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  • Writer's pictureEmma Armstrong

Guided Imagery

The lowdown: 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.

The Research:

Why is this important?

The pain of labour can be intense, with body tension, anxiety and fear making it worse. Many women would like to go through labour without using drugs, or invasive methods such as an epidural. These women often turn to complementary therapies to help to reduce the intensity of pain in labour and improve their experiences of labour.

Many complementary therapies are used by women in labour, including acupuncture, mind‐body techniques, massage, reflexology, herbal medicines or homoeopathy, hypnosis, music and aromatherapy. Mind‐body techniques for relaxation can be widely accessible to women through the teaching of these techniques during antenatal classes. The relaxation techniques include guided imagery, progressive relaxation and breathing techniques. We also include yoga and music in this review. Other Cochrane Reviews cover hypnosis in labour, manual methods (like massage and reflexology), aromatherapy and acupuncture/acupressure. Many of these relaxation techniques are coping strategies used to reduce the experience of pain. These techniques utilise practices that aim to reduce stress and reduce the perception of pain. It is important to examine if these therapies work and are safe, to enable women to make informed decisions about their care.

Reasons For Guided Imagery Relaxation Techniques

Being afraid of your labor pains increases stress hormones in your body. Your natural reaction to pain is fear of it which leads to increased tension. When we’re tense on top of a natural pain, our pain is exacerbated additionally. Have that fear and tension overpower our choice of relaxation directly conflicts with what our bodies are trying to do during contractions. It is the beginning of the pathway to intervention because a new mother fears they won’t be able to climb the mountain of labor, and choosing in the end to have a c-section or epidural.

But you’re here educating yourself about how to overcome that and better yourself for your labor. And you already know that relaxation is the best way to get through your labor. All the energy required to open up your cervix and push out that baby is limited. Wasting it on stress is awful and is like telling your body that it can’t do it all on its own.

Mastering a relaxation technique is critical for coping skills during any sort of stress, let alone labor and delivery of a baby. Your stress hormones will decreases, your blood pressure will decrease, your time in labor will DECREASE, and your risk of complications will decrease dramatically. By implementing these exercises I’ve outlined, you can rest assured that you have the skill set necessary for your labor.

The Pro’s:

  • reduce stress, anxiety and tension

  • decrease pain

  • lower blood pressure

  • improve oxygenation throughout your body (and your baby's body)

The Con’s:

In order to have a successful experience through your labor pains, the relaxation process needs to be mastered.

The How:

  • Think of an experience you’ve had that was entirely stress-free, an enjoyable moment of calm.

  • Think of where this event happened and picture it in your mind as if you’ve gone back there in a dream.

  • What did you hear?

  • What were you doing?

  • How did you feel?

  • Now stay in that moment as if time no longer matters, you’ve become one with that place of tranquility.

  • Picture yourself as you currently are, pregnant and beautiful, full of life and love, glowing with your state of being.

You don’t want to leave because you know this moment is impeccably relaxing.

Physical Relaxation Mental Relaxation

  • What you actually train your body to do during a contraction. What you choose to focus on during a contraction.

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. If you want more then check out the programme

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