Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that focuses on creating harmony between your mind and your body in order to ease stress and enhance well-being. Many women use guided imagery during childbirth to help them feel relaxed, comfortable and able to handle labor and delivery.
Benefits of guided imagery
There are many benefits of guided imagery. For example, it can:
- reduce stress, anxiety and tension
- decrease pain
- lower blood pressure
- improve oxygenation throughout your body (and your baby's body)
How to use guided imagery
An important part of learning to successfully incorporate guided imagery into your life and your childbirth experience is practicing. When you first start, you may want to find a quiet, comfortable place without distractions to make the learning process easier for you.
When you're ready, practice breathing deeply and slowly, imagining relaxing all of the muscles in your body. Then think of a place you love – somewhere that helps you relax and feel peaceful and at home. It could be at a beach or a forest, in your bedroom, near a campfire, in the bathtub, anywhere that works for you. Now picture being at that spot, perhaps even being there with your newborn baby, enjoying the place together. Incorporate as many details into the image as you can – the sounds around you, the air on your skin, the scents that surround you, the visual details and how your body interacts with the setting. For example, if you're imagining yourself at the beach, think about how it feels to walk along the shore with the warm sand between your toes and the surf lapping at your ankles. Imagine the sun warming your face and shoulders, the songs of the shore birds and the sound of the waves, the wind and the people around you enjoying the beach with you. Think about the scents. Do you smell the water, suntan lotion, food cooking nearby?
If it helps you to visualize your peaceful spot, use a photograph or painting that will help bring you there in your mind. You may also want to use a white noise machine that plays the sounds you might hear at your location. Noisli offers some great sounds that you can play in the background of your computer or handheld device. And a quick web search may help you find many additional options.
Once you've brought yourself mentally to your peaceful place, stay for a while. Let your imagination guide your senses through the experience. It may not come easily at first, but with practice you should be able to use your imagination and the power of guided imagery to help you relax and enjoy your labor experience. Some women also use CDs or guided imagery scripts to help them find their center. You may want to involve your partner or doula in the process so the two of you can do this together, or you may find it easier and more comforting to do it alone. Find what works for you and go with it.
Guided imagery may also involve redirecting your negative thoughts. For example, if you find yourself thinking about how much the contractions hurt and questioning how you're going to get through it, use your mind to redirect those thoughts to more positive affirmations. Remind yourself that you CAN do this, that you're strong and capable and ready. Reframe the experience from something difficult and unwanted to something you can handle with grace and strength, and remind yourself that soon you will be holding your baby in your arms and all of this will be nothing but a memory.
Whatever image you choose, and whatever method works best for you, don't forget to practice. The more prepared you are, the more likely you'll have a positive outcome. And even if you need medical interventions or choose pain medication, guided imagery can help. It's a life skill that you can use any time you're feeling stressed. And the more practiced you are, the more able you'll be to do it any time and anywhere.