The Duchess of Cambridge is due to give birth to her first child this month.
While there are many questions and rumors swirling around the exciting event — When is the baby due? Will it be a boy or girl? What will they call the future heir to the throne? — some are speculating that the Duchess is considering a little-known natural birthing method called hypnobirth, which relies on the power of suggestion to help women have control over their labor with little pain.
“Hypnobirthing is essentially natural childbirth that is accomplished through deep relaxation, focus and self-hypnosis techniques,” explains Shannon Clark, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine expert and assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “It is based on the premises that the fear, apprehension, tension, and anxiety of childbirth incites physical pain, which can reportedly be decreased or nearly eliminated with these techniques.”
Sounds great, but is a nearly pain-free birth possible? Some experts say yes.
“You will not be in a trance or a sleep,” says Marie Mongan, who authored Hypnobirthing-A Celebration of Life after giving birth to four children without medication. "What you will experience is similar to the daydreaming, or focusing, that occurs when you are engrossed in a book or a movie or staring into a fire.”
Obstetrician Jenny M. Jaque says hypnobirthing can provide many benefits, especially for first-time mothers, like Middleton.
“Fear activates your fight or flight mechanisms, releasing hormones called catecholamines,” she explains. “That in turn raises your heart rate, as well as affects your kidneys, blood vessels, and liver. Relaxing releases endorphins, which create the opposite effects on the body leading to a feeling of comfort. Soon-to-be mothers learn breathing techniques focusing on the power of their bodies to do all the work.”
Clinical hypnotherapist Colin Christopher advocates this method for mothers who may not feel comfortable using medication.
“In the age of drug recalls, medical lawsuits, and drug side effects, more women want to give birth naturally for the health of their baby, as well as for their own,” he says.
Christopher also points out the disadvantages of using an epidural anesthesia, which could cause a drop in blood pressure, leakage of spinal fluids, body aches, and in rare cases, nerve damage. In addition, a woman using such a painkiller may need assistance pushing out the baby, which can include adding pressure at the top of the uterus.
There's no guarantee that the method will work and more studies are needed to explore how hypnobirthing can clinically help reduce pain during labor. However, experts say there are no major drawbacks that can impact a mother's health. Still, women like Middleton may want to consider keeping their options open during the big day.
“If the woman finds that hypnosis isn’t working as a pain management for her during labor, she can choose to ask for an epidural or endure the pain,” adds Sara Gottfried, gynecologist and author of “The Hormone Cure.” “The worst case scenario is that the techniques don’t work and the parents have wasted some time and money on it.”
How much money?
“To learn the method you have to take a series of classes and buy books or CDs (with affirmations) that can cost up to $500,” warns Elena Mauer, deputy editor of TheBump.com.
“With my second child, I applied hypnobirthing and tried for natural childbirth for 10 hours, but it didn’t work for me,” says Gottfried. “I chose an epidural after being stuck in labor at 8 centimeter dilation for 4 hours. However, many women, especially those who are highly suggestible, have had great success with it.”