What Is Hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a form of clinical hypnosis—also called hypnotherapy—that can be used during childbirth to help relieve anxiety, fear, and pain.

There are many forms of hypnosis, but hypnobirthing uses a specific program led by trained healthcare professionals. This overview will detail how hypnobirthing works, and why some people might choose it during their labor.

A pregnant person in a hospital bed being kissed on the forehead by a partner.


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Types of Hypnobirthing

Using meditation and other relaxation techniques during labor is a matter of instinct. People have been finding ways to relieve their fears and pain during childbirth for centuries.

Hypnobirthing is often used as a general term to describe childbirth that occurs in a state of hypnosis, or extreme relaxation. While the term itself was coined with the creation of one specific program, there are two main types of hypnotherapy for childbirth that are popular today.

HypnoBirthing

HypnoBirthing was developed in the 1980s by Marie F. Mongan. Mongan was an educator and hypnotherapist whose goal was to make natural childbirth more accessible and enjoyable. Since Mongan was instrumental in pioneering this technique, it's sometimes referred to as the Mongan Method. Her book, Hypnobirthing: A Celebration of Life, is a guide to the five-week training program.

Hypnobabies

This is a program that was built in the late 1990s based off a program by Gerald Kein called The Complete Painless Childbirth Program. Kein is a hypnotist and founder of the Omni Hypnosis Training Center. His program is the basis of Hypnobabies, founded by Kerry Tuschhoff to take the idea of hypnobirthing a step further than the Mongan Method.

With the Hypnobabies program, the goal is to achieve a much deeper state of hypnosis that claims to be so powerful that it can mimic the effects of anesthesia in some people.

Recap

Hypnobirthing is a type of hypnotherapy that can be used during labor to help reduce anxiety and discomfort.

Purposes

While these two types of hypnobirthing have their differences, the overall goal of each is the same—to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain for a more enjoyable and peaceful natural delivery.

There are other strategies that aim to reduce pain and anxiety during natural childbirth, including The Bradley Method and Lamaze.

Both of these programs focus on providing education about pregnancy and delivery, as well as relaxation strategies or exercises that can help during labor. However, these programs both stop short of using forms of hypnosis that are present in hypnobirthing.

Process

The process of hypnobirthing is similar no matter which program you use, and it begins during pregnancy.

Prenatal Conditioning

Hypnotherapy for childbirth begins during pregnancy, with a reframing of the entire delivery process. Instead of focusing on negative aspects of delivery like pain and danger, parents are educated on the mechanics of birth using more positive terms. For example, "labor pains" may be replaced with "uterine surges" to help parents understand the labor process in a nonthreatening way.

Body awareness is another key component of these programs during pregnancy. Hypnotherapy programs focus on changing the mindset of delivery from a painful process to a joyful experience. Increased body awareness is also important, and helps the parents feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment during labor.

Some studies suggest that conditioning mothers to enter a state of calm relaxation when labor begins can help reduce the release of certain neurotransmitters and improve the strength and effectiveness of the work the uterus does during labor.

The Start of Hypnosis

The next key element in hypnotherapy for childbirth is the actual process of hypnosis. There are several levels of hypnosis, and each of them results in varying degrees of pain relief, (referredt oas hypnoanalgesia).

Hypnoanalgesia is achieved by training the mind to temporarily loosen connections to sensation in a particular part of the body. Usually, this involves taking the pain response associated with uterine muscle contractions and assigning them to other areas of the body with a technique called focused reappraisal.

An example of this would be reconditioning the belief that uterine contractions are painful by considering that other muscle contractions—like in the biceps—are not painful. The focus then becomes on appreciating the muscle contractions as a means to achieve the desired goal of the birth of a baby.

Support

A final key element in hypnotherapy during childbirth is the presence of a trusted support person. This person—usually a family member, intimate partner, or doula—is trained in the hypnotherapy process as well. They act as a guide along the process, as well as a source of comfort and support.

Research suggests that a support person helps the laboring person feel protected and safe, allowing them to reach a deeper state of hypnosis.

Recap

Different hypnobirthing programs use different techniques, but they all share the same goal of promoting education and relaxation to aid in your delivery.

Outcomes

There haven't been many large-scale studies done on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy during childbirth, but some smaller studies suggest it can reduce pain, shorten labor, and even benefit infants after birth.

A 2011 review of several smaller studies found that pregnant people who were trained with self-hypnosis techniques before delivery needed significantly fewer doses of pain relief medications, sedatives, and epidurals during labor.

The report also found that the first two stages of labor were significantly shorter in people who were giving birth for the first time. For those who had given birth before, the first stage of labor was shortened with hypnotherapy, but not the second.

The report also suggested that infants can benefit from a hypnotherapy birth, too. Infants who were delivered with hypnotherapy scored significantly better on one-minute Apgar scores than infants born with traditional labors, according to the report. There was no difference in Apgar scores at five minutes, though.

Another study, which investigated hypnotherapy birthing in Australia, where the technique has been growing in popularity, found that 51% of the people who used hypnotherapy for delivery didn't require any pain medications at all. A third of them rated their labor pain below a 5.8 out of 10, and two reported no discomfort at all.

Recap

There is some evidence that hypnotherapy can reduce the need for pain medications during delivery and even shorten the labor process.

Risk Factors

There are very few conditions that could keep you from using hypnotherapy during labor.

While there are few recommendations specifically addressing contraindications and risk factors for hypnotherapy during childbirth, there are a few warnings when it comes to hypnotherapy as a whole.

There may be an increased risk of side effects in people undergoing hypnotherapy during childbirth who have preexisting mental health conditions.

General hypnotherapy is usually not recommended for people who have:

If you are considering hypnotherapy during childbirth, you will also want to consider any contraindications you may have to a vaginal birth. These can include:

  • Active herpes simplex lesions
  • Certain delivery positions including breech and transverse
  • Complete placenta previa
  • Previous vertical uterine incisions
  • Transfundal uterine surgery

Talk to your doctor during your pregnancy about your birth plans, and discuss any complications or concerns that might play a role in your delivery.

Recap

Not everyone is a candidate for hypnobirthing. There are a few things that might prevent you from receiving hypnotherapy or having a vaginal delivery.

Complications

Hypnotherapy during childbirth is considered to be a very low-risk option for relaxation and pain relief. There is no real data exploring complications of hypnotherapy during childbirth, but there is some evidence that hypnosis in general cause produce side effects like:

You should also be sure to discuss with your doctor or healthcare provider what complications may arise during vaginal childbirth in general, and what additional treatments may be required. Traditional medical management of your delivery or even a cesarean section could be required with certain delivery complications or fetal distress.

Recap

Hypnobirthing is considered low risk, but there are complications that can arise from both hypnotherapy and vaginal delivery.

Summary

Hynotherapy during childbirth, also known as HypnoBirthing or Hypnobabies, is an option that can help reduce fear, anxiety, and pain during natural childbirth. A number of small studies have reported benefits of hypnotherapy during delivery, but more large-scale studies would provide a clearer view of its benefits. As for risks, there are very few risks or contraindications with this kind of therapy.

A Word From Verywell

Hypnotherapy can help you understand the delivery process and train your mind to turn your focus away from any pain, resulting in a more calm and pleasant delivery. A natural vaginal birth—and even hypnotherapy—is not for everyone, though, and you should talk to your doctor about your birth plan and your individual risk factors during your pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will I be unconscious during hypnobirthing?

    Hypnotherapy does not create a state of unconsciousness, just extreme relaxation.

  • Is hypnobirthing dangerous?

    There are very few risks to hypnobirthing, but you should ask your doctor if it's right for you.

  • Will hypnobirthing give me a pain-free delivery?

    The goal of hypnotherapy during childbirth is to promote relaxation and reduce fears or anxiety about labor. Being in a relaxed state may reduce your discomfort, but it is unlikely to make your labor completely painless.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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