Marion Andrew, a senior consultant anaesthe' />

Hypnosis and "suggestion" can be used to lessen the pain of childbirth, says an Australian researcher.

Marion Andrew, a senior consultant anaesthetist at the Women and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, says women having their first child who learn self-hypnosis in the lead-up to labour are less likely to need an epidural than other first-time mothers.

Dr Andrew told the annual scientific meeting of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in Auckland at the weekend that there could be beneficial outcomes for use of hypnosis in pregnancy and childbirth.

She described it as a potentially useful additional tool.

The research was based on 77 women who were taught hypnosis in preparation for childbirth, and compared with a control group of more than 3000 mothers who received normal ante-natal care.

The differences were most marked in women having their first babies, she said in a paper on the use of hypnosis and suggestion in obstetric anaesthetic practice.

Dr Andrew said that of the hypnosis group, 36 per cent had epidurals, compared with 55 per cent of those in the control group.

"I think when they're having their first baby, they're very highly motivated and a lot of women these days would prefer to avoid analgesia in labour if they can."

The trials that had been done internationally on the issue showed women taught hypnosis tended to need less pain relief and were more likely to have a normal birth.

Recent research involving brain imaging of people undergoing hypnosis while receiving a painful stimulus found reduced activity in the region responsible for the emotional component of pain.