The Effects of Hypnosis on the Labor Processes and Birth Outcomes of Pregnant Adolescents

Alice A. Martin, PhD

Paul G. Schauble, PhD

Surekha H. Rai, PhD

R. Whit Curry, Jr, MD

Gainesville, Florida

The Journal of Family Practice • MAY 2001 • Vol. 50, No. 5


We evaluated how childbirth preparation incorporating hypnotic techniques affected the labor processes and birth outcomes of pregnant adolescents. The study included 42 teenaged patients receiving prenatal treatment at a county public health department before their 24th week of pregnancy. They were randomly assigned to either a treatment group receiving a childbirth preparation protocol under hypnosis or a control group receiving supportive counseling. When labor and delivery outcome measures were compared in the 2 groups, significant differences favoring the hypnosis intervention group were found in the number of complicated deliveries, surgical procedures, and length of hospital stay. Larger studies in different populations are needed.

Hypnosis has been used to control pain during labor and delivery for more than a century, but the introduction of chemo-anesthesia and inhalation anesthesia during the late 19th century led to the decline of its use. Recently there has been a resurgence of this technique in obstetrics. Hypnotherapy has been found to be effective in providing pain relief, reducing the need for chemical anesthesia, and reducing anxiety, fear, and pain related to childbirth. Hypnosis has also been helpful in both managing various complications of pregnancy (such as premature labor) and reducing the likelihood of premature labor and birth in high-risk patients. It has also has been effective in the treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum, acute hypertension associated with pregnancy and conversion of breech to the vertex presentation.

One promising application of hypnosis is in the area of labor and delivery. The use of hypnosis in preparing the patient for labor and delivery is based on the premise that such preparation reduces anxiety, improves pain tolerance (lowering the need for medication), reduces birth complications, and promotes a rapid recovery process. The key aspect of this treatment is involvement of the patient before labor begins, to promote her active participation and sense of control in the labor and delivery process. This is accomplished through educating the patient about this process and teaching her alternate ways to produce hypno-analgesia and anesthesia. Hypnotic preparation thus provides the expectant mother with a sense of control for managing her anxiety and physical discomfort.

Although there have been numerous reports suggesting the value of hypnosis in obstetrics, our study is one of the first to report a randomized controlled evaluation of childbirth preparation incorporating hypnotic techniques on labor processes and birth outcomes.


Both groups of patients received the standard prenatal treatment protocol from the medical staff, nurse practitioners, and hospital staff, all of whom were blind to group assignments. All patients were delivered at the local teaching hospital by obstetrics department staff who were blind to the study. The study interventions were begun with individual meetings with patients during regular clinic visits between 20 and 24 weeks’ gestation. Continuing clinic visits were scheduled for all patients on a biweekly basis, making the time span of the 4-session experimental conditions approximately 8 weeks. The study counselor (the primary author) provided hypnosis preparation training for the treatment group; a nurse midwife provided the supportive contact with the control group. Both interventions were completed before delivery; no prompting occurred during the labor and delivery process.

The 2 groups of patients were compared on medication use (Pitocin, anesthetic, and postpartum medication), complications and surgical intervention during delivery, and length of hospital stay for mothers and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admission for the infants. Complications fell into 36 categories of events (eg, multiple pregnancies, preeclampsia, vacuum-assisted delivery) that were entered in subjects’ records by obstetric staff who were unaware of the study. Statistical analysis was based on a simple count of the presence or absence of complications in the medical record by researchers (the researchers were not blinded to the patient’s study assignment).


Of the 47 patients, 3 moved out of the geographic area before delivery, and 2 patients (1 in each group) did not complete the research protocol and were not included in the research. Results were thus obtained for 22 patients in the hypnosis group and 20 in the control group, resulting in a total of 42 subjects. A two-tailed Fisher exact analysis at the .05 level was used to test for significance.

Only one patient in the hypnosis group had a hospital stay of more than 2 days compared with 8 patients in the control group (P=.008). None of the 22 patients in the hypnosis group experienced surgical intervention compared with 12 of the 20 patients in the control group (P=.000). Twelve patients in the hypnosis group experienced complications compared with 17 in the control group (P=.047). Although consistently fewer patients in the hypnosis group used anesthesia (10 vs 14), Pitocin (2 vs 6), or postpartum medication (7 vs 11), and fewer had infants admitted to the NICU (1 vs 5), statistical analysis was nonsignificant.


We focused on the educational preparation of the patient while in hypnosis to create the expectation of a normal labor and delivery, develop a conditioned response of comfort and confidence, and facilitate an increased sense of control in achieving a healthy delivery.

The subjects in the treatment group received a 4-session sequence of standard hypnotic interventions incorporating childbirth preparation information (ie, the hypnoreflexogenous method) in which they were instructed in the methods and benefits of focused relaxation and imagery to increase the likelihood of a safe and relatively pain-free delivery. The sessions provided an opportunity to experience and practice hypnotic induction and deep relaxation. The suggestions directed toward the expectant mothers during the hypnotic state focused on the conceptualization of pregnancy and childbirth as a healthy natural process.


Our study provides support for the use of hypnosis to aid in preparation of obstetric patients for labor and delivery. The reduction of complications, surgery, and hospital stay show direct medical benefit to mother and child and suggest the potential for a corresponding cost-saving benefit.

Hypnosis: practical applications and theoretical considerations in normal labour

Jenkins, MW

Pritchard MH

Aberdare District Maternity Unit, Mid Glamorgan, Wales.

Br J Obstet Gynaecol, 1993 March, 100(3): 221-6

Objective: To assess the designs of hypnotherapy on the first and second stages of labour in a large group of pregnant women.

Design: A semi-prospective case control study in which women attending antenatal clinics were invited to undergo hypnotherapy.

Subjects: One hundred twenty-six primigravid women with 300 age matched controls, and 136 parous women having their second baby with 300 age matched controls. Only women who had spontaneous deliveries were included.

Intervention: Six sessions of hypnotherapy given by a trained medical hypnotherapist during pregnancy.

Outcome Measures: Analgesic requirements, duration of first and second stages of labour.

Results: The mean lengths of the first stage of labour in the primigravid women was 6.4 h after hypnosis and 9.3 h in the control group (P<0.0001); the mean lengths of the second stage were 37 min and 50 min, respectively (P<0.001). In the parous women the corresponding values were 5.3 h and 6.2 h (P<0.01); and 24 and 22 min (ns). The use of analgesic agents was significantly reduced (P<0.001) in both hypnotized groups compared with their controls.

Conclusion: In addition to demonstrating the benefits of hypnotherapy, the study gives some insight into the relative proportions of mechanical and psychological components involved in the longer duration of labour in primigravid women.

Improved obstetric outcomes using hypnotic analgesia and skill mastery combined with childbirth education

Harmon TM

Hynan MT

Tyre TE

The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

J Consult Clin Psychol • 1990 Oct • 58(5):525-30

The benefits of hypnotic analagesia as an adjunct to childbirth education were studied in 60 nulliparous women. Subjects were divided into high and low hypnotic susceptibility groups before receiving 6 sessions of childbirth education and skill mastery using an ischemic pain task. Half of the subjects in each group received a hypnotic induction at the beginning of each session; the remaining control subjects received relaxation and breathing exercises typically used in childbirth education.

Both hypnotic subjects and highly susceptible subjects reported reduced pain. Hypnotically prepared births had shorter Stage One labours, less medication, higher Apgar scores and more frequent spontaneous deliveries than control subjects’ births.

Highly susceptible, hypnotically treated women had lower depression scores after birth than women in the other three groups.

We propose that repeated skill mastery facilitated the effectiveness of hypnosis in our study.

This research is classified as both a Clinical Trial and Randomized Controlled Trial.

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