The HypnoBirthing Technique: Everything You Need to Know

HypnoBirthing teaches self-hypnosis to combat fear and pain during labor. Learn more about the childbirth pain management method and decide whether it’s right for you.

While pregnancy, delivery, and becoming a parent are something many people look forward to, the actual process of giving birth can bring on different emotions, including fear of how painful it might be. Fortunately, there are many different options for pain management during birth, from choosing an epidural to pain medication through your IV to positional relief and water therapy. And one method couples may choose even combines visualization and relaxation to help a birthing parent through discomfort: Enter HypnoBirthing.

woman being hypnotized

What is HypnoBirthing?

Created by Marie "Mickey" Mongan, M.Ed., M.Hy., a highly awarded hypnotherapist, and Harvard University Ford Foundation fellow, this view of childbirth pain management combines practiced deep breathing, visualization, prompts from their partners, and labor comfort measures. The belief is that in preparing ahead of birth, laboring people can train their brains to elicit a deep relaxation response on demand.

Instead of describing their feelings during labor as painful, people who use HypnoBirthing often describe the experience as feeling pressure. They may also use different words, such as "surges" or "waves" to describe the sensations, instead of contractions. At the core, yes—it's mind over matter, and thousands of people have proven it works. Want to see for yourself? Check out some YouTube videos.

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, the use of hypnosis helps laboring people 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 pregnant person in labor can bring their 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.

HypnoBirthing Techniques

The process of HypnoBirthing is based on the power of suggestion. The laboring person uses positive affirmations, suggestions, and visualizations to relax their body, guide their thoughts, and control breathing. This can be done through self-hypnosis or by receiving assistance from a hypnotherapist.

Sometimes people interested in utilizing this method will 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 individual. 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 an intervention-free 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, a parent or parents can still use the relaxation and comfort techniques that HypnoBirthing teaches to stay calm and present during a time that may become emotionally difficult.

For heterogeneous couples, Wildner comments she sees different strengths HynpoBirthing is able to draw out: "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 herself 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."

Here are some of the other benefits of HypnoBirthing:

  • It's a medication-free form of pain management with no potential side effects.
  • It can provide comfort, relaxation, and relief during labor.
  • It can decrease stress and fear during childbirth.
  • It can help support the 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," 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, a fact supported by a 2019 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology that found a higher rate of postpartum mood disorders in people who reported having a traumatic birth.

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 they understand 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.

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