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BRAIN, HYPNOSIS AND PREGNANCY

JANUARY 2012

Childbirth is a unique experience in the life of a woman. This phase is characterized by many changes: on the one hand the changing of body image leads to changes in lifestyle and, on the other hand, women will have to assume the role of parents which entails new kinds of responsibilities and needs proper planning. The nine months of pregnancy are also characterized by the swinging into different emotional states: initial happiness and excitement, as the date of birth approaches, may turn into fear, anxiety and tension; in other words, into sensations that are connected to both imminent life changes and the physical experience of childbirth.
In particular, labor pain is one of the future mothers’ main concerns and it is often described as one of the most intense pains ever. Despite that fear, many women all over the world, try to avoid intensive use of medicines to manage delivery pain. It is clear that in this kind of multifaceted event, hypnosis can be used as an un-invasive mood and pain stabilizer.
In an interesting review by Caroline A. Smith and collaborators1, many researches focusing on alternative and complementary methods to contain pain during labor were examined. It was demonstrated, by examining a group of 729 pregnant women, that hypnotic techniques lead to reductions in the use of analgesics and, most importantly, allowed to administer epidural anesthesia less frequently. Results of these studies demonstrated that women who used hypnotic inductions felt greater satisfaction in concluding pregnancy. Furthermore, the authors reported that hypnotic suggestions may increase the incidence of natural birth and the reduction of the administration of oxytocin, a  hormone that is normally produced by the hypophysis, during the procedure. Finally, no side effects on mothers or newborns were reported in any of the included studies.
In a recent work2, conducted on 6 Iranian pregnant women, the qualitative relationship between hypnotic inductions and pregnancy was studied. This research was subdivided in 3 phases:
1)        A “pre-hypnosis” phase: from a general sample of 15 pregnant women, 6 of them, who responded best to hypnotic inductions, were selected: the others were used as control group.
2)        In the second phase, the “hypnosis” phase, a technique to induce a progressive relaxation was used (through the visualization of a safe place with personalized suggestions aimed to reduce pain). Afterwards, the experimenter/hypnotist remained present during each phase of labor to favor a deeper hypnotic relaxation.
3)        In the last phase, the “post-hypnotic” one, a questionnaire was administered to subjects (24 hours after delivery).
Results demonstrated that women in the hypnosis group, compared to control subjects, perceived the duration of labor as shorter.  Furthermore, along with a sensation of satisfaction for the procedure, a substantial reduction of pain (in four of the hypnosis subjects) was reported: pain was perceived as a controllable pressure that in the end disappeared (interestingly, women in the hypnosis group didn’t use any kind of anesthetic). As a matter of fact, previous research1 demonstrated that hypnosis, through the suppression of neural activity between the somatosensory cortex (involved in the sensory elaboration of stimuli) and the limbic system (involved in the emotional tone of stimuli), seems to inhibit the emotional component of painful experiences.
It is thus clear that hypnosis can be a useful instrument for pain management, especially valuable in conditions such as pregnancy. It can also be a valid technique to support future mothers during events preceding and following delivery.

Bibliografia
[1] Smith C.A., Collins C.T., Cyna A.M., Crowther C.A. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour (review). The Cocraine Library 9 (2010).
[2] Abbasi M., Ghazi F., Barlow-Harrison A. The effect of hypnosis on pain relief during labor and childbirth in iranian pregnant women. Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 57(2): 174-183 (2009).
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