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Using Guided Imagery During Labor and Childbirth

Katlyn Joy |21, January 2014


Many women, especially first-time mothers, worry what childbirth will be like for them. If that imagination is tainted with horror stories from other experienced moms, they will go into labor with fear. And that fear of a painful or frightening experience will become, more likely than not, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How can a pregnant woman prepare for birth without becoming a panicky mess? Many believe relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, relaxed breathing or hypobirthing are the answer. By teaching women how to relax on cue, and to expect and visualize a positive birth, they can more easily deal with the various stages of labor and have a less uncomfortable or stressed delivery.

With Guided Imagery, women practice getting into a relaxed state and visualizing themselves in a pleasant, happy place. Some visualizations scenarios could include a warm sunny beach, a field of wildflowers, holding the newborn baby, in a hammock on a lovely spring day, or at your favorite park.

According to Mayo Clinic physician, Dr. Roger W. Harms, one relaxation method, hypnobirthing, may help women deal with the intensity of labor.

"Hypnobirthing is a birthing method that uses self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques to help a woman feel prepared, narrow her focus, and reduce her awareness of fear, anxiety and pain during childbirth.

If you're tense or afraid during labor, stress hormones can redirect blood flow to your limbs, heart and brain — the fight-or-flight reaction — and waste precious energy. Hypnobirthing may counteract this process by preventing the release of stress hormones, which potentially reduces the pain of labor."

A study published in a 2012 issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, looked at how guided imagery, relaxation techniques, and positive affirmation in the final months of pregnancy affected birth. Women with no previous experience with such techniques were given a CD to use at home and then monitored during and after labor. They were evaluated during various stages of labor for pain and anxiety, and after birth the researchers looked at a number of factors such as pain level, Apgar scores, anxiety, length of labor, complications, and anesthesia. The CD group scored significantly better on wellbeing factors.

How to Use These Techniques

While there are many different classes, books and providers that give support during labor, the most simple methods are available to everyone. Practice relaxing all the muscles in your body and breathing deeply and slowly. Imagine you are at a beloved, relaxing spot, holding your newborn baby in your arms. Incorporate as many sensory details into this daydream as possible; see the sunlight sparkle on the waves at the beach, smell the ocean spray, feel the sand between your toes, listen to the surf lapping at the beach.

You could bring a picture or photo that helps remind you of your special destination for labor, such as a copy of the ultrasound picture, or a postcard showing your favorite vacation destination. A white sound machine that mimics your destination, such as a tropical rainforest sounds or ocean sounds is also helpful.

Counteracting Negative Thoughts

Another aspect of guided imagery and relaxation techniques is the redirection of negative thoughts or images. You must train yourself to stop such thoughts as soon as they pop into your mind. For instance, if you hear yourself thinking, "This is going to hurt so much! I'm not ready for labor," you need to stop yourself immediately. Then, correct those faulty thoughts by concentrating instead of empowering thoughts like, "I can handle the surges of labor. It won't last forever, and when it ends I'll be holding my precious baby in my arms. I am prepared for giving birth and this will be one of the most precious days in my memory."

Practice Makes Perfect

While a doula or labor coach can talk you through methods such as these when you go into labor, for best results, practice frequently in the final months of pregnancy. You will learn to tune out the pain and stop from negative thinking so you can focus on what you need to do.

Dr. Craig M. Palmer, of the American Society of Anesthesiologists says, "The more prepared you are for labor, the more positive your outcome. As an anesthesiologist, any technique that improves patients' mental focus and state of mind is a good thing."

Related Articles

Guided Imagery Exercise for Labor and Delivery

What to Wear During Labor & Childbirth

Pain Management During Labor and Childbirth

Pain Relief Options for Labor and Childbirth

4 Exercises To Make Labor & Childbirth Easier


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