or to take the edge off. But for expectant moms who prefer the natural route, there is another way, and the involvement of pain is not necessarily a given. Enter HypnoBirthing.
What is HypnoBirthing?
Created by Marie "Mickey" Mongan, M.Ed., M.Hy., a highly awarded hypnotherapist and Harvard University Ford Foundation fellow, this gentle view of childbirth takes the stance that both Mom’s and Baby's bodies were made to do this, and they work together in harmony. Through practiced deep breathing, visualization, prompts from their partners, and labor comfort measures, mothers can train their brain to elicit a deep relaxation response on demand.
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Instead of feeling pain, HypnoBirthing mothers often describe the experience as feeling pressure and use the word "surges" or "waves" instead of contractions. At the core, yes—it's mind over matter, and thousands of women have proven it works. Want to see for yourself? Check out some YouTube videos here.
How Does HypnoBirthing Work?
The HypnoBirthing method is based on the work of Grantly Dick-Read, M.D., the English obstetrician who wrote Childbirth Without Fear in 1944. According to Dr. Dick-Read, use of hypnosis helps laboring women break what he termed the "Fear-Tension-Pain syndrome" which makes labor more difficult. He believed the syndrome actually caused blood to flow away from nonessential organs such as the uterus to large muscle groups in the legs. He theorized that relaxation achieved through hypnosis would prevent that from happening.
Mongan says that with the aid of hypnosis, a woman can bring her body into a state of deep relaxation in which the muscles can work the way they're meant to during childbirth. She says it feels similar to daydreaming, or the feeling you get when you are lost in a book or movie. People who've used this technique report feeling relaxed, calm, aware, and in control.
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The process of HypnoBirthing is based on the power of suggestion. The laboring woman uses positive affirmations, suggestions, and visualizations to relax her body, guide her thoughts, and control her breathing. She can either do this herself (self-hypnosis) or receive assistance from a hypnotherapist.
Sometimes women work with a certified hypnotherapist to learn self-hypnosis. They often play a tape of verbal affirmations that help them enter a calm state of self-hypnosis. Alternately, they might use a visualization—such as a flower opening its petals—to picture what's happening to them and achieve relaxation.
A hypnotherapist may or may not be present during the birth, depending on the needs of the laboring woman. For some people, self-hypnosis is easy to achieve, while others respond better to the assistance of a therapist.
The Benefits of HypnoBirthing
Kristen Olberz, R.N., C.H., H.B.C.E., is a labor and delivery nurse at Portland Providence Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, and a certified HypnoBirthing educator. Out of the more than 1,500 births she has witnessed, approximately 300 have been HypnoBirths. Olberz was drawn to this particular method because "It supports moms being okay with what's going on during labor, being fully supported by staff and loved ones, feeling safe and empowered." The experience of birth is raw and sacred, says Olberz, and those aspects cannot be fully realized and appreciated when terror and chaos dominate.
The main difference Olberz notes with families who choose HypnoBirthing over other methods: "They enter labor with tangible tools and working knowledge of what their body can do. Even when things take a turn (and natural birth isn't possible), my wish is that they feel prepared and able to meet those turns with grace." In other words, if a medical intervention does become necessary, mom and dad can still use the relaxation and comfort techniques that HypnoBirthing teaches to stay calm and present during a time that may become emotionally difficult.
"The mothers tend to exude a quiet strength," says Kim Wildner, a certified HynoBirthing educator in Appleton and Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin, and author of Mother's Intention: How Belief Shapes Birth (Intuitu LLC, Second Edition 2012). "The fathers tend to provide loving support that creates quite an intimate and relaxed birthing experience." Wildner sought out HypnoBirthing certification after seeing a TV segment on it. "I had been teaching childbirth classes for almost 10 years; however, I was not seeing the types of relaxed, more comfortable births that I saw in the video. Once I learned more about the mind/body connection, I began seeing those types of births as well, and my entire birthing paradigm shifted."
Both Olberz and Wildner describe babies born with this method as wide-eyed, present, and more calm in general. "They look like they're ready to be here with their families," says Olberz.
Here are some of the other benefits of HypnoBirthing:
- It's a natural form of pain management. There are no medications with potential side effects for you or baby.
- It can provide comfort, relaxation, and relief during labor.
- It can decrease stress and fear during childbirth.
- It allows you to remain alert and awake.
- It creates a better postpartum experience: "If a woman feels that she made her own best decisions for her particular circumstance, no matter how the birth then plays out, she has an easier postpartum period. If her baby is more easygoing and nurses better, which HypnoBirthing babies tend to be and do, it makes it easier on mom and dad! When a mother-baby is immersed in the ecstatic birthing hormones that nature provided, it seems easier for everyone, and moms seem transformed and empowered," says Wildner. Olberz adds that if a woman has a birth experience where she felt heard and supported, she's less likely to have postpartum depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Disputing HypnoBirthing Myths
Despite the common misconceptions about hypnosis, HypnoBirthing has nothing to do with a swinging pocket watch and a shady stage show. Here are some common myths about HypnoBirthing that you shouldn’t believe.
- Hypnosis is a form of mind control or brainwashing.
- Hypnosis puts you in a deep sleep.
- A person who's been hypnotized has no free will.
- You can't perform usual tasks and functions if you're hypnotized.
- You're unaware of what's going on around you when you're hypnotized.
How to Get Started with HypnoBirthing
If you’re interested in HypnoBirthing, ask your family doctor or obstetrician for a referral to a trained practitioner. Contact your hospital or birthing center to ask if they've had HypnoBirths and if they can provide you with a list of hypnotherapists specializing in childbirth. Once you've found a few practitioners, ask for patient referrals and follow up. Share your birth plan with your hypnotherapist so she understands what you envision for your birthing experience.
Even if you meditate or already think you have a handle on self-hypnosis, it's highly recommended that you take HypnoBirthing classes. If time and money prohibit that, you can read a HypnoBirthing book, such as HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method or take a HypnoBirthing online class, such as Hypnobabies Home-Study Course for Expectant Mothers.