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NLP and Pregnancy

by Jeremy Lazarus(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 75 - April 2002

"It really made a difference to my experience of labour."

A few weeks ago the author, a certified NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) master practitioner and trainer, was asked by an eminent surgeon to assist his wife (Carla) in controlling her pain during the impending birth of their third child. Her previous two labours had lasted 14 and 12 hours respectively, with her needing stitches and pethidine both times.

The purpose of this article is to explore how I used NLP to help Carla to reduce dramatically the time spent in labour and have a relatively simple and comfortable birth. The effects of the two-hour NLP session with Carla were staggering. "From the very first contraction to birth took just four hours. I had no stitches and no drugs, and felt ready to leave hospital after just a few hours. It really made a difference to my experience of labour."

This article will briefly describe NLP and some of the key aspects of it that were relevant to my work with Carla. I will then describe in some detail the work I did with Carla, and consider some ways that NLP could help some other health issues occurring during pregnancy.

What is NLP Anyway?

There are several definitions of NLP, depending on who you speak to, for example:

  • "The new science of success";
  • "How to use the language of your mind to programme yourself for success";
  • "A model of communication - how we communicate with others and ourselves";
  • "How to model excellence and then reproduce it";
  • "The study of subjective human experience".

Essentially NLP was developed in the mid-1970s by two Americans called Richard Bandler and John Grinder. They were curious enough to want to understand how excellent communicators got the results they did. They rationalized that if you can find out how an excellent 'performer' in any field of life achieves his/her success, and then replicate this in others, they too can at least improve their performance and possibly exceed the exemplar.

From their work, their curiosity and their willingness to experiment developed this new art/science, which has helped probably hundreds of thousands of people worldwide in areas such as health, sports, education, business, relationships, therapy, coaching and personal fulfilment.

One of the great aspects of NLP is that there are many techniques available, and usually for any given situation there are several ways forward. In the case study I describe the techniques that I used with Carla. There are I am sure numerous other means available to achieve the same result.

Some Core NLP Presuppositions

As NLP has developed so it has embodied a series or convenient beliefs, or 'presuppositions' as they are known in NLP. These presuppositions were first referred to in Frogs into Princes, The Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.[1] Two of the key NLP presuppositions that were relevant in my work with Carla are:

  • The mind and body are connected;
  • We are in charge of our mind and therefore we are in charge of our results.

The Mind-Body Link

For many centuries esoteric writers and followers believed in the mind-body link. In the 1970s the medical profession was able to prove this following the discovery of neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit nerve impulses in the brain, but this is not all that they do. Neurotransmitters in effect run to and from the brain communicating with every organ inside us about our thoughts, feelings, wants and dreams. In effect, every single cell in our body is eavesdropping on our internal dialogue.[2]

We are in Charge of our Mind and Therefore our Results

We humans take in information via our five senses - visual (sight), auditory (sound), kinaesthetic (touch/feel), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste). In NLP these are called 'representational systems', i.e. how we represent to ourselves what happens in our external world. (During an NLP training course I was explaining to delegates one of the NLP presuppositions that 'the map is not the territory', i.e. our view of the world is just our view, not how it really is. There were four policemen in the group, and one of them remarked that even when there are several policemen (presumably trained in observation skills) giving eye-witness accounts of the same event, there are significant differences in what they report having seen.)

Another word for 'representational systems' is 'modalities'. One of the key discoveries made by Bandler and Grinder is that, for practical purposes, the mind works using not just pictures, sounds and feelings, but finer distinctions of these modalities, called 'sub-modalities'.[3-5] These sub-modalities give meaning to our experience. Some examples of sub-modalities are given in Table 1.

By changing certain sub-modalities of any experience, the way the person relates to the experience will change. So, for example, when a client says to me they have a 'big' problem 'hanging over them', I would ask them to think of their problem and get a picture of it (which, not surprisingly, would be big and located above them). By asking them to move the picture in their mind further away, bring it lower down and make it smaller, their experience of the 'problem' will change. That is not to say that the event in hand disappears, but that the client's relationship to that event will change. The same principle applies to sounds and feelings. The key point to note is that as the client is in charge of moving the picture, he/she is in charge of their experience. The reader is invited to experience this for themselves:

Think of a MINOR problem or personal limitation. Notice the picture you have of it in your mind. Push the picture further away, make it smaller, dimmer, de-focus it, and step out of the picture. Notice what happens to your experience of the problem. The chances are that the problem seems less significant. The same effect can be experienced by adjusting the sounds and feelings.

The use of sub-modalities was invaluable with Carla, as will be explained later in the article. One simple yet powerful use in the health arena is to use sub-modalities to help a client dislike a food that they previously liked but wished they didn't (for example chocolate!). This takes around ten minutes. I have also used this successfully with cigarettes.

Time Line Therapy(tm)

Time Line Therapy(tm)[6] is an NLP-related technique that was developed in the mid-1980s. It uses our own internal concept of time, which is normally represented by each person as a 'time line'.[7] Essentially, the Time Line Therapy(tm) technique is used quickly, easily and painlessly to release negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear and guilt, emotions which are stored in the body from past experiences and which adversely impact on current behaviour. (It is hard to believe that, for example, road rage is caused purely by the event itself. It is far more likely that there were numerous past events of anger which were stored up and which are vented at that time.) Time Line Therapy(tm) is also used to remove limiting beliefs about ourselves, minor or major beliefs which may prevent us in some way from getting the results we want in our lives. It works by our floating above, or dissociating from, our time line and the events in our past, so that we can see them for what they really are. We take any positive learnings from the events so that the events no longer have any hold over us and the related emotions disappear. Typically each emotion or belief takes around ten minutes to release. (If you're sceptical, I know how you feel because I felt the same way, but then I found that it works.)

Case Study - Carla

Before beginning my work with Carla, I checked that:

  • she was completely willing to work with me (having had such long labours previously, Carla was highly motivated!);
  • she was healthy and that there were no complications with the pregnancy;
  • she was happy for her husband, the surgeon, to remain in the room during the session.

After spending a few minutes 'building rapport' with Carla, I began by asking her what she believed about the impending birth, and whether she had any particular emotions related to the birth. Her key beliefs were that it was going to be hard and painful and as a result she was scared.

Beliefs are crucial to the results we obtain in life. We may have all the skills needed to excel, but if we don't believe we have we will probably not use them, and hence not succeed.[7],[8]

I explained to Carla the concept of the mind-body connection, particularly by referring to the conscious mind and the 'other-than-conscious' mind - let's call this the unconscious mind for simplicity. When talking about the latter, I referred to its prime directives, particularly that of maintaining and protecting the body. To help convince Carla, I placed a pendulum on her finger and asked her unconscious mind to give 'yes' and 'no' signals via the pendulum. Carla was amazed that the pendulum moved in one direction for a 'yes', and the other for a 'no'. This was a powerful convincer for her that her unconscious mind did in fact run the body.

I then moved on to using sub-modalities. I asked Carla to think about the birth and to get a picture. I elicited some of the key sub-modalities. Generally, the impact of any event on someone can be reduced by adjusting the visual sub-modalities in the following way:

  • moving a picture further away;
  • making it smaller;
  • making it black and white;
  • stepping out of the picture (dissociating);
  • making it darker;
  • de-focusing it;
  • making it flat.

I invited Carla to 'play' by asking her to change the sub-modalities as above, checking with her each time whether it made the situation better or worse. I continued with the auditory and kinaesthetic sub-modalities in a similar way. Within a few minutes she reported feeling much calmer about the birth.

Another key presupposition of NLP is that people have all the resources they need to succeed. However, often people do not have the resources when they need them. I asked what resources she would need, or what she would need to know, such that she would feel completely comfortable about the birth. Carla said that she'd need to have trust. So again, I elicited her visual sub-modalities for trust, which not surprisingly were a dim and distant picture to the side. Within a few moments she had made the picture bigger and brighter and in front of her, leaving her feeling completely relaxed about the birth.

I asked her to ask her unconscious mind to keep the two pictures there. I then asked her what she now believed about the birth, and she said that she believed it would be easy and that she was in control, although there was still some fear there.

I then used Time Line Therapy(tm) to help Carla release her fear. At the end of this process I asked her how she was, and she said that she was looking forward to the birth. I wanted to be extremely thorough, so I took Carla for a journey above her time line only to her two previous childbirths, asking her to notice what was happening and to take any positive learnings from each experience. I then asked her to float into the future to the imminent birth, noticing how it was going to be. The outcome was that she told me she felt totally comfortable and in control and that she totally owned the childbirth process.

I then re-elicited her beliefs about the childbirth; she was congruent about how comfortable it was going to be, and that she was looking forward to it. I checked with her how she was feeling about childbirth on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 was completely at ease. Carla said 10. I asked whether she had any other questions or concerns, and she said that she did not. So at that point I was satisfied that we had done all that there was to do, and I left a little more than two hours after arriving.

A couple of weeks after Carla had returned home from the hospital, we discussed how the process had been for her.

"It wasn't how I had expected. I thought I'd be in a trance and not remember anything afterwards. That wasn't the case...What I liked was that the process was not out of my hands. You were helping me to help you to help me. I was completely aware of what was going on."

Other Uses of NLP during Pregnancy

Having spoken to midwives and mothers, I understand that the main issues facing pregnant women are nausea, backache and other forms of pain/discomfort. NLP is closely linked to hypnosis, and there has been much written about the use of hypnosis for pain relief. I will not add to the list.

As for pure NLP techniques, my preference would be for the use of sub-modalities. One way to do this is to elicit the sub-modalities for the pain (particularly the kinaesthetic ones), ask the client if they can, for example, make it smaller, change its shape/colour/texture/temperature, etc. Clients almost certainly will be able to do it. If they are not able to reduce the pain, ask them to increase it! Once they can either move the pain or increase it, they know that they can control it, and hence can reduce or even remove it. This technique has worked many times.

Another NLP technique for pain relief that has been written about (I have not personally used this technique) is to simulate the effects of a pain-killing drug, with a variation of kinaesthetic sub-modalities. Bandler and MacDonald cite an example of how this was used with a lady about to give birth.[9] Essentially, the lady was asked to relive an experience she had already had of taking morphine. As she relived it and noticed the kinaesthetic sub-modalities, the key steps were 'anchored', i.e. a physical stimulus was applied that linked the physical stimulus to the key aspects of the morphine experience. When she needed the pain relief, her husband (an NLP practitioner) fired off the anchor, hence 'activating' the same response as the morphine.

With regard to nausea, again sub-modalities can be used. Richard Bandler and Will MacDonald describe in detail how they used this technique with a client.[10] The key is to find the one or two sub-modalities that are the difference between feeling normal and beginning to feel nauseous. In the example, the client said that the room started spinning to the right as he felt sick. The author told him to slow it down, and then reverse the direction of the spinning. By doing that, the sickness stopped immediately!


This article has shown how some NLP and related techniques can be used to ease the burden of pregnancy, and labour in particular. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I personally am clear that NLP makes a huge difference in many areas of life, particularly health. There are growing numbers of medical professionals who are becoming NLP practitioners. Indeed, as a result of being in the room while I was working with Carla, her husband registered for our next NLP practitioner course, where he will learn everything I did with Carla and a lot more. There is too much evidence of the positive impact of NLP for it to be denied. I recommend that you investigate for yourselves, either by contacting me or by contacting the Association of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.[11]


1. Bandler Richard and Grinder John. Frogs into Princes, The Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming. 1st ed. Real People Press. Moab, Utah, USA. 1979. 2nd ed. Eden Grove Editions. Enfield, Middx. ISBN 1-870845-03-X. 1990.
2. Chopra Deepak. Quantum Healing - Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. Bantam Books. New York. ISBN 0-553-34869-8. 1989.
3. Bandler Richard. Using Your Brain for a Change. Real People Press. Moab, Utah, USA. ISBN 0-911226-27-3. 1985.
4. Andreas Steve and Andreas Connirae. Change Your Mind and Keep the Change. Real People Press. Moab, Utah, USA. ISBN 0-911226-29-X. 1987.
5. Bandler Richard and MacDonald Will. An Insider's Guide to Sub-modalities. Meta Publications. Capitola, California. ISBN 0-916990-22-2. 1988.
6. James Tad and Woodsmall Wyatt. Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Meta Publications. Capitola, California. ISBN 0-916990-21-4. 1988.
7. Dilts Robert. Changing Belief Systems with NLP. Meta Publications. Capitola, California. ISBN 0-916990-24-9. 1990.
(Dilts worked closely with Bandler and Grinder and is acknowledged as being one of the leading lights of NLP.)
8. Dilts Robert, Hallbom Tim and Smith Suzi. Beliefs - Pathways to Health & Well-being. Metamorphous Press. Portland, Oregon. ISBN 1-55552-029-4. 1990.
9. Bandler and MacDonald. Ibid. pp100-01.
10. Ibid. pp93-97.
9. Website for the ANLP - - or Tel: 0870 870 4970.


  1. NLP Training said..

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge about NLP and Time Line Therapy®. I acquiesce with this statement: " I personally am clear that NLP makes a huge difference in many areas of life, particularly health. There are growing numbers of medical professionals who are becoming NLP practitioners."

    If you want to know more about NLP and Time Line Therapy®, visit now!

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About Jeremy Lazarus

Jeremy Lazarus is a former finance director and management consultant, and now a certified trainer of NLP, Time Line Therapy(tm) and hypnosis. He is based in North London, and is a director of The Lazarus Consultancy Ltd and Artesian Group Ltd. These companies specialize in delivering approved NLP practitioner and master practitioner training, including Time Line Therapy(tm) and hypnosis training, as well as business training, executive and life coaching, and personal breakthrough sessions. Jeremy has spoken at the ANLP conference, and at regional NLP meetings on several occasions, and has appeared on television several times as a career coach. He can be contacted on Tel: 0044 208 349 2929; Fax: 0044 208 349 2928; Mobile: 0777 55 22239; or

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