Visualization is a proven tool commonly used by professional athletes, corporate leaders, speakers, and marathon runners that is free, effective, and powerful. It can also be used by anyone birthing a baby, in any setting, in any position, for any type of birth. It's one form of childbirth preparation you can do just about anywhere.
Visualizing a specific action has been shown to activate nervous system responses that are similar to actually performing that action, impacting your heart rate, blood pressure, and hormones. Visualization can help you stay calm and focused in a challenging situation; it can reduce physical symptoms of stress and anxiety and promote feelings of relaxation.
Consider this tool a “mental rehearsal” for your birth. You can visualize the entire process, from imagining yourself feeling the earliest labor signs, to arriving at your birth place, to pushing out your baby and bringing her to your chest. Or, you can focus on just one thing, like your cervix opening up or your baby descending.
Whatever you choose to visualize, keep the following tips in mind:
Practice throughout your pregnancy. You won’t get the benefits of visualization from trying it out once or twice. Make the time to practice your visualization often throughout your pregnancy, so when you are actually in labor, it is familiar to you and easy to go back to when you need it.
Get creative. Some people find it helpful to imagine their actual uterus pushing baby down with each contraction, or to imagine their baby’s head pressing against their actual cervix, thin and ripe.
Others prefer to imagine something more abstract or metaphorical, like a flower opening, or waves crashing. Some may find an image of themselves passing through a barrier representative of “moving through” contractions, and in turn they become an active participant in their labor rather than a passive onlooker. And some choose to visualize something completely unrelated, like their favorite vacation spot, or some other peaceful location.
Personalize your visualization so that it works for you.
Break it down into steps. Whatever you choose to visualize, break it down into small steps. For instance, if imagining a flower opening, you might visualize each petal of the flower slowly unfolding until you can see the center. If imagining ocean waves, visualize the wave building far from shore, gathering momentum until it crests and then falls against the rocks; see the ocean spray, the bubbling foam, maybe even sand crabs scurrying around as the water is pulled back into the sea.
If your visualization can be broken down so it lasts roughly 60-90 seconds— the approximate length of a labor contraction— you will find yourself with a tool you can use to manage each surge.
Write it down. Write down the steps of your visualization to help break it down, and to get a clearer picture in your mind’s eye of what you will “see.” Pay attention to detail; incorporate your other senses, imagining what you might smell or hear if you were actually at the ocean, or in a field, or even in your place of birth.
Incorporate affirmations. Think about how you want to feel as you visualize, and tie this into any birth affirmations you may utilize in labor. You might think of your affirmation, or even speak it aloud, as you work through your visualizations.
As author and speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer says about the power of affirmations,“I use the inner mantra I am, seeing myself as already having arrived at what I’ve placed in my mind.”
During your labor, you might think or say aloud, “I am strong,” “I am open,” “I am calm,” or any number of phrases, while you are actively using your visualization.
You can use visualizations to distract yourself from any pain or discomfort you may experience, even outside of labor. Afraid of needles and about to have blood drawn? Consenting to a cervical check or having your membranes swept? In the OR having your baby by Cesearean? Having an IUD placed?
Go to your visualization to distract your mind from your physical discomfort, and bring you back to a more peaceful state.
I am a certified labor doula and professional postpartum doula serving Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the greater Treasure Valley.
As a doula, I can remind my clients of their visualizations and affirmations and help them have a supportive, positive birth experience.
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.