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Spellbound Childbirth

When Heidi Novell's water broke she was at home in Livermore, CA. Before calling her obstetrician, she stretched her hands above her head and slowly let them fall toward her face. By the time her hands reached her nose, she was hypnotized.

At the hospital, Novell's labor took less than five hours, and she pushed for under 20 minutes. She was able to handle the pain without medication -- unlike her first, 20-hour labor, which involved an epidural, IV, and painkillers.

Hypnosis may sound like so much hocus-pocus, but research suggests that it can help during labor and delivery. In one study, published by the American Psychological Association, women who used hypnosis required less medication and felt less pain than women who didn't. Babies may benefit too: The Apgar scores of those born to hypnotized moms were consistently higher than the scores of those born to the nonhypnotized control group.

Using hypnosis for childbirth involves about five hour-long sessions with a professional, usually a psychologist, several weeks before your due date. You learn to put yourself into a conscious state of deep concentration marked by intense relaxation, in which unwanted sounds or feelings don't intrude. In this state you may "unlearn" negative preconceived notions about childbirth (that it's frightening, that the pain is unbearable) by, for instance, picturing yourself in a library tossing out books containing these negative thoughts. You'll also "rehearse" childbirth, giving yourself suggestions for ways to handle pain -- for example, that you'll relax wherever a gloved hand touches your body.

Hypnosis isn't meant to replace your doctor -- you may still need pain medication -- but more and more obstetricians are learning to incorporate it in their routines. Says Raul Llanos, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at Tulane Medical School, who teaches hypnosis to moms-to-be in his practice, "Hypnosis can be like a natural anesthetic -- it puts the mother at ease. When she's in charge of the delivery, she's more comfortable."

For more information, call the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis in Des Plaines, IL, at 847-297-3317.