Use Visualization Techniques for a Successful Labor

Smiling pregnant couple looking out living room window
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Visualization is a great relaxation technique for nearly everyone. It can be done in many situations and has great potential to be very individualized, even though it is something that many people don't hear about until they've taken a course in relaxation or a childbirth class in preparation for their birth.

When we talk about visualization, most people are going to think of things like reading scenarios of walking through the forest or laying on the beach listening to waves. That can be a visualization exercise. However, what works best is usually something personal.

Reliving a Positive Experience

Many people tell me that they enjoy reliving a positive experience like a date, a vacation, or their wedding. This personalized approach can be very helpful for people who are hesitant or finding visualization difficult. All they have to do is to recreate images from a pleasant time in their life for a mental image.

You can do this by re-telling of the event by your partner. The partner should be sure to include all of the details to actually help mom remember. This includes things like sights, smells, tastes, and sounds, where appropriate. Utilizing all of the senses is important. Taking your partner through the experience with the use of senses will help everything come back to life and paint a very vivid scene.

Creating an Ideal Environment

Other people find using real-life to be annoying and use visualization to produce a scene that they desire—for instance, their ideal birth. This is actually a personal favorite technique in childbirth classes.

Begin by getting into a relaxing position. Then spend a few minutes checking for tension and then begin to tell the birth story as mom would like to experience the birth of the baby. As the partner is telling the story and the pregnant person is processing this story, observe her body for tension or stress. Does she tense when they said anything particular? If it's something you have control over you can pinpoint that as an issue to deal with either via your birth plan or as a conversation with your partner or practitioner.

Visualizing the Work of Labor

Another way to use visualization effectively in labor is to use it to help draw a picture of what is going on inside the body. Explaining what is going on in the body and using those images as a relaxation tool is also beneficial. For some women, knowing that what she is feeling is her cervix opening, and giving her an image of that process, can help her relax and cope with labor.

One process that is often discussed in terms of visualization is that of the cervix opening. The mouth of the uterus is something that is watched during labor to help gauge the process. However, since it is internal and difficult to reach when pregnant, you have to simply imagine what it looks like and what it is doing. Sometimes women want to imagine what an actual cervix looks like. This might be from medical drawings in a pregnancy book or from a poster at a childbirth class.

Other mothers want to use a visualization of a baby coming down and out through something like a turtleneck. This can effectively demonstrate how the cervix opens (dilates) and how it thins (effaces). Another option would be to use something a bit more abstract, like a flower bud opening. You might hear someone talking about a small rosebud and slowly watching the petals expand until it is finally open. 

Some women will even choose a single, inanimate object. It might be a photo, a special relaxation card, or a solid sheet of paper—whatever works.

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By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.