Heartland Doulas

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Tips for a Better Birth

Pain Management--Using Visualizations

Posted by kate.herzel on July 13, 2012 at 11:00 PM



Finally checking back in after a looong hiatus from blogging! I was recently given some good thoughts about blogging value-added content from my favorite volunteer babywearing educator, and I'm recommitting myself to doing just that!


So let's talk about using guided visualization for pain management in labor!

Googling visualization for labor or guided imagery for labor, or some combination of the two, yields TONS of scripts that you can print off and have available during your labor. But how useful are these? For starters, most women find that if they don't PRACTICE visualization during their pregnancies (especially during times of stress and discomfort), they are rather unsuccessful for coping in the throes of labor. But that's only one leg of what I call the three-legged stool of successful visualization.

We all know that without three legs, a stool is useless...here are my three legs:
1. Practice faithfully throughout pregnancy
2. Use a script that evokes your own happy place, preferably one you have written yourself
3. Evoke all 5 senses in your imagery to give you something strong to focus on

Let's take them one at a time...

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you plan to use visualization (or any form of "hypnosis"-type scripts), the usefulness of your scripts is dependent on how much you have practiced using them. When labor gets tough, it is SO hard to focus (especially during the transition time from about 7-10 cm dilation). Practicing when you are pregnant helps you wear pathways into your brain that will be easier to follow when you are in labor, rather than having to create those pathways while you are distracted. It also tells you that if you are unable to focus on these successfully when pregnant, that perhaps you should find other pain management techniques for labor! Visualization just might not be your thing, but how do you know if you haven't tried it?! 

It is best to practice under some simulated (or real) stress situations, to give your brain a mental workout while it is otherwise occupied. Practice your visualization when you are having a bad day at the office, when you are having a difficult bowel movement (hey, we've all been there!), or if you are one of the lucky non-stressed few, try holding an ice cube in your hand while you practice. Focus on breathing, not holding tension in your face, and relaxing your pelvic floor while you are working through the visualizations. 

2. Use your own script. 
I lived in Florida for a couple of years, and love the beach, so my script is about a very specific beach that I frequented there. I can visualize it very well, right down to the missing letters on the sign out front and where the big knots are in the wooden planks of the pier. My visualization is successful for me because I have actually been there, multiple times. Do you think I would do as well with a generic beach script I printed off the internet? No way! On the same note, do you think someone who is afraid of sharks and water would be successful using my script? Of course not! So write your script about an actual place you've been, and include actual landmarks from that place. It doesn't matter if your place is the beach you vacationed as a kid, the mountainside where you camp, or the mall food court where you met your husband. As long as that place is relaxing and significant to you, you are setting yourself up for success!

3. Use all 5 senses.
Just visualizing the place does not give you enough to focus on when labor really gets tough. By using strong sensory stimuli, you are able to focus, even when your visualization cannot distract you from the intensity of the sensations you are experiencing any longer. In fact, when you are off in Labor Land, sometimes it is useful for your birth team to drop the whole visualization and stick to just the sensory stimuli (and maybe add some generic ones in there, too). At the start of each contraction, your birth partner can pick one example and say it to you, "the taste of a lemon." This can be paired with massage, as well as any other coping mechanisms you have. It feels good to have something to focus on (other than the clock on the wall!), especially during transition when women often describe themselves as feeling out-of-control. You should use smell, sight, taste, sound, and touch within your guided imagery script. 

Here's a list of other strong sensory stimuli to get you thinking:
-Taste of a lemon
-Smell of freshly cut grass
-Smell of fresh bread baking
-Taste of a dill pickle
-Feel of smooth velvet
-Feel of a silk shirt
-Sound of waves breaking
-Sound of snow crunching beneath your feet
-Sight of freshly fallen snow
-Sight of a spider's web with dew on it
-Sight of a pine cone
-Feel of a pine cone

Now take away the ones that aren't relaxing to you, add some that are, and get practicing! :)

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1 Comment

Reply kate.herzel
11:33 PM on July 13, 2012 
What are some sensory images that you have come up with?