Thursday, September 12, 2013

My experiences with birth hypnosis

Birth hypnosis, HypnoBirthing, Hypnobabies, Hypbirth, the Birth Relaxation Kit...

If you're at all part of the birth world, you've probably heard of one or more of these terms. I've had four pregnancies, four labors, and four babies all using some kind of hypnosis.

Basic idea of hypnosis for childbirth (in my words): the mind is extremely powerful and malleable. Through deep relaxation, conscious breathing, and visualization, you can reprogram yourself to respond positively to the sensations of labor.

How and when I listened to the hypnosis recordings:

For my first baby, I listened to the two hypnosis tracks provided with Marie Mongan's  Hypnobirthing book. I listened to one track every day for the last two months of pregnancy. I didn't have an mp3 player at the time, so I listened on my stereo system. I turned the track on early in my labor when I started having contractions. Once I was up and moving around the house, I turned it off.

For babies #2 and #3, I used the Hypnobabies Self-Study Program. You're supposed to listen to one of the hypnosis tracks, along with the birth affirmations track, daily starting at around 30 weeks. I ended up skipping the affirmations most days. I was busy enough with little children that I didn't have time for two sessions. I put the tracks on my mp3 player when I lay down in bed at night and usually "slept" through most of them, waking up at the end of the track. I listened for a few hours early on in both labors. But once things really started cooking, I was no longer interested. Well, more like I was too occupied with labor to focus on anything else!

For baby #4, I used the Birth Relaxation Kit, a complete birth hypnosis program. Like with my last two babies, I listened at night when going to bed. I listened a bit during early labor, but not once the work started in earnest.

I'd consider using hypnosis in labor a small added bonus. For me, the real value of hypnosis came during pregnancy. The daily deep relaxation was priceless, especially when I was dealing with severe sleep issues and the typical worries of pregnancy (will the baby be okay? what if _____ happens?). 

Does birth hypnosis work?

I'd answer with a qualified yes. Some hypnosis programs emphasize having a comfortable, pain-free birth. I was always a bit hesitant with those promises. I totally believe that some women do have pain-free, comfortable births through hypnosis. But I was also wary of trying to force my experience into a box (and then being disappointed when it didn't fit).

Rather than aiming for being pain-free or even comfortable, I wanted to embrace all the sensations of labor without judgement, to work through the process without fear, to feel everything and to fight nothing.

I don't know why some poeple can do hypnosis programs and feel no pain ("I only felt pressure," they often say, "really intense pressure but no pain"). Or why others like me feel all the sensations--good and bad, pain and pleasure, pressure and power. I theorize that it depends on where the hypnosis affects the nervous system.

Some women truly can "anesthetize" themselves and eliminate feelings of pain entirely. (I still wonder how they can do it, honestly, since there is no way I can imagine feeling the sensations of labor without pain being one of them.) But for them, hypnosis works here to filter, or perhaps the better word is "alter," the sensations of labor so that they are not experienced as pain or discomfort once they reach the brain. Like this:


For me, hypnosis doesn't control the sensations going into the brain. I feel and experience everything. The hypnosis kicks in at the other end, where the brain reacts and sends out signals. The hypnosis helps me experience labor without fighting or struggling against it. So instead of controlling what I feel, hypnosis helps me control how I react and interpret what I'm feeling. Like this:



Mothers using birth hypnosis are often, but not always, outwardly calm. I tend to remain quiet and focused during active labor, although I'm more vocal when I'm pushing. I don't think you need to act calm or quiet to be effectively hypnotized. Remember that hypnosis is really just very deep relaxation and meditation.You can be up, moving, and talking and still be in a hypnotic state.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the Birth Relaxation Kit...

In the meantime, I want to hear about your experiences using birth hypnosis. Please share!
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15 comments:

  1. I used Hypnobabies twice and using it again with #3 due in Feb. I can honestly say I didn't feel pain -- only pressure -- before I was in transition and dilated to an 8-10 . And then I think that the hypnosis helped me stay relaxed and pass through transition to the pushing baby out phase quickly (even though at that point I was definitely feeling pain). Like you, I agree that it helps a lot during pregnancy--it's not just for labor. I'm particularly fond of the fear clearing track and the daily affirmations track Hypnobabies offers. I also didn't listen to the hypnosis tracks when labor got really intense. It just annoyed and distracted me. BUT, I still believe that Hypnobabies helped me immensely!

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  2. For my third baby, I used deep relaxation techniques during labor and it helped me greatly. I was able to get from 3-9 cm very calmly. I didn't use any sort of program, just deep breathing and meditation. She was posterior and 8 lbs 2 oz and I felt manageable pain until she crowned. With. Y fourth baby I practiced Hypnobirth tracks by Mongan from when I was about 20 weeks on. They were immeasurably helpful during my pregnancy and I looked forward to listening each night. I was expecting manageable pain again, but instead I really did have a pain free labor. I don't know if it was because my labor was only 1.5 hours or because she was my first anterior baby or if it really was the hypnosis. I just know that I definitely felt pain and a lot of it with my other three babies. My fourth labor wasn't entirely comfortable because I felt some pressure but it WAS painless. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't experienced it!! I would definitely recommend some form of hypnosis or meditation techniques for every pregnant woman.

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  3. I used HypnoBabies for my third birth. I experienced transition during my first 2 births as "drowning in pain". But the 3rd time, with hypnosis, I never even knew that I was in transition. I had to concentrate to stay relaxed and it did hurt, but it was not that awful drowning feeling. My doula told me that I was so calm she did not even know when I was having a contraction.

    Interestingly, I never listened to the "pushing" part of the hypnobabies CD, thinking that it was going to be short for me and so I didn't need to listen. Wrong. During that part of labor, I screamed my head off, something akin to, "GET IT OUT, get it out!" :) I really wished I would have listened to them and prepared for that part because the difference between pushing (no hypnosis prep) and the rest of my labor (hypnosis) was night and day.

    And like you, I loved listening to the CD's during pregnancy. I looked forward to that 30 minutes everyday. I felt so empowered and strong heading into labor, confident in my body, which is something I did not experience before. I definitely recommend HypnoBabies!

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  4. I listened to the Hypnobabies CDs sporadically during my first pregnancy, but this time I am taking a Hypnobabies class, so my listening/practice is much more structured and directed and that is helpful for me. After reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, watching Orgasmic Birth, learning about the importance of relaxation in my Bradley class and already strongly believing in the mind/body connection I was receptive to the notion that I might labor without pain and expected to be calm and relaxed in order to work with my body during my first labor. There were uncomfortable times, but I'm not sure I would call them pain...very uncomfortable, sure :) I am going to do the mind exercises and practice and we'll see how things go in November with baby #2!

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  5. I've just started listening to my HypnoBabies CDs this week and am not really sure what to expect. I wasn't sure when I purchased them if I actually believed that they can work but after my first time listening to one of them I couldn't believe how relaxed I felt. Now I'm really looking forward to using this technique along with the others that I learned in my Bradley course.

    This is my first labour/baby so I'm just trying to learn as much as possible and be prepared for whatever comes!

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  6. I've never used any of the Hypno methods. I did self educate through the Bradley Method and reading tons of blogs (like yours :-D) I think that whatever you can do to address and eliminate the fear of birth helps tremendously.

    I know of ladies who "didn't know" they were pregnant until they went into labor. Without exception they all describe tremendous pain and fear that something was terribly wrong and they were dying. I personally know a lady who had 5 children (induced labor) with zero pain whatsoever. I don't think she had a coping method. My great grandmother had 15 children at home. One of them (my grandfather) was born with no pain. But, she said he'd been a pain ever since. lol!

    I think that different people respond to labor differently. Pain is not the enemy as much as fear is. Knowing what is happening and why and how to deal with it is priceless.

    I totally agree about the relaxation exercises being the most beneficial during pregnancy. That was when I would get my best naps!

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  7. I took a Bradley class with my first, and while I love all the education I got, I didn't feel like it gave me many practical ways to deal with pain. And, despite being trained in relaxation therapy (and even using it with clients), I wasn't able to relax like I wanted.

    Thus, with my second, I tried Hypnobabies. It was a lifesaver. I felt extremely anxious at times during my pregnancy and Hypnobabies helped ground me. The positive affirmations were great to remind me how awesome pregnancy is during those times that I was feeling pretty un-awesome. And like you, it helped me sleep during some awful periods of insomnia.

    I listed to Hypnobabies during my entire labor (a short 4 hours) and again, it helped to ground me and give me something to focus on so I didn't totally lose it during transition. I felt so much more in control than with my first and while I did feel pain, it was dramatically less than with my first. I agree with the commenter above that said fear is more the enemy than pain. Hypnobabies was awesome at reducing my fear.

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  8. A couple thoughts I have. The first is that of all the labor techniques I've seen (as a labor RN) I do think that hypnobirthing/babies has the highest "success" rate---by which I mean a woman who desires unmedicated birth achieves it, and is satisfied by her birth experience. The second is that one of the reasons I think it works so well is that there are many women who go into a hypnotic state in labor naturally---and probably this style of coping appeals to these women more so than others (say the movers and groovers type of laborer). So I typically see two "types" of woman choosing birth hypnosis (to be grossly generalizing)--the first is the women who probably would have done it instinctively and it works great because it is honing a skill that already exists. The second are women who are highly anxious and/or drawn to the high success rate. And while for these women, the relaxation portion of it is helpful in any type of birth that they may end up with---these are the woman who are flabbergasted when labor actually hurts--and hurts bad. And feel dissatsifed with their birth experience.

    As for my own labors---I had seen far to many births with women screaming to be able to fully focus my thoughts and convince myself it was "pressure" or discomfort and not pain. Water helped, moaning helped, counting helped. But still---labor was hard and painful.

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  9. "Some hypnosis programs emphasize having a comfortable, pain-free birth. I was always a bit hesitant with those promises. I totally believe that some women do have pain-free, comfortable births through hypnosis. But I was also wary of trying to force my experience into a box (and then being disappointed when it didn't fit). "

    I love that you've said this - because I really think all babies come in exactly the way they were meant to come! And I don't think we should try to force labor to be "pain free" or "easy" Because if we are present to it - our bodies and our labors teach us whatever we need to know.

    "Rather than aiming for being pain-free or even comfortable, I wanted to embrace all the sensations of labor without judgement, to work through the process without fear, to feel everything and to fight nothing. "

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this comment - well this is exactly how I felt too - though I must admit, I was aiming to be comfortable - my first labor was just horrifying to me, the pain was more than I could bear, so I ended up taking an epidrual after about 10hrs of induced labor - but the second time around I was much better prepared, ( i had read a lot of different books, and talked to mums who had had natural labors and asked them how they did it) and I think the key was that I was able to work through the process without fear. It wasn't an easy labor, as I had to really remain focused, and I noticed any time I got scared, It was painful - but when I dropped out of the fear, the pain subsided, and I was left with a very intense experience - but pushing was painful!

    I think Hyno-birthing is great, as it helps mamas relax - but I'm not convinced it's the total answer :)

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  10. I used Hypnobabies for my third and fourth children (just listening to the tracks again for the fourth), and loved it. I love how you explain it- because for me, the fact that I could control my outward reactions meant that I wasn't scared, and that, in the end, is what i wanted out of labor- to not feel scared. It still hurt rather a lot. But I handled it. That was such a gift to myself, and I will always be grateful to Hypnobabies for that.

    Since then I've always wondered if hypnosis would work well in other areas of my life- esp. being patient with my children. Wish the Hypnobabies people would put some cd's out for after the babies are born!

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  11. Hypnobirthing and Hypnobabies are definitely two quite different programs and shouldn't be lumped together. Great post! Looking forward to hearing about the Birth Relaxation Kit.

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  12. I sort of used hypnobabies for my first and although labor sucked it was totally doable(I did not follow the programs the way one is supposed to). For my second I followed for pregnancy but I didnt listen to duringlabor because I thought I had a bit, but a pprom induction was unpredictable, but 18/20units of pitocin with no epi I attributeto everything I learned hypnobabies and birthing from wihin classes! It was tough.i found out later some nurses had a bet going because I was n out of hospital transfer(planned 2nd homebirth)I hope yhe ladies that bet against me lost a lot of money!

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  13. I used the Hypnobabies home study with my last baby and I regret it. It was not a good match for my "style" of birthing and I feel it inhibited me, rather than helped me. And, while it sounds good on the surface, I ended up concluding that I don't actually support its philosophy/basic tenants. I always objected to the notion of creating one's own "anesthesia," a concept I find interestingly incongruent with the rest of the program's focus on words, but after giving birth I find it even less desirable of a concept. I also find it contributes very highly to an attitude of needing to "control" birth (or one's reactions to it), which seems like the antithesis of an undisturbed birth. My conclusion is that it may be most useful to someone who has a lot of fear going into birth, for women birthing in the hospital and who may not have a lot of external control, so the internal control that hypnosis programs offers is useful, or women who are having subsequent babies and were significantly distressed by feeling "out of control" in past births.

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  14. I used the Hypnobabies home study with my last baby and I regret it. It was not a good match for my "style" of birthing and I feel it inhibited me, rather than helped me. And, while it sounds good on the surface, I ended up concluding that I don't actually support its philosophy/basic tenants. I always objected to the notion of creating one's own "anesthesia," a concept I find interestingly incongruent with the rest of the program's focus on words, but after giving birth I find it even less desirable of a concept. I also find it contributes very highly to an attitude of needing to "control" birth (or one's reactions to it), which seems like the antithesis of an undisturbed birth. My conclusion is that it may be most useful to someone who has a lot of fear going into birth, for women birthing in the hospital and who may not have a lot of external control, so the internal control that hypnosis programs offers is useful, or women who are having subsequent babies and were significantly distressed by feeling "out of control" in past births.

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  15. Well it seems like there are a lot of women not satisfied with hypnosis and birthing. As for me I did have very comfortable births, it was easy and fast. I think the point is to believe that you can have one, and even if it is more challenging than anticipated that it was more comfortable than it would have been otherwise without the relaxation, positive mindset, working with one's body and knowing the process of birth. I took HypnoBirthing with my first and it worked great. I used Hypnobabies with my second and it was wonderful also. ... so for many, many woman it is a great program... I would go to these programs websites before you trust what all these other woman are saying. Also, being a Nurse and a Doula I have seen that hypnosis can help many woman who's desire is a natural unmedicated physiological birth :)

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