Few things are more daunting for first (or second, or third…)-time moms than the prospect of childbirth. Is the baby going to be okay? Will there be any complications? How painful will labor be? Can I handle it?
Any woman who has been through labor knows that it’s no walk in the park. Don’t get us wrong: labor and delivery are not necessarily as horrific or excruciating as TV and movies make them out to be. On the contrary, many women have positive childbirth experiences and consider it one of the most transformative, profound experiences of their lives. Still, giving birth to a human being, regardless of the method — vaginal, c-section, assisted — is painful, exciting, and yes, a little terrifying.
In This Article
Pain relief options for labor and childbirth
There are many ways to manage pain during labor and delivery. Many women choose to receive pain medications, such as epidurals, spinal blocks, and nitrous oxide, to deal with painful contractions. Others prefer to avoid medicines altogether unless absolutely necessary, so they may opt for natural alternatives, like aromatherapy, massage, hydrotherapy, and relaxation techniques. Whatever option you choose, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider or care team.
Visualizing a calm and easy delivery
You’ve probably heard the word visualization used in a variety of contexts before.
Some people use visualization as a manifestation method, which is when you imagine something that you want to achieve as vividly as possible to ‘attract it’ into your life. There’s no concrete evidence that manifestation or the law of attraction really work. However, experts think that believing that you can do something can make you more likely to succeed, not because you magically manifested into your life, but because you’re more willing to do the hard work it takes to achieve it.
As a mindfulness technique, however, visualization involves picturing in your mind the outcome of a particular situation before it happens. This can help manage expectations before a big event, like childbirth or even a big test, and reduce some of the fear and uncertainty of challenging situations.
Many pregnant women who use visualization and other mindfulness methods find them especially beneficial for lowering anxiety and easing tension, which in turn helps decrease labor pain. And it’s not just moms who say it: a 2016 study showed that complementary therapies like visualization and breathwork can actually reduce the length of the second stage of labor, lower the rate of epidural use, and even reduce the likelihood of a c-section.
One way visualization works is by teaching your brain to find a “safe space” to turn to when you’re going through an unpleasant situation or emotion. In the case of labor and delivery, instead of focusing on the pain of the contractions or pushing, the idea is that you picture yourself in vivid detail doing something that feels nice or relaxing to give your mind something different to think about. And as an added benefit, visualization exercises can promote relaxation to the point where your heart rate is lower, according to BetterHelp.
How to practice visualization
For visualization to work during labor and delivery, it is essential that you practice it a lot while you’re pregnant. Whether you choose to go down the medicated or unmedicated road, you can expect to feel some level of pain during the first or second stages of labor, so this is not the time to force your brain into a mindfulness exercise that you’ve never tried before.
Ideally, you should decide your delivery-day visualizations a few months before the actual date, to give your brain plenty of time to get acquainted with the imagery. When they think of visualizations, most people’s minds automatically go to idyllic places, like an empty beach or a tranquil lake. But imagining a place that you’ve never been to before can actually be counterproductive, since it’s easier for your mind to wander off to random thoughts like, “what beach am I at?” or “are the rocks spiky or slippery?”
Instead, visualize a place or an activity that you know very well. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or exotic, but it does have to be something that grounds you and brings you a sense of comfort. For example, you can:
Relive a positive experience
What has been the happiest day of your life so far? Maybe the birth of your baby will become your new favorite memory from that day forward, but you have to get through it first, and for that, a happy memory might help!
Some people find that relieving a positive experience, like a special date, their wedding, or even a delicious meal is a great way to distract the mind during painful contractions. You can practice this kind of visualization by choosing a particular memory and going over it in minute detail, engaging your senses as you go to envision specific things like smells, tastes, sounds, sights, and sensations.
Whenever you’re practicing your visualizations, try to make them last for at least the length of a contraction: about 60 to 90 seconds. This will make it easier for your brain to stay focused through the pain.
Picture yourself doing things
If remembering a specific memory is challenging for whatever reason, then you could try going back to an activity you’ve done hundreds of times. For example, some women visualize entering their local grocery store and going aisle by aisle doing their typical shopping. Others envision themselves hiking their favorite trail or swimming laps in a pool.
Like we mentioned before, you don’t have to think of something fancy or elaborate — just picture something or somewhere you know really well so don’t get distracted by trivial details while building your mental image.
Think of a blooming blossom
One of the most popular visualizations for labor is imagining a flower blooming as you envision your cervix opening up and releasing your baby into the world. Alternatively, you picture other familiar images of things opening, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
With any type of visualization, you can choose to either do it on your own or share it with your partner or support person, so they are the ones that lead the exercise. In this case, your partner will recite your visualizations for you or re-tell the story that you’ve chosen in as much detail as possible, and your job will be to focus on their voice and build a mental image with their words.
The bottom line
Practicing mindfulness and visualization techniques while you’re pregnant can help you have an easier, more relaxed delivery experience, whether you choose to have a medicated or unmedicated birth. The goal of visualization is to give your mind something else to focus on during painful contractions. It can also help reduce some of the anxiety that comes before giving birth to your baby.
Author: Marie Miguel
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.