Celebrities from Jessica Alba to Kate Middleton have supposedly used hypnosis and related techniques to prepare for labor and delivery, ease feelings of fear, and – yup – even naturally manage pain. Hypnosis during birth? Well, yes. It’s a real thing.

But, no. It’s not exactly what you might be envisioning. It’s not quite as simple as you’re getting very sleepy one minute and here’s your bundle of joy the next.

Let’s take a closer look at this method, its benefits, and how it differs from other birthing methods you might encounter.

What is HypnoBirthing?

On its own, the term hypnosis means “a procedure during which a person experiences suggested changes in sensation, perception, thought or behavior.” One particular branded version of hypnosis during the birthing process is referred to as HypnoBirthing.

While this basic idea has been around for centuries, the specific term was coined in the 1989 book HypnoBirthing: A Celebration of Life written by hypnotherapist Marie Mongan. Her ideas are influenced by early “natural birth” proponents Dr. Jonathan Dye and Dr. Grantly Dick-Read.

At its core, HypnoBirthing aims to help a woman deal with any fear or anxiety she may have around birth. It involves various relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques to help relax the body before and during labor and birth.

The idea is that when the body and mind are in a completely relaxed state, birth can happen more quickly and painlessly because the body doesn’t fight the natural process.

How HypnoBirthing works

“With HypnoBirthing, I was able to truly empty my mind and breathe my way into birthing our baby,” shares Iradis Jordan, who chose the method for her baby’s delivery. “It allowed my body to relax to the point where any pain was dimmed out. I felt my body respond how it was meant to.”

Again, relaxation is the name of the game with HypnoBirthing. But during all the potential chaos of contractions, how can you possibly get into a Zen-like state? Well, there are various techniques to try, like controlled breathing.

Controlled breathing
The HypnoBirthing Midwife shares two such breathing techniques. In the first, you breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the nose. Breathe in to the count of four and out to the count of seven.

The second technique is similar. You follow the same deep-breath pattern, but you lengthen the inhale to the count of seven and keep the exhale to the count of seven. Breathing in this way is supposed to help trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, giving you some calming vibes.

A focus on positive thoughts and words
Focusing on positive thoughts and words is another useful technique.Instead of using the word “contraction” to describe the tightenings during labor, you might say “surge” or “wave” for a more positive spin. Another example is replacing “rupture” of the membranes with the word “release.”

Guided visualization
Other techniques include guided visualization, where you might picture something like a flower opening to help relax your body, and using music and meditation to further relaxation.

Through using these techniques, the idea is that you may give birth in a state similar to daydreaming. You may:

  • be fully aware of what’s happening to you and able to come and go out of hypnosis as you please
  • become more relaxed, keeping your body out of the fight-or-flight mode that can be induced by the unfamiliar environment of a birth room
  • be more able to manage pain and stress hormones by the release of endorphins
  • By controlling pain and stress hormones, the body may let go and submit fully to the task ahead.

Related: What to expect during a vaginal delivery

Different HypnoBirthing-like methods
HypnoBirthing is also referred to as the Mongan Method. It’s considered the “original” method and involves five classes that are 2 1/2 hours long, totaling 12 hours of instruction. There are many certified HypnoBirthing instructors around the world.

The main idea with this method is that severe pain doesn’t have to be a part of labor if the body is relaxed. Participants learn different self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques, including guided imagery and breathing.

Hypnobabies is another method of using hypnosis during the birth process. It’s based on the Painless Childbirth Program, which was developed by master hypnotherapist Gerald Kein.

While similar to HypnoBirthing, this method has some key differences. It focuses on specific tactics to help with pain versus relying on simple relaxation techniques. These tactics include things like hypnotic compounding (repetition) and other “medical grade” somnambulistic (sleepwalking) hypnosis techniques.

This course is also a bit longer, involving six classes that are 3 hours each for 18 total hours of instruction.