Birth center offers classes to help women in labor

Hypnosis used to reduce tension, pain, and induce relaxation

Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Mandy Bixby experienced months of morning sickness and severe joint pain when she was pregnant with her first child. But she heard about a technique that relaxes the expectant mother and now is teaching it to others.

"I had an uncomfortable pregnancy, and it helped me," Bixby said of HypnoBirthing. Bixby studied the method in Juneau with Kaye Kanne of the Juneau Family Birth Center, and in Los Angeles, where she completed her certification to teach it.

On Aug. 19, she delivered her son, Blake, who weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces, using the method. Her husband, Evan, acted as her birth companion.

"I was very impressed. I had a complication-free water birth that was relatively short for a first labor," Bixby said. "I was able to go limp and nod off in the 45 seconds between contractions. It blurs the discomfort and it helped my body to do its thing. It was so rewarding. I felt so good about not using drugs."

HypnoBirthing is a copyrighted childbirth education method invented 13 years ago by Marie Mongan, who describes it in the book "HypnoBirthing: A Celebration of Life."

In hypnosis, a person enters a trance-like condition induced by another person and responds to suggestions. In HypnoBirthing, a combination of suggestion by a birth companion, breathing, massage and calming music is used, not to induce trance, but to eliminate fear and tension, reduce pain and produce profound relaxation.

Mongan's philosophy is that expectant women can learn to trust their bodies and work with them.

In a series of four classes, Bixby now is teaching the method to Jaime Watts, 24, a respite care worker with Hope Community Resources, and Paul Moran, 32, a construction worker. The couple has known each other for three years, and Watts is 23 weeks' pregnant.

"All of our friends have kids and I have heard a lot of stories about long labors or labors that did not work out and resulted in caesarian sections," Watts said. HypnoBirthing "seemed like a really cool alternative."

The method uses a variety of techniques, including breathing exercises and concentrating on images. The pregnant woman and her companion practice daily so that they will be able to slip easily into these patterns when labor begins.

In what's called slow breathing, the woman inhales through her nose and counts to four. As she exhales she counts to eight, relaxing the abdomen and pushing out air.

"It creates room in your abdomen," Bixby said.

In sleep breathing, the person inhales to a count of 20 and exhales to the same count.

"It takes more concentration because we don't consciously breathe to the fullest," Bixby said. Breathing deeply, the woman tries to relax her jaw, her eyelids - even the muscles around the skull. This type of breathing is used during contractions.

The technique called rainbow relaxation uses colors. "Picture your body light and free, free of tension," Bixby said. "You are resting on a pillow of soft, strawberry-colored mist." Each color should take the woman to a deeper level of relaxation, she said.

"If you lose control of your body, you feel pain, tension and fear," Bixby said. "This is not stage hypnosis where you wake up barking like a dog. In HypnoBirthing, you are in full control but in a state of deep relaxation."

What's called guided imagery is another relaxer. For example, during the second stage of labor when the cervix is dilating, women are urged to think of blossoms opening.

The Juneau Family Birth Center's second course in HypnoBirthing begins Jan. 4. Cost is $150 per couple, and it is open to anyone. Stories of labors in which the method was used are available at the Web site

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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