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Is hypnosis effective during labor and childbirth?
10 October, 2008
In a time when alternative forms of anesthesia are being explored and traditional pain relief choices are being bypassed in favor of non medicated options, hypnosis and childbirth come to the forefront. While there is obviously a need for increased scientific research in relation to hypnosis and childbirth, there is a wealth of information out there related to the topic. Hypnosis was widely used during childbirth prior to the availability of pharmacological analgesia with great effectiveness. The idea of a painless, non-medicated childbirth is once again on the rise. There are many different methods of hypnosis and childbirth including the Mongan Method, Lamaze method, and Natal Hypnotherapy. Many online resources claim that hypnosis during labor and childbirth contribute to reduced length of labor, reduce incidence of analgesia use, higher infant APGAR scores, reduced incidence of postpartum depression, and increased incidence in spontaneous deliveries. The accuracy of these claims, as well as others made through various hypnosis and birthing resources, will be evaluated using the scientific information that is currently available.
What’s on the Web?
Hypnosis during childbirth provides a non-medicated option to controlling the pains of labor and birth. For various reasons some women choose to not receive any medication during the first and second stages of labor, and hypnosis is one alternate way of eliminating pain and fear during the birthing experience. Kerry Tuschhoff explains that research has shown that hypnosis can be used to perceive pain and discomfort as pressure only. She explains that hypnosis has also been effective in pain management during surgery and dental work as well. Hypnosis is a learned physical relaxation that is practiced daily in preparation for childbirth using visualization and positive hypnotic suggestions (http://www.childbirthsolutions.com/articles/birth/hypnobirth/index.php). There are many different methods or programs an expectant mother can follow to use hypnosis during labor and childbirth. One of the more popular methods is HypnoBabies ™, which bases its foundation on the ideas set forth by Gerald Kein’s Painless Childbirth techniques he first wrote about in the 1930s. The idea is to enter hypnosis, a “natural state of mind in which the body and mind are extremely relaxed and yet the mind is highly aware and focused,” allowing the mother to remain mobile and comfortable at all times (http://www.hypnobabies.com). The Mongan method promises that “in the absence of fear and tension, or special medical circumstances, severe pain does not have to be an accompaniment of labor,” claiming that the mother “will be totally relaxed, but fully in control” (http://www.hypnobirthing.com/).
All of the above sites claim that labor and birthing using hypnosis leads to better sleep for the infant, better nursing, less or no pain during labor and a shorter labor. They reference testimonials, scientific research and journals, and additional texts that have been published in order to support their claims. Most sites on hypnosis during childbirth are promoting the sale of a specific hypnosis regimen or class, so the site’s bias must be taken into consideration; however, they all promise the same benefits and state that the participants must be willing and open to hypnosis. Comparing these claims to the available scientific research, one will be able to draw conclusions as to whether or not the claims are accurate.
What does science say?
Jenkins and Pritchard performed a case control study consisting of four groups. The first two groups were made up of 126 women having their first child and 136 women having their second, both receiving six sessions of hypnotherapy prior to the onset of spontaneous labor (1993). The second two control groups consisted of 300 women each (300 first pregnancy, 300 second) that received no prenatal hypnotherapy treatment. The results from Jenkins and Pritchard’s study showed that the first stage of labor was 5.3 hours after hypnosis and 9.3 hours for the control group. The first stage of labor is defined as the period of time a women is experiencing consistent contractions leading up to 10 centimeters dilation and 100% effacement. The study also found that the second stage of labor was 24 minutes for the hypnosis group and 50 minutes for the control. The second stage of labor is defined as the “pushing” stage. The use of analgesics was significantly reduced in both hypnosis groups. Jenkins and Pritchard’s study supports the claims on the web that hypnosis prior to and during labor both shortens labor and delivery and reduces the pain and discomfort associated with it.
Cyna, McAuliffe, and Andrew did a systematic review on hypnosis for pain relief during labor and childbirth. They also found that the women using hypnosis rated their labor pain less severe than the women in the control groups and that the use of hypnosis during labor reduced the use of pharmacological analgesia as well (2004). This review supports the web claims that the use of hypnosis during labor and childbirth reduces pain and the need for pharmacological analgesia.
Lastly, in Effects of Hypnosis on the Labor Processes and Birth Outcomes of Pregnant Adolescents, 42 women were divided into two groups; treatment and control. The treatment group received four sessions of hypnotherapy prior to spontaneous labor and the control group received none. The results of the study showed that one of the women in the treatment group had a stay longer than two days in the hospital while eight women had a stay longer than two days in the control group. None of the women in the hypnosis group received surgical intervention while 13 did in the control group, and ten of the women in the treatment group opted for medical anesthesia while 16 opted for medical anesthesia in the control group (Martin, Schauble, Rai, Curry, 2001). This study also shows that hypnosis can be an effective tool in pain management during labor and childbirth, but provides a stronger argument for less surgical intervention and reducing the postpartum hospital stay. While this study provides a wealth of information supporting the use of hypnosis during childbirth, its support is geared towards benefits that are not mentioned in many web resources.
Summary and conclusion
The available scientific evidence supports the claims of shorter, less painful labor and childbirth when using hypnosis. There is also evidence of shorter hospital stays, less incidence of complications, and less surgical intervention. Many sources make note that hypnosis has been used since ancient times during childbirth, and that it has only been forgotten due to recent medical advancements. It would be beneficial to further explore the benefits of hypnosis during childbirth.
From the available resources, there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that hypnosis during labor and childbirth leads to better infant nursing and sleeping; however, there is a wealth of information arguing that the most common medications used during childbirth are strongly correlated with complications related to infant sleeping and nursing, therefore, it is difficult to derive whether the infant’s improved nursing or sleeping is from the use of hypnosis or from the lack of medication in the mother’s system.
Below are four links to videos about hypnosis and childbirth. The first two links are news clips that feature interviews and personal stories and the second two are personal videos of women who experienced a non-medicated birth using hypnosis. While the accuracy of the personal accounts cannot be verified, they provide a unique look into hypnosis and labor and childbirth. Please note that some refer to what are traditionally known as ‘contractions’ as ‘pressure waves,’ as some hypnosis regimens believe there are negative connotations associated with the word ‘contraction.’
It is important to see additional scientific research on the topic of hypnosis and childbirth. More structured studies would allow for increasingly statistically significant results on the effectiveness of hypnosis and childbirth. To someone who is considering hypnosis during labor and birth, I would research the different methods available and commit to a program. There are many individuals who believe strongly in the program and the benefit is that a mother can try hypnosis and later opt for pharmacological analgesics; however the reverse is not true. There are no known negative side effects to attempting hypnosis method during childbirth, while there are many known negative side effects to the other pharmacological agents on the market; therefore, there is no known risk to trying the hypnosis method first.
Cyna, A. M., McAuliffe, G. A., Andrews, M. I. (2004). Hypnosis for pain relief in labour and childbirth: a systematic review. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 93(4), 505-511.
Jenkins, M. W., Pritchard, M. H. (1993). Hypnosis: practical applications and theoretical considerations in normal labor. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 100 (3), 221-226.
Martin, A., Schauble, P., Rai, S., Curry, R. (2001). Effects of hypnosis on the labor processes and birth outcomes of pregnant adolescents. Journal of Family Practice, 50 (5), 441-450.
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