There is evidence that “hypnobirthing” works. At the University of Florida, Professor Paul Schaubel and his colleagues showed how women who learnt self-hypnosis before giving birth needed less medication, had fewer complications and were more likely to deliver healthier babies. They also suffered less stress and anxiety in the weeks before birth.

Gaining credence: Sophie Dahl lost weight with hypnotherapy

By Lucie Hoe

Hypnotherapy is increasingly recognised as a safe and effective way of blocking out pain during operations and helping women in childbirth. Lucie Hoe reports

Fearing pain in operations is understandable. So, would you believe it possible to undergo surgery without a general anaesthetic, and not feel a thing? A report in the New Scientist last week revealed how a patient at the Lister Hospital in London was hypnotised by a specially trained anaesthetist minutes before having breast surgery, and experienced no pain as the surgeon made incisions.

So powerful was her hypnotic trance that 46-year-old Pippa Plaisted claims: “The plastic surgeon was cutting and sewing inside me, but I couldn’t feel any sensation at all.”

After the procedure, which was carried out seven years ago, Plaisted said she suffered “no nausea or wooziness” and had “a clear head”. Her case is unusual, but not unique. Hypnotherapy is gaining credence within the medical profession as a safe and helpful practice in a wide range of situations, from weight loss to pain relief and quitting smoking.

In Belgium, where much of the research has been done, doctors routinely use hypnotherapy combined with small amounts of analgaesics as an alternative to a general anaesthetic. About 5,000 procedures have been carried out on hypnotised patients at Liege Hospital, where researchers have found benefits included less bleeding and making operations easier to perform. When an incision is made into the body, blood vessels naturally constrict to prevent copious bleeding, a reaction that is inhibited by anaesthetic drugs.

In Britain, surgery under hypnosis is rare, but Tom Connelly, secretary of the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis, says that a growing number of women are turning to the practice to help cope with the pain of labour.

There is evidence that “hypnobirthing” works. At the University of Florida, Professor Paul Schaubel and his colleagues showed how women who learnt self-hypnosis before giving birth needed less medication, had fewer complications and were more likely to deliver healthier babies. They also suffered less stress and anxiety in the weeks before birth.

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