Hypnosis: Effective in reducing labor pain?

There have been a number of stories in the media recently that suggest that self-hypnosis during labor can significantly reduce a mother's pain (or perception of pain). How can one learn the necessary technique, and what kind of professional should be approached for training?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Techniques for hypnosis can be associative, or dissociative. Taking yourself away from pain (dissociating) is generally effective for pain that is constant and occurs in illnesses or situations where healing from an injury results in ongoing pain. Active labor, which is generally painful, is a pain with a different purpose and nature.

Pain in labor rises and falls in intensity, with contractions of the uterus, leaving women to attend to what is changing. This makes traditional forms of hypnosis ineffective for labor, as pain does not remain constant and dissociation is undermined.

Research literature shows body-centered hypnosis is most effective for dealing with labor pain, which fluctuates, as it ebbs and flows in a predictable, yet changing manner. This occurs as body-centered techniques support you to dive into the contraction and adapt to it, rather than attempt to escape it altogether.

Consider the following options for your childbirth preparation:

  • Traditional dissociative hypnosis has failed to give women the relief they need on a large scale. When it is effective, the dissociation can also negatively impact the mother's positive experience of labor and her availability to her newborn afterwards. While it is true that traditional hypnosis can work in early labor, when labor intensifies, such techniques tend to fall by the wayside. Any practitioner, whether midwife, psychologist, childbirth educator or physician could assist a woman with body-centered hypnosis for labor, if they are trained to do so.
  • Self hypnosis may be a part of an effective program for childbirth preparation. Creating and taping a birth visualization (see related link below), using body centered hypnotic techniques, or having a professional make a tape in your presence, which you can use on your own has shown to be effective for coping with labor.
  • Using your own "birth inventory" as a tool, you can also take this information to a practitioner trained in body-centered hypnosis for childbirth. Ask them to incorporate your unique issues into a realistic visualization for birth. Ask whether the techniques they use will encourage you to cope with the rising intensity of contractions by increasing your ability to cope with pain, or by dissociating or separating yourself from pain.
  • Be skeptical of any techniques, which promise to make you feel "no pain" during active labor, or focus upon only relaxing scenes and images for coping with the height of a contraction. These are not likely to be effective in active labor and are based on dissociating, rather than associating through the process. You may indeed experience a reduction of pain, using body-centered hypnosis techniques. More importantly, you will be able to ride the wave of a contraction as it peaks and relax deeply and completely in between. This is the beauty of addressing emotional issues that surround the your birthing process, which is what effective hypnosis is all about.
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