First, our parents had Lamaze. Then water births were all the rage. Now, HypnoBirthing has taken center stage as the birthing technique du jour, thanks in part to Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton. Both royal moms reportedly learned the relaxation technique, which aims to provide a more calming, positive and less painful birth. But does it actually work? Let’s investigate.
What is HypnoBirthing, exactly? The technique was created by hypnotist Marie Mongan in 1989, who gave birth to two children in the ’50s and ’60s with no anesthesia (and back in those days, that was pretty much unheard of). Mongan built a curriculum of breathing exercises, relaxation, visualization and guided meditations for women to follow throughout their pregnancies, encouraging them to use these tools during labor to take control of their birthing experience and make it a more positive, calm event for both mother and baby. “Every woman has within her the power to call upon her natural maternal instinct to birth her babies in joy and comfort in a manner that most mirrors nature,” Mongan says in her book, HypnoBirthing: The Natural Approach to Safer, Easier, More Comfortable Birthing. Hmm, sounds pretty nice.
And why would I want to give birth this way? Women who have practiced HypnoBirthing report having calm, positive births with fewer interventions from doctors. (Whoa, watch some of the birth videos HypnoBirthing women have posted online—where’s all the screaming and crying?) While HypnoBirthing doesn’t forbid the use of epidural or other pain management during birth, the program maintains that when you are able to fully relax with the help of self-hypnosis and deep breathing, the body’s natural endorphins and oxytocin can more easily take over, purportedly making birth less painful, shorter and requiring fewer interventions.
Self-hypnosis? Hmm, that sounds…mystical. That’s because you’re probably thinking of stage hypnosis, when people are encouraged to cluck like chickens or follow a swinging watch. But in this case, self-hypnosis is more like putting yourself into a deeply meditative state, with the help of guided meditation tracks, breathing exercises and partner-led coaching. While the audio tracks that Mongan created are focused on pregnancy, they aren’t that different from the guided meditations you’d listen to on the Calm app, for example. And while everything you’ve learned might go out the window when you actually give birth, regularly putting yourself in a state of deep relaxation seems like a helpful idea for a stressed-out pregnant lady.
This all sounds nice, but does it actually work? A 2006 study conducted by the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, found that women who practiced self-hypnosis during childbirth were 17 percent less likely to get an epidural and 18 percent less likely to require medical intervention. In 2015, midwife Corry A. Varner cited the published outcomes of United States Division of Vital Statistics birth data and the national survey Listening to Mothers II and compared it with statistics from the HypnoBirthing Institute. Twenty percent of HypnoBirthing mothers reported having an epidural compared to the surveyed national average of 76 percent; and 17 percent of HypnoBirthing women had a cesarean section, compared to 32 percent of women cited in the national birth data. Does practicing HypnoBirthing mean you’re magically going to soar through your birth with no chance of medical interventions? Nope, definitely not. But the stats do look promising, and we’ll be keeping our eye out for more studies.
I’m sold. How do I start HypnoBirthing? HypnoBirthing classes are offered all over the world, including at some hospitals. If there isn’t a class near you, Mongan’s book (which includes a CD of guided meditation and relaxation tracks) is a great place to start.