Are Hypnosis-Assisted Birth Techniques For Everyone?

Every woman has a unique history that will have an impact on her experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting. In many cases, a woman's history needs special attention in the process of preparing for birth so that her issues and dynamics do not impede the birthing process.

In our culture, preparation for childbirth is a ritual in and of itself. Women and their partners read books, listen to birth stories, watch videos, and attend a variety of classes. In an attempt to master the fears and anxieties associated with childbirth, women and partners seek out support, information and tools that will enable them to move through the birth process feeling knowledgeable and empowered. When deciding what kind of childbirth preparation to undertake, women and partners should consider how much time they want to commit to preparation. They might also consider whether the class or philosophy is a good match for their personality and whether their particular, unique set of issues and circumstances will be attended to in a way that will promote a good emotional experience of childbirth. There are many different models of childbirth preparation and many models of hypnosis and relaxation.

Hypnosis-assisted birthing techniques are one type of preparation, and for many women, are quite helpful. However, there are women for whom this type of preparation may not be a good match. For some women with histories of sexual, physical or emotional trauma, hypnosis as the primary form of childbirth preparation does not adequately address the issues and challenges faced by these women and, in fact, often creates more anxiety. This is because many forms of hypnosis, such as HypnoBirthing®, encourage dissociation from the bodily experience in order to decrease the experience of physical pain. Trauma survivors have often used dissociation as a way of coping with the trauma. In the process of healing, they are learning to be more present with their experiences rather that separating from them. Therefore, hypnosis that encourages dissociation can be counterproductive for some women, regressive for others, and just plain frightening for some.

For women with anxiety disorders, the instinct is often to gravitate toward some form of hypnosis that can foster deep relaxation. However, as with trauma survivors, some people can experience the dissociative state of this type of hypnosis as disconcerting rather than relaxing. Many women with anxiety disorders, especially anxiety that centers on body integrity and body boundaries, can experience the imagery used in this type of hypnosis as too vague and distracting rather than grounding.

There are some forms of hypnosis and relaxation that are less dissociative that can be helpful to pregnant women with anxiety disorders and trauma histories. In addition, there are other forms of birth preparation that can be personalized in order to incorporate individual style preferences, to integrate past and present life stressors, and to address unique and particular challenges faced by the woman and her partner. Remember that there is no magic tool that can take away the work of birthing a child. It is a rite of passage that requires physical and psychological work before, during and after the delivery. Childbirth is a unique journey for each woman and family.

Deborah Issokson, Psy.D., is a psychologist specializing in perinatal mental health in Watertown, MA, who also provides training and supervision for childbirth professionals. She can be reached at 617-926-5176 or