If you’re pregnant and worried about the pain you’ll experience during labor, you’re not alone.

Most women expect childbirth to be painful. Unfortunately, the more you expect it to hurt, the longer and more difficult your labor is likely to be. Researchers have found a link between expectations of pain and duration of labor.

For many women, an epidural is the obvious answer. At least 60 percent of women in the United States opt for an epidural. But epidurals aren’t the only option for pain relief. As natural childbirth (where the mother chooses not to use drugs to reduce pain or to make the birth happen more quickly) becomes more popular, some women are choosing alternative pain methods like self-hypnosis to manage labor pain.

What are the benefits of natural childbirth?

Opting to avoid pain medications during labor might sound like an exercise in self-punishment. Epidurals are safe, and you don’t get any medals for having a natural labor. But there are some surprising benefits to having a natural birth.

One of the biggest benefits of avoiding an epidural is that you don’t have to limit your movement during labor. Changing your position can often help a stalled labor progress. Being able to choose your position based on what feels comfortable is a big advantage during labor.

Being medication-free is also helpful during the pushing stage of labor. If you can’t feel contractions, you may not have the urge to push. If this is the case, you may need to be coached through pushing. Without medication, you’ll be able to follow your body’s urge to push. This reduces your likelihood of tearing.

An epidural can lower blood pressure. When the mother’s blood pressure drops, there’s less blood flow to the uterus. This can be dangerous for your baby. It’s important for the mother’s blood pressure to remain stable. This is why close fetal monitoring is important if you have an epidural.

Avoiding medications reduces this risk. Epidurals can also cause occasional side effects like a burning sensation, headache, or nausea. Medication-free methods are less likely to have side effects.

How does self-hypnosis work to reduce pain in labor?

You’ve probably heard that labor is the greatest pain you’ll ever experience, so it might be hard to believe you can manage it with a simple “mind over matter” method. But many women use a method of self-hypnosis, also known as hypnobirthing, to manage pain during labor.

The effectiveness of hypnobirthing is dependent on your ability to control your body with your mind. There are several reasons why hypnosis can be effective for pain relief.

To understand how hypnosis works, it’s important first to understand the cause of labor pain. Unlike an injury, the pain of labor isn’t caused by something going wrong with your body. Most of the pain experienced during labor has nothing to do with your baby fitting through your vaginal opening — you’ll only feel this at the very end as your baby’s crowning.

The majority of labor pain is caused by the muscular contractions in your uterus. Like any muscle cramp, this clenching can be painful. But it doesn’t have to be. The more you tense up, the more painful contractions feel. Staying relaxed can greatly reduce the pain of labor. Self-hypnosis is a powerful relaxation method. By keeping you relaxed, it makes contractions less painful.

Hypnosis also works to reduce pain by changing your perception. Research published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis showed that self-hypnosis can help reduce perceived pain for a variety of types of chronic pain, including cancer pain, back pain, and arthritic pain.

Hypnobirthing works in the same way to reduce your sensations of discomfort by replacing them with positive sensations and imagery.

How can you use hypnobirthing during labor?

Self-hypnosis is a skill that anyone can learn, but it takes time and practice. If you want to use hypnosis effectively to manage your pain during labor, you’ll need to practice during your pregnancy. Once you develop the skills of self-hypnosis, you’ll be able to use them during labor to reduce your pain and stay comfortable.

Most programs recommend that you begin learning self-hypnosis around the middle of your pregnancy. This will give you 15 to 20 weeks to learn the methods and practice them. You’ll want to practice every day, if possible, or several days a week at a minimum. The more you practice, the easier it will be to draw on your skills during labor.

What’s involved in learning self-hypnosis for birth?

Hypnobirth programs include education in several major areas. First, they teach you information about how hypnosis works and why it’s effective. Second, they teach you about the mechanics and progression of labor and what to expect. And finally, they teach you practical self-hypnosis techniques that you’ll be able to use during labor.

Most programs include hypnosis scripts that you’ll listen to for practice, and different scripts that you’ll use during labor. These scripts include visualization exercises, breathing exercises, and hypnosis techniques like cues to start and deepen your hypnotic state.

It will take you about six weeks to learn self-hypnosis skills. The more time you have to practice, the easier it will be.

How can I learn self-hypnosis for childbirth?

There are two major organizations that teach hypnosis for labor pain management. The first is the Hypnobirthing Institute. Founded by Marie Mongan, the Hypnobirthing Institute was the first organization to teach structured classes for labor hypnosis. You can take a class from a certified instructor in your area, or you can buy a self-study course to use at home.

The second organization is Hypnobabies. Hypnobabies was founded by Kerry Tuschoff. She started her childbirth career as a doula and Bradley Method instructor. But she was dissatisfied with the success rate of her Bradley students in having comfortable, medication-free labors. She developed the Hypnobabies method as an alternative. This program is available through live classes by certified teachers, and as a self-study method.

The takeaway

If you’re interested in using hypnobirthing to manage pain during labor, look for classes in your area or online. Work with your doctor to create a birth plan that includes your wishes for a natural birth. Keep in mind that complications can happen during labor and delivery. Whatever happens, it’s important to stay relaxed. The safety of you and your baby is most important. 


How do I know if I’m a good candidate for a natural childbirth?


You may be a candidate for hypnobirthing if:

  1. You don’t want to use pain medications in labor.
  2. You have the time to invest in a self-hypnosis training course during pregnancy.
  3. You have the ability to purchase classes or a self-study program.
  4. Your doctor agrees you’re healthy enough to use this method. 
Kimberly Dishman, MSN, WHNP-BC, RNC-OBAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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