More than 800 first-time mothers will be taught to "hypnotise" themselves before giving birth in a new 18-month NHS trial study. If successful it's hoped there will be a reduced need for costly painkillers and drug treatments such as epidurals, laughing gas or morphine.

Teaching women to control their pain through "hypnobirthing" could also help ease the pressure on overstretched maternity wards, it'sclaimed, as it might also reduce the need for supervision from midwives.

In some hospitals as many as 60 per cent of mothers have epidurals (anaesthetics injected into their spine) while many others are given injections of diamorphine, a form of morphine, pethidine or inhale laughing gas. However epidurals are expensive and have been found to increase the length of childbirth, making it more likely that a woman will need a caesarean.

The trial is being led by Professor Soo Downe, a specialist in midwifery at Central Lancashire University, and will run at hospitals in Blackburn and Burnley. Professor Downe said: "There is good evidence that hypnosis works well in other areas of health management.

"The idea is to give women the capacity to manage their labour themselves. If the results are promising we will do further trials. The intention would then be to provide free hypnobirthing training on the NHS."

However critics are concerned that if mothers are left to cope on their own during labour their babies may be at risk. Natural childbirth advocates also say the drowsiness brought on by painkillers prevent a woman fully appreciating the joy of childbirth.

Maureen Treadwell, a co-founder of the Birth Trauma Association, said: 'It is nonsense to say childbirth is a natural event so you don't need drugs. Death is also a natural event but nobody would suggest you don't need drugs to ease the pain."

Posted by Penny Hosie on 14.2.11

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