Infertility affects one out of six couples in the United States, and for some, it is a hurdle that can be jumped with enough medical treatment and guidance. For some, IVF is the miracle procedure they needed to grow their family. For others, medications may have been the way to go. For others still, adjusting their diet and lifestyle was all it took to get the ball rolling again.
Sadly, for a select few trying to conceive, not only are the above ineffective on their own, they don’t yield results even when combined. What’s worse is that there is a percentage of infertility cases where physical impediments have nothing to with it-- these people seem to not be able to get pregnant simply because they just can’t.
Many of these cases have found relief and results with a process called fertility hypnosis-- but what is it, and how does it work, if at all? Leaving preconceptions on stage hypnosis at the door, let’s take a look at the up-and-coming addition to the repertoire of tools to fight against unexplained infertility.
What is hypnosis?
When one thinks of being hypnotized, you might think of pocket watches, capes, and your will being bent for the entertainment of others at the cost of your dignity. Thankfully, when it comes to guided hypnosis, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Some would say that hypnosis can be defined as concentrated and directed daydreaming, and should be considered as a normal frame of consciousness.
Many think that being hypnotized equates to being asleep, as in the age-old cliche: “You are getting very sleepy.” While “sleep” is sometimes used to describe a trance state, you are far from being asleep when in hypnosis. A person in hypnosis is always aware of their surroundings (albeit perhaps in a detached way) and is more receptive to suggestions.
The most clear and concise definition of hypnosis is the bypass of the critical faculty, i.e. the “conscious mind”, allowing access to the subconscious mind. This can be done through the use of different types of hypnotic induction methods, which can be done in an office setting where a certified hypnotist will guide you into the hypnotic state. Progressive relaxation, meaning relaxing different parts of the body in progression, and guided imagery are probably the most familiar methods, however, there are many ways to induce hypnosis. It’s also important to note that one does not have to be completely relaxed for hypnosis to occur-- the ultimate goal is to access the subconscious mind. After all, if it were possible to create the change we want to implement consciously, we would have no mental blocks to surmount or emotional issues to speak of, fertility-based or otherwise.
How can it help me get pregnant?
First things first, it’s important to note that just like any treatment or “fertility hack”, hypnosis is not the end-all, be-all for solving all pregnancy problems. There is no medical proof that hypnotherapy can cure infertility, however, it does lower stress and anxiety, which can affect hormone levels and create a mental block to conception. If there is a physical reason behind the infertility, then obviously, hypnotherapy on its own will not be effective. However, some people convince themselves that the journey is too long, too stressful… too impossible. Hypnosis invites a professional in to remove those mental blocks and guide your brain into a sense of ease and confidence, rather than chaos and pessimism.
Tests have also shown that hypnotherapy can lower the levels of a hormone called prolactin which suppresses ovulation. It can provide results in additional ways as well, such as by decreasing prolactin levels, stopping tubal spasms, and correcting hormone fluctuation, all of which can be due to stress.
We’ve spoken in past blogs about the benefits of meditation and acupuncture, which is partially why some people swear by hypnosis-- they’re pretty similar to both in some ways! Stress and anxiety induce the exact opposite headspace that doctors recommend when you’re trying to get pregnant. To make matters worse, nothing is more stressful in a situation that is wreaking havoc on your personal, romantic, and financial lives than someone telling you to “calm down and just let it happen.”
This is especially common for people who wait to get pregnant, and then find that it isn’t as simple as anticipated when they begin the process. Some doctors and hypnotists that specialize in fertility theorize that people in their thirties and forties are particularly prone to "mental blocks" towards pregnancy, as they feel the clock is against them. Panic sets in, which affects their fertility creating a frustrating and vicious circle.
How effective is the treatment?
It bears repeating that there have not been enough studies to confirm the efficacy of hypnosis treatment against infertility, however, it should be noted that hypnosis is safe when done by a professional, and it is not addictive. While more studies are necessary, there have been some promising results in the testing that has been done so far. In other words, it definitely helps before it hurts.
For example, in a case-controlled matched clinical study, researchers from Soroka University Medical Center in Israel (which is arguably the epicenter of fertility treatment in the world) examined whether hypnosis during embryo transfer might contribute to successful implantation and pregnancy. They compared 98 IVF/ET cycles, using hypnosis during the ET procedure, with 96 matched procedures without hypnosis.
Within the hypnosis group, there were 52 clinical pregnancies out of 98 cycles (53.1%), with an implantation rate of 28%; and in the control cycles, there were 29 out of 96 (30.2%) clinical pregnancies and an implantation rate of 14.4%. The overall IVF program pregnancy rate for the same period was 32.1%. Logistic regression analysis revealed the positive contribution of hypnosis to the IVF/ET conception rates. This study concludes that the results suggest that the use of hypnosis during ET may significantly improve the IVF/ET cycle outcome in terms of increased implantation and clinical pregnancy rates. Additionally, it seems that the hypnotized patients' attitude toward the treatment experience was more favorable.
One question that hypnotherapists say comes up a lot during consultations is: can anybody be hypnotized? The answer is a resounding yes! Just like anyone can meditate, anyone can be guided through a hypnotherapy session. Conversely, anyone can resist hypnosis, as long as they know it an attempt is occurring-- just like snapping out of a daydream.
What happens during a session? What can I expect afterwards?
While methods and details may vary depending on the clinic or office you choose to visit, most sessions will have the same flow. At the initial consultation, you and your hypnotherapist will chat and build rapport. It’s vital for anyone seeking hypnotherapy that they work with a therapist they feel comfortable with. Placing your trust in a therapist and to feel that you are in a safe environment is crucial to the successful outcome of any type of therapy.
During the first few sessions or so, you will also likely have a discussion on the presenting issue, the desired outcome and – of course – your own expectations. It’s important to take time to explain how hypnosis works (and perhaps even more so, how it doesn’t work), what it is and what it isn’t, and how easy it is to tap into the wonderful innate resources we all have at our disposal.
In regards to the practice itself, most therapists will begin each therapy session by sitting back comfortably, closing the eyes and focusing on deep breathing techniques designed to relax the body from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. When the body is relaxed, we can begin to relax the mind using creative visualization. Ninety per cent of the information transmitted to our brain is visual and so by using guided imagery, the conscious mind can take a back seat so to speak, think its thoughts and do what it does naturally, making way for the subconscious mind to become open and receptive to positive suggestion.
When the session is over, most clients state that they feel deeply relaxed and completely in control. In hypnosis you experience a heightened state of awareness-- you become more aware of the sounds in and around you, the temperature of the room, your body temperature and bodily sensations, and more. Hypnosis is a dreamlike state, not unlike daydreaming, which we all experience many times a day. When we daydream, become engrossed in a captivating book or movie, or when we perform tasks like driving a car along the same route over and over again and not being consciously aware of the steps being taken, these are all examples of a trance-like state, and examples of how easy it is to incorporate hypnosis into your fertility-boosting routine.
Why is hypnosis better than other kinds of stress-relief?
Many of us know of someone who conceived while on holiday or at a time when their stress levels were low-- it’s no secret that going on a vacation or getting away from your stressors will help you relax. However, this kind of stress relief is often a temporary break or escape from the norm-- as soon as you’re back to reality, the presenting issue may be there, lurking in the wings.
When we’re stressed or anxious our brains release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, which trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response. This is the polar opposite to relaxation and not particularly conducive to fertility. When we’re relaxed and calm, we produce chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins providing a much more favorable environment for overall health.
Some clinics and offices will teach clients deep breathing techniques such as ‘7/11’ or diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breath stimulates the vagus nerve (one of the cranial nerves that connect the brain to the body) which in turn produces that happy chemical quartet. By adding guided imagery and metaphor, our creative minds and imagination can take us anywhere in the world, a bit like taking a micro-holiday. As our subconscious mind doesn’t distinguish between a real event or an imaginary one, the brain will release chemicals according to the way we feel at that time.
By taking both a psychological (hypnosis) and physiological (controlled breathing) approach to relaxation, clients have the opportunity to improve their wellbeing, gain greater health benefits and be more in control of their bodies.