By Matthias Muenzer, M.D.
Ob/Gyn and Women’s Health in Medford & Melrose, MA
I often see women who are worried about giving birth. Friends and relatives tell them stories about labor that drags on and on for hours, with almost unbearable pain.
There’s no way around it: Labor and delivery can be painful. However, it doesn’t have to be unbearable. We most commonly treat this pain with epidural anesthesia – an injection that relieves pain in the back and lower body. I would estimate three of four of my patients get an epidural during labor.
If you don’t want an epidural (or other pain relief options like morphine), the prospect of hypnobirthing might sound attractive to you. Many women in our area are interested in hypnobirthing – in fact, hundreds of people search for information on it on the web each month in Massachusetts.
What is hypnobirthing?
Hypnobirthing is a childbirth method in which a hypnotherapist teaches a pregnant woman self-hypnosis techniques. Over the course of several sessions, she’ll learn to enter a state of trance and detach herself from her body’s sensations. When labor starts, she can enter that trance state again and, ideally, have a pain-free delivery.
Hypnosis is based on the premise of “reprogramming” your unconscious mind. It can modify your sense of perception – such as the perception of pain – making it possible to substitute anxiety for relaxation. In hypnobirthing, a hypnotherapist can ease you into a state of relaxation and temporarily hush your critical thinking, allowing you to change how you react to the pain of childbirth at a subconscious level.
Using hypnosis during childbirth isn’t new. Women have been giving birth for thousands of years, and we haven’t always had medical treatments to relieve the pain of labor. But the popularity of hypnobirthing has surged in recent years, perhaps partially due to reports that celebrities such as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, used it.
I think there’s also a movement to get back to a more “natural” state of childbirth, where women reject modern drug treatments. And there’s certainly a kind of mystique surrounding hypnosis, an aura of something phenomenal. You’re using the power of your mind to block pain!
Hypnobirthing’s place in the delivery room
I haven’t had a patient yet who has asked for hypnobirthing. But if I had a patient who wanted to use this approach to manage her pain, I would gladly refer her to an experienced, qualified hypnotist in the Boston area. These professionals can provide valuable information on hypnosis and the hypnobirthing process to any expecting mother who might be interested in the technique. A hypnotherapist could be in the delivery room or possibly on Skype during your labor.
Hypnobirthing can be a good idea for a mother who wants to minimize the pain of childbirth. Hypnosis is a well-known therapy for anxiety and pain. It works by modifying sensory perceptions. In this way, hypnobirthing can be a healthy choice for delivering mothers.
But hypnobirthing is not magic. It’s limited in its pain-relieving powers. The longer a birth takes, the less likely it is that hypnobirthing by itself will be enough to ease the patient’s pain. After a while, it’s less likely the patient will be able to relax and detach from the pain enough for hypnobirthing to be effective on its own and more likely the patient will need pain-relieving medication.
So what should you do during labor?
The best advice I can give for a successful birth is to go with the flow. Don’t go into the hospital with preconceived expectations. Instead, take the process of giving birth as it happens naturally.
Yes, there will be some pain. You may be able to manage that pain through hypnobirthing or other childbirth methods such as Lamaze. Or you may want an epidural even if you didn’t intend to get one. And that’s OK! We’re here to make your labor go as smoothly as possible, so you and your baby will come out of it healthy.
Talk to your doctor about your pain-relief options. If you’re interested in hypnobirthing, ask for a referral to one of our area’s trained, licensed hypnotherapists.