Does it actually make labor any easier?
Rumor has it that Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, who gave birth on May 6, used hypnobirthing — a technique that aims to ease the pain and anxiety associated with childbirth by using hypnosis, deep breathing, visualization, meditation and other techniques.
The method, which dates back to the 1950s but was popularized in the 1980s, appears to have gained the most traction in the United Kingdom and Europe, according to Dr. Kathleen Beebe, Ph.D., R.N., a professor of nursing at Dominican University of California. Though some evidence suggests it might be catching on in the United States, too. Few studies on hypnobirthing’s popularity exist, but one nationally representative survey of 2,400 American mothers who gave birth between 2011 and 2012 found that slightly more than one-fifth used mental strategies such as relaxation, visualization or hypnosis during childbirth.
What exactly is hypnobirthing, anyway; and how does it work?
The purported benefits
Hypnosis has been used for centuries to treat everything from mental illness to pain during surgery, but it wasn’t until the 1950s when hypnotherapists started promoting its use to ease the pains of labor and birth. In 1989, hypnotherapist Marie Mongan developed a program called HypnoBirthing, which posits that fear and anxiety can heighten the experience of pain; and that techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing and hypnosis can plunge you into a state of deep relaxation before and during labor, helping you become less fearful of it. Once women free themselves of this fear, the thinking goes, their bodies will relax and childbirth will be less painful.
To this end, women in HypnoBirthing classes are taught to think of aspects of labor differently. Contractions become “uterine waves,” while pushing becomes “birth breathing.” By re-framing these processes in more pleasant and familiar terms, women may experience them differently — and less painfully.
In a 2015 clinical trial involving 680 women, researchers found that those who self-hypnotized felt less afraid and anxious during labor than they’d expected to. Most also later reported having had positive experiences, saying that hypnosis helped them feel calm, confident and empowered before and during their births. “They had started off as being skeptical, but they ended up being really positive about the technique, as did their partners,” said Dr. Soo Downe, Ph.D., one of the clinical trial’s authors and a professor in midwifery studies at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom. “Many continued to use it after the births of their babies.”