Hypnotherapy would once have been put in the same class as black magic as an infertility cure, but the number of women using it to help them conceive has trebled in the past few years, says the British Society of Hypnotherapists.
It is particularly popular with stressed-out career women who leave motherhood until their 30s and then find they cannot conceive. It is also being used by doctors to help women overcome the trauma of in vitro fertilisation treatment.
In some cases, practitioners are treating up to 10 patients a year, compared with only a couple three years ago. They are also reporting up to a 30 per cent success rate, compared with 1 per cent for women suffering from unexplained infertility who eventually conceive without any treatment.
There is no medical proof that hypnotherapy can cure infertility, which now affects one couple in six. However, it does lower stress and anxiety, which can affect hormone levels and create a mental block to conception. Tests have shown that hypnotherapy can lower a woman's levels of a hormone called prolactin which suppress-es ovulation.
In Karen McAuley's case, she is convinced that hypnotherapy increased her chances of conceiving. She was introduced to it by Dr Leslie Brann, her GP and a trained hypnotherapist. He was conducting trials on women who had tried unsuccessfully for a baby. Three months after the second session, she became pregnant with Rebecca, now 22 months old.
"No one can appreciate how it feels," said Mrs McAuley, who is 36. "I felt so depressed, especially as there was no medical reason, and I felt as though I'd been trying my whole life.
"IVF was too expensive and I knew by the time I got to the top of the list, I would probably be too old to have the treatment. I was over the moon when I found out I was pregnant and would definitely recommend it to other women."
Dr Brann believes his treatment, which he claims has a success rate double that of IVF, can work in three ways: by decreasing prolactin levels, stopping tubal spasms, and correcting hormone fluctuation, all of which can be due to stress.
Under hypnosis, he encourages women to go on a "guided tour" of their reproductive system, to check if there are any problems. He said: "Women are putting their careers first and delaying pregnancy, and fertility does decline as you get older. I get a lot of women who have mental blocks to getting pregnant or who have convinced themselves they cannot conceive. They often tell me under hypnosis that they don't see any eggs in their ovaries or that their tubes are too small for the egg to go through. I then try to get them to overcome this 'block'."
Mary Coates, a hypnotherapist who treats both women undergoing IVF and childless women who have no medical reason not to conceive, believes women in their thirties are particularly prone to "mental blocks" towards pregnancy.
"They feel the clock is against them, so panic sets in, which affects their fertility. It's a vicious circle. Almost every woman who comes to me is in that bracket. If you think that stress can stop your periods, just think what else it can do.
"If there is a physical reason, then obviously you can't do anything about that, but some women convince themselves that they cannot conceive. This can go on for years. All I do is remove that mental block."
The technique is becoming so popular that it has even been adopted by some fertility clinics, including Midland Fertility Services, in Walsall. It is the first clinic in Britain where all the nurses are to receive hypnotherapy training. This is to cope with the huge demand from women undergoing IVF at the clinic, for hypnosis to relax them. So far, three out of 12 patients using hypnosis have become pregnant.
Dr Peter Bromwich, who runs the clinic, agrees that stress can prevent women conceiving. "Studies have shown that women awaiting execution become infertile and women who are stressed are less fertile.
"Even though people associate hypnotherapy with the stage, it is safe and it is not addictive.
"Many women find the strain of fertility treatment is quite horrendous and feel they are losing control. If we can give them back some of that control, we can make treatment better."Reuse content