- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2000

Picture yourself lying on a mist of blue and let your throat and neck relax. Breathe in the blue air and feel it drifting and floating throughout your body. Feel the gentle blue mist drawing out and absorbing all tension from every muscle in your body…. Your mind and your muscles are working in perfect harmony to prepare you for this greatest role of nature. As the earth gives forth life, so will you give forth life in the birthing of your baby…. Your body has been perfectly designed to work in harmony with nature. The natural anesthesia of your body will make it so.
Hypnobirthing Rainbow Relaxation script.


By the time her fourth baby arrived last spring, Cathy Jungbluth knew two things. One, she wanted a drug-free labor and delivery, and two, that childbirth hurts.
Mrs. Jungbluth, 36, of Frederick, Md., had used the Bradley method of natural childbirth with her three previous babies, but found she "was not relaxing as well as I could be."
She wanted a birth experience that was more peaceful, less painful. She wanted her contractions to empower her, not overwhelm her.
Mrs. Jungbluth got that experience by learning hypnobirthing, a form of self-hypnosis in which the patient uses guided imagery and relaxation breathing to focus on the pleasure of the task rather than the pain that accompanies it.
After three classes with Maryland midwife Mickey Parel, as well as daily home practice sessions with hypnobirthing cassettes, Mrs. Jungbluth was ready to welcome baby Steven on April 29.
"It is a question of mind over matter," Mrs. Jungbluth says. "You train your mind to relax. You tell your mind and body what each contraction will feel like. Mickey [Parel] read to me beautiful relaxation imagery. It was very calm, very soothing. I just felt a little pressure, but no pain. Here I was thinking I was going to be in a walking trance, but I was very much aware."
Indeed, hypnobirthing is much different than the Hollywood version of hypnosis. There is no pocket watch swinging back and forth and a hypnotist crooning, "You're getting sleeeeeeeeeepy."
The point isn't to sleep. It is to be awake and aware enough to do the physical work necessary for delivery, but to be relaxed enough to cope with the pain.
"In hypnobirthing, you are not in a trance or a sleep state," says Marie Mongan, founder of the Hypnobirthing Institute in Pembroke, N.H. "It is similar to the daydreaming or focusing that occurs when you are engrossed in a book or staring at the fire you lose track of what is going on around you. You can be fully relaxed, yet fully in control."
The biggest difference between hypnobirthing and other forms of hypnosis is that through practice, a patient is able to hypnotize herself, with support from her husband or other birth coach. Patients get to that state through guided imagery, relaxation breathing and sheer confidence.
"Hypnobirthing is as much a philosophy as it is a technique," Ms. Mongan says.
However, because it is a philosophy, there is no data on how many women have used it or scientific proof of its usefulness.
Hypnobirthing works, Ms. Mongan maintains, because what is experienced in the body is determined in the mind. She uses the example of the football player who sprains an ankle in the fourth quarter, but goes on to play and win because his conscious attention is focused on the game, not on the swelling and pain in his ankle.
"In birthing, when the mind accepts the belief that without complication, birthing proceeds naturally, no pain exists and no pain is experienced," Ms. Mongan says.
Hypnobirthing is very new to the Washington area, with only one or two dozen women in the past year using the technique. However, word is spreading, and Ms. Parel's current four-week class is at capacity.
The mainstream medical community remains somewhat skeptical of the process. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has no official position on it.
"The mainstream medical community is leery of hypnosis because it is so new," says Dr. Barry Rothman, a Northern Virginia obstetrician who is also a licensed hypnotherapist. He has been teaching hypnobirthing techniques for about five years and has used it with about a dozen patients, he says.
"It's not for everybody," Dr. Rothman says. "The people who come to me to use it believe in alternate ways of life. You won't see a person who wants an epidural [a common pain block for labor and delivery] come in for a hypnobirth. But it is all about defocusing pain. I think it is going to get popular."
Hypnobirthing is actually based on an old method of natural childbirth. Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, an English obstetrician, theorized in the 1920s that labor hurts because women fear it. Dr. Dick-Read wrote that the absence of fear resulted in contractions without pain and a naturally progressing delivery.
But Dr. Dick-Read was ahead of his time in an era where deliveries were accompanied by heavy doses of drugs and the use of forceps.
It wasn't until the 1960s that the idea of a drug-free delivery became fashionable. The method that became most popular was Lamaze, which concentrated on breathing through the contractions to distract a woman from her pain.
However, over the years, the Lamaze method has been watered down, some experts say. Many mothers intent on natural childbirth find they are unprepared and find themselves asking for an epidural.
"When my first child was born [in 1989], I went to a hospital childbirth class and it was just sort of protocol that everyone was doing epidurals," says Lynne Griffin, a Silver Spring mother of six who used Dr. Rothman's hypnosis technique to deliver her fifth child. Mrs. Griffin intended on using hypnosis when her sixth child was born two months ago but was unable to because of complications during delivery.
Ms. Mongan, who developed the modern hypnobirthing program in 1989 and has trained more than 450 instructors, says hypno-birthing might provide the natural childbirth experience many mothers are seeking.
"A lot of people are disappointed with Lamaze," she says. "It's not Lamaze's fault. Everyone is doing their own spin on it now. When Lamaze first came out, there were fantastic births. What has happ-ened, as it went into the hospitals, is it became a 'childbirth preparation' class where you saw movies of women giving birth and learned of the 'horrors' of childbirth.
"I think [hypnosis] this will replace Lamaze one day," she says. "We don't promise painless, but we promise easier, more comfortable and safer."
Linda Harmon, executive director of Lamaze International, agrees that hospital-provided childbirth classes tend to gloss over Lamaze as one option of many in childbirth. She says instructors who are trained and certified by Lamaze International can give a woman a better understanding of the method.
Rather than being replaced by hypnosis, Ms. Harmon sees elements of hypnobirthing and Lamaze working together. In fact, there will be a seminar on hypnosis at Lamaze International's annual meeting this fall.
If hypnobirthing works correctly, it could even make for an easier deliver, Ms. Mongan says.
"We teach mothers how to reach an ultradepth of relaxation," she says. "With practice, you can do it instantly. You can reach a limp and loose state so that when each [contraction] comes, you can allow your body to work the way it was designed to and keep out of the fight-or-flight zone."
Ms. Mongan maintains that as that fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in, the body's muscles become depleted of oxygen. That is why many women start labor, then "fail to progress," resulting in the administration of drugs and or a Caesarean section, she says.
Whether drugs slow down labor or adversely affect the baby are a constant course of debate in the obstetrical community, Dr. Rothman says.
"There is no proof that hypnosis will make for a quicker or easier delivery," he says. "It may very well be true, but right now that evidence is anecdotal."
Dr. Rothman also says the epidural drugs, which are administered directly to the space surrounding the spinal cord to numb the woman below the waist, remain in the spinal column and do not affect the baby. Natural childbirth advo-cates claim that babies born naturally are more aware and calm. Again, numerous studies have been done with no definitive answers, Dr. Rothman says.
For now, there is no scientific evidence on hypnobirthing, either. Trusting the instructor and trusting oneself is key to its success, Ms. Mongan says.
That is a good philosophy no matter what type of childbirth a woman chooses, says Dr. Diana Dell, an obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry professor at Duke University.
"It is hard to imagine misuse of hypnosis in childbirth," she says. "Some people will want to do it. And anything we can do to offer pain relief is usually a good thing. But it is important to maintain flexibility with your birth plan. So many things can go awry. It is important to maintain a sense of control over what is happening, that way if things don't go the way you planned, then you won't have this sense of guilt."

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