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The Benefits of Self-Hypnosis for Childbirth

by Kathy Stephenson(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 137 - July 2007

Helena looked serene and tranquil as she rested in the maternity ward. Her partner gently caressed her hand as she focused her attention on her breathing pattern. Breathing in a sense of calm, breathing out any anxiety, as she relaxed and allowed herself to experience a sense of deep inner-focus. At times she appeared almost as if she was asleep, but she was totally aware of her surroundings, just relaxed and peaceful. She was confident in the knowledge that she could trust in her body’s natural ability to give birth. She imagined her birthing muscles working in perfect harmony, just as they were designed to do. As the contractions grew stronger, she allowed her mind to wander to her own special oasis of calm, a golden beach with the waves of the ocean gently lapping. She felt a sensation of pressure and at one point, some discomfort, but she did not experience any significant degree of pain. Her son Edward entered the world only fours hours after announcing his intended arrival with the first contraction. The birth was just as she had imagined it to be, a calm and comfortable experience.

Helena is one of a growing number of women who are using hypnosis to feel comfortable, in control and relaxed during childbirth. Self-hypnosis can be quickly and easily learnt. It offers a number of techniques to enable women to work with their own body’s natural labour process. It is a safe and natural method which can help childbirth to be a very positive and enjoyable experience. With more control over their mind and body, women can participate in the natural birth process in a calm and relaxed way and, therefore, enjoy the experience of childbirth.[1]

Pregnant woman

The Fear- Tension- Pain Syndrome
The Fear, Tension, Pain syndrome

Self-hypnosis can help to break this cycle

Perceptions of Childbirth

Birth is a universal human experience, yet the birth experience can be different across cultures. Within many cultures throughout the world, women give birth every day naturally with minimum distress. In western society, birth is often closely associated with pain, and viewed as a traumatic event. The words labour and childbirth often conjure up the image of pain, fear and anxiety. This leads to commonly held limiting beliefs and expectations that it will be a painful, distressing experience, which results in many women entering labour in a state of heightened anxiety. By practising self-hypnosis they can gain useful techniques to reach a deep level of relaxation, and in this calm state, the body’s natural anaesthesia, endorphins, replaces the stress hormones that constrict and cause pain. This enables women to use their natural birthing instincts for a comfortable birth.

This approach is intended to be used as an aid to childbirth in conjunction with existing medical care, not as an alternative. Indeed, many midwives are now learning how to use hypnotherapeutic techniques to help women to remain calm and relaxed. Helena found that the midwives were very supportive of her self-hypnosis techniques, and remarked that they were amazed by just how calm and focused she was throughout the whole process.

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis can be described as an altered state of awareness. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon similar to the one which happens spontaneously when we daydream. Think for a moment about a time when you have been so engrossed in something, that you finished drinking a cup of coffee without realizing, and reached for the cup only to find it empty. Or a time when you were driving and suddenly thought ‘How did I get here?’ What you are experiencing at these times is a natural trance state. We all enter into and come out of these trances everyday. The only difference between hypnosis and the naturally occurring trance state is that with hypnosis you are guided to enter into this state with a distinct beneficial purpose. During this time the body remains relaxed while the mind becomes highly focused, and receptive to positive suggestion. When you enter into hypnosis, you are totally in control, and can hear everything and are aware of your surroundings, but are able to screen out and disregard outside noise and distraction.[2]

Levels of consciousness are measured through the frequency of electrical brain wave activity. We spend most of our waking time at beta level – 14 cycles per seconds, which is alert and capable of critical thought. During hypnosis the brain functions at alpha level – 7 cycles per second, the same frequency as when we are daydreaming, and conscious awareness is re-directed. These slower brainwave rhythms are associated with creative activity and calm, peaceful states of mind. As you become more familiar with experiencing hypnosis, you can train your mind to slip into this alpha wave state whenever you choose. This can be particularly useful during the stages of labour. As Helena explains “I found that listening to my self-hypnosis CD most days during the last few weeks helped me to relax. The more I listened, the more I was able to really relax and switch off. This was enormously helpful when I was in labour; I could hear everything around me, but somehow I was able to stay in my own little world.”

Women who wish to use hypnosis for childbirth may either visit an experienced hypnotherapist who specializes in childbirth, or they may choose to use a self-hypnosis audio CD produced by an experienced hypnotherapist; whichever they feel is most appropriate for their individual need. I would suggest that if you have any significant underlying fears and anxieties about childbirth, or previous traumatic experiences, then it would be better to book a one-to-one hypnotherapy consultation. However, the vast majority of women who would like to use hypnosis as a means to relax, and work with their body to diffuse discomfort, can gain significant benefit from listening to a self-hypnosis-for-childbirth CD in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. There are a number of hypnotherapeutic techniques which, when combined, can make childbirth a very positive and enjoyable experience.

Self-Hypnosis can Help to Break the Cycle of Fear-Tension-Pain

Dr Grantly Dick-Read, the founder of the Natural Childbirth Trust, claimed that the primary cause of pain in childbirth is the fear-tension-pain syndrome. He pointed out that it is the panic and fear that makes childbirth hurt and, therefore, if you eliminate fear you can eliminate much of the pain. If you go into the labour feeling frightened, your system will respond accordingly. Fear triggers the body’s panic mechanism, depriving it of oxygen, which may slow down the labour. Fear leads to tension, anxiety and stress. Messages sent to receptors in the body create exaggerated and distorted reactions and physiological and chemical changes in the body. Stress hormones are released and these act as constrictors causing the muscles in the uterus to tense. Instead of working in harmony as they were designed to, the upper and lower uterus muscles work in opposition and pain is created. Added to this, fear creates stress hormones, which block the effects of endorphins interfering with the body’s own pain control system.

Self-hypnosis can help you break the cycle of Fear-Tension-Pain. When your body is free from the resistance created by fear, your birthing muscles work in perfect harmony as they were designed to do. In a calm state, endorphins, also the body’s natural pain killers, replace the stress hormones that constrict muscles and cause pain. Helena remained calm and relaxed, and experienced a sensation of pressure rather than actual pain. By learning to achieve a deep level of relaxation, Helena released her body’s own natural pain control hormone. She used creative imagery to reinforce this.

“I imagine releasing a flood of endorphins; I pictured them as golden bubbles which engulfed any grey stress hormones. I created my own natural anesthesia.”

Pain Control

Hypnosis is an effective method for controlling pain. This approach is based on the premise that the processes of the mind have a direct effect on the body. A review of literature on the mind/body connection,[3] found that at the mind/brain level, many patients are able to distort their own perception so that they experience deep levels of anaesthesia using hypnosis. At the brain/body level, increased endorphins have been recorded in patients following hypnotherapy sessions.

There is well-documented evidence of patients undergoing major surgery, responding to hypnotic suggestion as the only anaesthetic. The potential of hypnotherapy as an alternative to anesthetic in surgery is illustrated in a recent New Scientist article,[4] which highlights the case of a woman undergoing a breast cancer operation at Lister Hospital in London using hypnosis instead of chemical anesthetic. This is not an isolated case; Liege hospital in Belgium has performed over 4,800 operations using hypno-sedation.

Using hypnosis it is possible to feel dissociated from painful sensations. The discomfort associated with childbirth can be minimized through the process of re-direction and dissociation. As the pain of childbirth is controlled by the brain, by teaching the mind and body to accept and embrace contractions, it is possible to re-interpret and diffuse the sensation of this pain.


Dissociation is a trance phenomenon whereby you can experience your body, mind or feelings as separate from yourself. Self-hypnosis can incorporate disassociation techniques, which enables us to put a barrier, or some distance between ourselves and any discomfort. Our brain registers pain when it receives one strong stimulus at a time, thereby introducing several different stimuli; it is possible to distract the brain, and lessen the intensity of the discomfort.

Many women use the power of their own imagination to come up with their own images. Helena imagined a vast deep blue ocean, with surging waves which reached a crest, and then ebbing away as each contraction faded. She found it helpful to imagine that each wave was moving her closer to her baby. Helena also disassociated from her pain by imagining it as a large round red ball. She then mentally reduced the size of the ball, and at the same time drained the intensity of the colour until it became a small pinkish dot, diminishing the pain in the process.

Glove Anaesthesia

Glove anaesthesia is a commonly used technique that helps to bring about a numbing sensation in the hand, and which can then be transferred to other parts of the body such as the abdomen. With a little practice, many women can become adept at this technique, and can create a sensation of numbness by stroking one hand with the other while suggesting, in hypnosis, that the hand will tingle and become numb. The numbness increases with each stroke, and can then be transferred to any part of the body. I personally find this technique useful for visits to the dentist!

Time Distortion

We often distort our perceptions of time without consciously being aware of it. Time distortion is a trance phenomenon whereby we experience time as passing much more quickly or slowly than usual. When we are absorbed in an enjoyable pastime, time seems to fly. Conversely, when we sit in boring meetings, time seems to drag. In hypnosis, women can utilize this time distortion phenomena not only to expand the time between contractions, but also to make the time the contraction lasts to pass quickly.

Creative Visualization and Positive Suggestions

Creative visualization and positive suggestions can also play a significant part in achieving a calm and comfortable birth. Positive suggestions can help to increase self-confidence, and help women to trust their bodies’ natural ability to give birth.

Creative visualization is a simple yet very powerful method of using our imagination to create a mental picture, feeling or idea, of something we wish to manifest. Women can use mental imagery and affirmations to imagine the joyful birth of their baby. The term visualization does not necessarily mean ‘see’ the mental image; it also includes sensing, feeling or just simply thinking about the event. The unconscious mind does not know the difference between reality and imagination. Therefore, through using creative visualization techniques, women have the opportunity to rehearse their perfect birth over and over again in their mind. Therefore, both the mind and body become more and more familiar with the processes of a calm relaxed birth; this helps to increase inner-confidence, and significantly reduce the anxiety associated with birth. In this way, once the actual birth begins, the body is familiar and comfortable with the rehearsed responses and so reacts accordingly. As Helena points out, “I found the visualization really helped to distract my mind. I went into hospital with no anxiety at all. I wasn’t afraid and remained calm and aware of everything. My son’s birth was just as I pictured it to be, wonderful. Self-hypnosis is a special tool which I’ll continue to use’’.

Post Pregnancy Benefits

Most women who use hypnosis for childbirth feel less mentally and physically exhausted. This is not surprising when you consider that by practising self-hypnosis throughout the last few months of pregnancy, they are regularly experiencing total physical and mental relaxation and, therefore, enter labour in a calm and relaxed state of mind. Women commonly report feeling more confident and in control during the stages of labour. In one study of women who used hypnosis for childbirth, 20% achieved complete anesthesia and 50% achieved a lessening of discomfort for a manageable labour. Most of the women in the study found hypnosis to be helpful, and said they would definitely use it for their next delivery.[5] Another research study has shown that women using self-hypnosis techniques are likely to have shorter labour and reduced pain medication.[6]

Self-hypnosis is a valuable tool which can really come into its own in the early weeks after the birth. It is particularly beneficial in increasing energy levels.

The relaxation techniques enable new mothers to remain calm and relaxed when adapting to looking after their newborn. It can reduce levels of stress and anxiety, and help ease the mental adjustment that is required in the early days of motherhood. 


1.    Simpkins C. Self-Hypnosis for Women. Radiant Dolphin Press. 2004.
2.    Hornyak LM. Healing from Within. American Psychological Society. 2002.
3.    Rossi E and Cheek B. Mind-Body Therapy. Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis. Norton & Co. 1988.
4.    Elkan D. Trance, Scalpel, Action. New Scientist. August 6, 2005.
5.    Oster MI. Psychological preparation for labour and delivery using hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 37, 12-21. 1994.
6.    Jenkins MW and Pritchard MH. Hypnosis: Practical Applications and Theoretical Considerations in Normal Labour. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 100(3), 221-226, 1993.


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About Kathy Stephenson

Kathy Stephenson BA PGCE MSc GQHP & NLP Master Practitioner is a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. She is the course leader of the Education, Psychology and Counselling degree course and the Certificate of Hypnotherapy. She divides her time between lecturing and running self-hypnosis workshops. She has developed a range of self-hypnosis audio CDs using a combination of hypnotherapeutic suggestions, NLP techniques and creative visualisation, including a CD entitled Deep Relaxing Sleep. She has developed a range of self-hypnosis audio CDs using a combination of hypnotherapeutic suggestions, NLP techniques and creative visualisation, including a CD entitled Deep Relaxing Sleep, available from She may be contacted via Tel: 01433 659358;

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