Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hypno-anesthesiology 101, with Dr. Seuss

Now the news has arrived
From the Valley of Vail
That a Chippendale Mupp has just bitten his tail,
Which he does every night before shutting his eyes
Such nipping sounds silly, but, really, it's wise.
He has no alarm clock. So this is the way
He make sure that he'll wake at the right time of day.
His tail is so long, he won't feel any pain
'Till the nip makes the trip and gets up to his brain.
In exactly eight hours, the Chippendale Mupp
Will, at last, feel the bite, and yell "Ouch!" and wake up.
This passage is from Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, which I read to my two year old daughter to help her fall asleep. Although the Chippendale Mupp's eight hour lag in pain perception is an exaggeration, the passage illustrates an important fact about pain. Pain signals from the body have to travel along the nervous system to the brain before we actually recognize pain. Therefore, it could be said that pain happens in the brain. The following quote from the article Replacing Painkillers With Hypnosis explains how a pain test performed under hypnosis looks on an fMRI:
New imaging techniques have recently started to reveal what occurs under hypnosis, and why pain that would otherwise lead to severe discomfort becomes bearable. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, Sebastian Schulz-Stubner and his team at Aachen University in Germany measured the brain activity of 12 healthy volunteers who received repeated heat stimulation to their skin. The researchers found that hypnosis interrupted the pain signals that normally travel from the nerve cells to the primary somatosensory cortex, where the sensation of pain is elicited. Instead, the signals fizzled out in the subcortical region, failing to produce the normal ouch effect.
The article also goes into detail describing a dental procedure using hypnosis for pain relief, using a "Special Place" like the one taught in Hypnobabies. One thing I love about the Hypnobabies method is that is uses medical hypnoanesthesia techniques, just like the ones this article is talking about.

What is Hypnoanesthesia?

Hypnoanesthesia is simply the body's own endorphins, which are released by the brain. Endorphins are said to be ten times stronger than morphine. We experience rushes of endorphins in response to pain, but also during exercise and after good sex. Hypnosis allows us to control the release of endorphins with our thoughts. One of my friends was telling me recently about Candace Pert's Molecules Of Emotion, which explains the scientific basis of how our thoughts have physical effects on our bodies. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list.

But wait, if birth isn't inherently painful, why do I need anesthesia for it?

Birth is not inherently painful, though that may depend on your definition of pain. However, birth can become painful when other factors are introduced. Things like stress, fear, distraction, and not being able to follow to your instincts can create pain.

During natural labor, a woman will usually instinctively disconnect from her surroundings and her conscious thoughts and enter a state of deep focus. This state triggers her brain to bathe her body with endorphins and continues the flow of oxytocin. These hormones promote relaxation in the woman, which allows her body to birth her baby without her resistance.

The problem is that if a woman is unable to enter this state, or is distracted from it and can't get back to it, her birthing will become painful and she may fight her body. Knowing hypnoanesthesia techniques allows women to remove pain that is created by forces outside the birthing process. These forces can stop the flow of endorphins from her brain, resulting in pain caused by a level of endorphins lower than should naturally be present during birth. Hypnosis is a way to enter a state of deep relaxation and calmness quickly, which can get a woman back on track if she is thrown off. Hypnoanesthesia allows women to release endorphins on demand to get them back to the state they should be in during birthing. They are also able to get to this state faster when labor begins.

Distractions are a part of modern birth, even if it is just a quick check on the baby's heart rate. Women who use hypnosis have the advantage of being able to refocus quickly when distractions occur. It is natural for a woman to give birth in a place she feels safe, since giving birth makes her vulnerable to attack (several natural childbirth books discuss this concept, including Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Birthing from Within). In antiquity, women could give birth in privacy, like animals do. Hypnosis actually allows modern birth, regardless of setting or attendant, to be more natural and instinctive, because it allows women to go within and be in a safe place in their minds. So, whether it's on a train, in the rain, in a house, with a mouse, here or there, or anywhere, you can give birth in comfort and peace.


  1. Love this post! Great way to explain things! :)

  2. Dr. Suess was a smart guy for sure! I found the research part very interesting though. I used HypnoBabies for my third birth and loved the effect it had :0)

  3. Great post, love your explanation of hypno-anesthesia!

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