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ST. LOUIS — As more women seek natural births without risky medical interventions, new prenatal classes are helping them meet their goals through hypnosis.

Hospitals and other providers say they are seeing more interest among pregnant women interested in learning hypnosis techniques for childbirth.

“My classes are always full or near full for each session that I run,” said April Woollard, who holds a Hypnobabies class in a chiropractic office in Creve Coeur, Mo. She teaches the six-week course about five times a year. “More women are seeking Hypnobabies because they are really desiring an empowered, informed and peaceful birth with the use of hypnosis,” she said, “to create a comfortable birth that they can actually enjoy.”

Childbirth is often referred to as one of the most painful things one can endure, as well as one of life’s most important moments. The prospect leaves many women anxious and scared.

Hypnosis techniques focus on reducing the fear surrounding birth.

The six-week Hypnobabies course teaches self-hypnosis techniques that instructors say can make birth easy and practically pain-free. The subconscious mind is trained to experience contractions as pressure, pulling, tightening and baby movements.

“Many moms say they relate the sensations of contractions to getting their blood pressure taken with the tightening of the blood pressure cuff,” said Woollard, in her fourth year as a certified instructor.

This is not the eyes-closed hypnosis where the subject wakes up without remembering anything. Women learn self-hypnosis using recordings and scripts, which they practice often while pregnant. During labor, they are awake and can change positions and communicate freely.

“It’s really very easy, all it takes is a mom who has an open mind to it,” said Heather Comparato, a 13-year labor and delivery nurse who began teaching Hypnobabies at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis after using the technique when she gave birth. “She can be skeptical, but she needs to be open to the idea.”

Byanne Jagust, 26, of Affton, Mo., is about to finish the first class at Mercy. She acknowledges that she is a bit skeptical about having a pain-free birth, but the importance of the mind-body connection and the effects of fear, stress and pessimism on health outcomes have long been recognized, she said.

“Is this really going to work? It seems too good to be true,” Jagust said. “But at the same time, practice makes perfect, and I will continue to do it. For me, what is wrong with thinking positive about things and enjoying your birth and letting your body do what it’s naturally able to do?”

In a 2008 study, University of Florida researchers found that self-hypnosis during childbirth eased the pain of labor, lowered the risk of medical complications such as high blood pressure and reduced the need for surgery. Other studies have shown that because it helps women relax, participants have quicker and easier labors with less need for anesthesia.

Hypnosis has long been used to improve health outcomes and has been shown to be effective in quitting smoking, easing chronic pain, treating migraines and improving healing time after surgery.

Hynobabies was founded in 2001, and the first instructors were trained two years later. Today, nearly 275 instructors have been certified in the technique. Each year, thousands of home study courses are also sent across the world where instructors are unavailable, said Carole Thorpe, marketing director for Hypnobabies.

“Social media has had a huge impact upon the birthing community,” Thorpe said. “As more women learn from each others’ birth stories through forums online, and by viewing Hypnobabies birth videos on YouTube,” more women are seeking the tools.

“My goal is to empower moms to have the births they want, to be excited about bringing their baby into the world,” Comparato said. “I want to give moms the tools to be successful in having the birth experience they want.”