Mention hypnosis and many people think of a Paul McKenna stage show where the participants aren't in control of their own actions. But lots of mums are turning to it as a form of pain relief in labour, claiming it is natural, equipment-free and has no nasty side-effects.
When Alison Day, 33, from Northampton, gave birth to Marcus, 11 months, after taking a birth hypnotherapy course, she felt far less pain than she had imagined. Alison says: I signed up because I wanted a drug-free labour. But I was pretty sceptical, thinking it'd be all crystals and New Age types. When I arrived it was a relief to find that everyone was normal. And the theory made sense-if you're deeply relaxed, your uterus will be relaxed while pushing out the baby.'
When Alison went into labour three weeks early, in April 2004, she and Steve had covered just half of the four weeks, but they decided to use the techniques.
Alison says: Reading from a script, Steve told me to focus on the palm of his hand as he moved it slowly up through the air. He then lifted my wrist, saying that when it fell on my lap, I'd become relaxed. He did this several times, adding that I'd slip into a deeper state each time my wrist fell.
Practising this earlier had made us giggle, but this time I was fully hypnotised after just five minutes. It felt a bit like daydreaming-so although I could hear music and answer questions, I was only really conscious of my breathing and my body. I did feel a squeezing sensation in my stomach, but there was no more pain.'
Rather than going to hospital, Alison chose to stay at home and listen to specially-made CDs. She says: They may have irritated Steve, but they helped me to concentrate.
I hit a stumbling block when, six hours after the start of labour, I suddenly felt the urge to push. We hadn't got to that part of the course and I panicked. I began to wake up, before telling myself to be more positive and trust my body. Somehow I hypnotised myself back under again.
Even the pushing wasn't painful. I can only describe it as discomfort-certainly nothing to make me cry for drugs. Marcus arrived just after 11am, weighing 8lb 3oz. As he slid out I could feel all the bumps and knobbles of his ears and nose. It was amazing.'
Alison adds: I'd definitely go for hypnotherapy again. And I'm convinced that having a relaxed, drug-free birth was good for Marcus, too. He was so alert that he started crying as soon as his head was clear, even while his body was still inside me.'
What the expert says
Maggie Howell is founder of Natal Hypnotherapy, a company which runs courses in self-hypnosis. She says: Hypnosis is a natural state, like daydreaming, in which your mind takes a step back and memories and feelings take a step forward.
Your nervous system can't tell the difference between a real danger and an imagined one. So if you feel frightened when you start to give birth, your cervix will be tight, making childbirth very uncomfortable. In extreme cases, contractions can stop altogether-a throwback from nature to stop us giving birth in dangerous situations.
Birth hypnotherapy sends you into a deeply relaxed state and also helps you prepare for birth, going through it in your mind so it seems familiar. The result is that you aren't scared so you haven't any adrenaline in your body, and will have a better birth experience.'
For a birth hypnosis practitioner, visit www.thehypnotherapyassociation.co.uk
or call 01257 262124.
Natal Hypnotherapy offers home study CDs. For info, visit www.natalhypnotherapy.co.uk
or call 01428 712615.