Does hypnobirthing really work? The Evidence.

Before you invest time and effort into hypnobirthing, it is natural to be skeptical about whether hypnobirthing techniques actually work or not. I know I was certainly sceptical when I started!

Today, we’ll take a look at what various studies have found, as well as some feedback from various hypnobirthing courses that have surveyed their participants. Whilst it would be great to see more randomised control trails on hypnobirthing, there currently aren’t that many to choose from, and most of them only focus on the effectiveness of hypnosis as pain relief. That is why we will take lots of other evidence into account as well, as hypnobirthing practitioners claim that it is able to help in far more ways than just pain relief.

Hypnobirthing Claims

First, let’s see what hypnobirthing claims to do. The most common positive benefits claimed by hypnobirthing are:

  • Reduced need for pain medication
  • A shorter labour
  • A greater chance of a natural, vaginal birth
  • A reduction in post-partum depression
  • A reduction in tension, fear and anxiety

So, let’s take a look at the evidence…

Reduced Need for Pain Medication

In 2016, Madden et al. published a Cochrane review and meta-analysis. The review included nine randomized, controlled trials. The way that hypnosis was used varied in each of the trials. For example, in one trial women were asked to use audio tracks to practice at home and in another they were only introduced to hypnobirthing once they were in labour.

Despite the inconsistencies between the way hypnosis was used in the groups and the fact that some groups may not have been able to learn hypnobirthing very effectively, the study found that women who received hypnosis were 27% less likely to have any drugs for pain relief.

A randomised controlled trial by Werner et al in 2013 involved 1222 participants who were randomly assigned into a hypnosis group, a relaxation group or a control group that received normal care. The hypnosis and relaxation groups used audio tracks to learn new techniques in three one hour sessions.

At the end of the trial, the researchers found that the hypnosis group reported having significantly better labours than the other groups.

In a review by C A Smith et al, fourteen trials on alternative therapies for pain management during labour were analysed. The researchers found that women that used self-hypnosis had decreased requirements for pain relief, and they were more satisfied with pain management in their labour.

In 1990, Harmon et al completed a randomised study of women using hypnosis during labour and found that that the hypnosis group used less medication and had higher pain thresholds than the control group.

As well as data from trails, we can also look at data from established hypnobirthing programs such as HypnoBrithing® the Mongan Method. Although the data from programs like this is not as reliable as data from randomised controlled trials, it can still be very interesting.

In a randomised control trial in Florida,  from a group of 42 women, fewer patients in the hypnosis group used anesthesia (10 vs 14), Pitocin (2 vs 6), or postpartum medication (7 vs 11).

Shorter Labour

In a study by Jenkins and Pritchard from 1993, a reduction in the first stage of labour for first-time mothers was observed. The average duration of the first stage of labour in the hypnosis group was 6.4 hours. The average length of the first stage of labour in the control group was 9.3 hours. In the group of women who had given birth before, those who received hypnosis training had an average first stage of labour length of 5.3 hours. The control group’s average length of the first stage of labour was 6.2 hours.

When it came to the second stage of labour, they recorded an average time in the hypnosis group of 37 minutes. The average time in the control group was 50 minutes.

In a study by Abramson and Heron from 1950 the labours of 100 women trained in hypnosis were compared to 88 women in a control group. The researchers found a shorter first stage of labour in the hypnosis group by 3.23 hours compared to the control group.

In a study by Harmon et al in 1990, women trained in hypnosis were shown to have shorter stage one labours. The average length of labour for women trained in hypnosis in this study was just 4.5 hours. The average length of a stage one labour is around nine hours.

A Greater Chance of a Natural Vaginal Birth

In a study by Harmon, Hynan and Tyre in 1990, 38 women of 45 women who had used Hypnosis for Childbirth delivered their babies without caesarean, forceps or ventouse. This rate is higher than the average rate of intervention-free births for first-time mothers in the general population.

In a randomised control trial in Florida,  from a group of 42 women, none of the 22 patients in the hypnosis group experienced surgical intervention compared with 12 of the 20 patients in the control group. Twelve patients in the hypnosis group experienced complications compared with 17 in the control group.

The results from a survey from mothers that had used the HypnoBirthing® method showed that 22% of participants had cesarean sections. The average rate in the region the participants were from (Sydney, Austrailia)  was 38%.

A Reduction in Post-partum Depression

Mothers from Sydney that had used the HypnoBirthing® method during their labour were asked to report on post-partum depression. Only two out of 107 participants reported post-partum depression. Both of these mothers reported their cases as not being severe.

In a study by Harmon et al from 1990, there was a reduced incidence of depression in the women who had been taught hypnosis for their childbirths.

A Reduction in Tension, Fear and Anxiety

In a study by Abbasi et al in 2009, a group of women who received hypnosis training during labour gave feedback on their experience. The women described a decrease in fear, a lack of tiredness, a lack of suffering, self-confidence and a lack of anxiety. Their births were perceived as being very satisfactory compared to their previous experiences.

Mothers from Sydney that had used the HypnoBirthing® method during their labour were asked to rate how calm they felt before and during birth. The scale was zero to ten, with ten being the calmest. The average rating for calmness before birth was 9. The average rating during birth was 7.9.

Final Thoughts

Hypnobirthing has grown in popularity over the years because it is a simple approach to childbirth that is backed by positive feedback from thousands of women from all over the world. The anecdotal reports from these women are backed by science too, with a number of randomised control trials showing how effective hypnobirthing can be.

Whilst more studies would be great, women who are interested in hypnobirthing should feel confident that their efforts in learning hypnobirthing can result in a far more positive birth experience.

There are also benefits to hypnobirthing that are hard to prove in scientific studies. For example, reports from participants of a HypnoBirthing® program in the United States showed that having a birth partner involved in the process was one of the things they enjoyed the most.

References

Madden K, Middleton P, Cyna AM, Matthewson M, Jones L. Hypnosis for pain management during labour and childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;2016(5):CD009356. Published 2016 May 19. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009356.pub3

Werner A, Uldbjerg N, Zachariae R, Wu CS, Nohr EA. Antenatal hypnosis training and childbirth experience: a randomized controlled trial. Birth. 2013;40(4):272‐280. doi:10.1111/birt.12071

Smith CA, Collins CT, Cyna AM, Crowther CA. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;2006(4):CD003521. Published 2006 Oct 18. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003521.pub2

Harmon TM, Hynan MT, Tyre TE. Improved obstetric outcomes using hypnotic analgesia and skill mastery combined with childbirth education. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1990;58(5):525‐530. doi:10.1037//0022-006x.58.5.525

Mary W. Jenkins M. H. Pritchard. Hypnosis: practical applications and theoretical considerations in normal labour

Abbasi M, Ghazi F, Barlow-Harrison A, Sheikhvatan M, Mohammadyari F. The effect of hypnosis on pain relief during labor and childbirth in Iranian pregnant women. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2009;57(2):174‐183. doi:10.1080/00207140802665435

ABRAMSON M, HERON WT. An objective evaluation of hypnosis in obstetrics. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1950;59(5):1069‐1074. doi:10.1016/s0002-9378(16)39171-2

Alice A. Martin, PhD; Paul G. Schauble, PhD; Surekha H. Rai, PhD; and R. Whit Curry, Jr, MD The Effects of Hypnosis on the Labor Processes and Birth Outcomes of Pregnant Adolescents. The Journal of Family Practice, MAY 2001, 50(5): 441-443.

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