Who doesn’t want a peaceful, pain-free birth? In reality, delivering a baby freakin’ hurts, but there are more methods than ever for moms to fight the pain. One way that’s gaining popularity is using visualization techniques to manage labor pain. Learning mental techniques to cope gives soon-to-be mamas another option for coping with the pain and potential stress of delivering a baby, and OB-GYNs agree that they’re a great tool for labor.
“They’re helpful because we try to offer a complete menu of pain relief options, both medical and non-medical. Giving people options allows them to pick and choose what’s best for them,” says William Camann, MD, director emeritus of obstetric anesthesia services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in an interview with Romper. “Keeping an open mind and having a bunch of options available is a good thing. For some people, nothing but an epidural will provide adequate pain relief. For others, these visualization and mental imagery or focusing techniques may be effective. Or they may be effective for the earlier part of labor, and an epidural used at a later stage. It allows more flexibility.”
Adriana Lozada, AdvCD(DONA), doula and host of the Birthful podcast, tells Romper in an interview that finding hypnobirthing classes in your area is the best resource for learning more about visualization during labor. “One of the practices that most focuses on visualization as a way of coping with the intensity of birth is hypnobirthing, or Hypnobabies, which uses different self-hypnosis techniques. The goal is just to calm your nervous system and distract your brain. It makes the experience more tolerable. You might be feeling the same intensity of pain, but be perceiving it as less painful. Whatever helps you do that, works,” she says.
Once you find the techniques you like best, it’s important to practice, practice, practice. “The more practice you can get, the better, and the easier it becomes,” says Michelle Baur, MHS, HCHI, doula and certified Hypnobabies instructor, in an interview with Romper. “This practice needs to happen during pregnancy so they can easily go there during birth.”
1. Envision Your Ideal Birth
You’ve probably thought about what your perfect birth would look like while deciding where to have your baby and making a birth plan. But don’t stop there — it’s healthy to meditate on that vision throughout your pregnancy, says Baur.
“What we think about most is what we tend to have come to fruition. If we spend all our time worrying about having a C-section, and we are always thinking, ‘I don’t want a C-section,’ our brain focuses on that negative thought. If you focus on having a beautiful birth — it’s going to be at night, my partner will be there, I’ll have my doula there — it helps you learn to trust your body. It doesn’t mean that’s exactly what will happen, but whatever path your birthing takes is what’s right for you and your baby.”
2. Visualize What's Happening In Your Body
Imagining what your body is doing and reframing it as something positive rather than painful can really help relax you. “Visualize your cervix like a flower opening. Have a cue word like ‘open,’ and say that on repeat with every exhale,” Baur says. “In my yoga class, I’ll talk about how riding pressure waves sounds more positive than ‘contractions.’ You can visualize yourself riding over a wave in the ocean, not fighting it, just being soft and relaxed.”
3. Relive A Positive Memory
Baur recalls when one of her own clients asked her husband to retell the story of how they met during a particularly hard part of labor because it always makes her smile. “That helps bring your mind to a safe, positive place, and it can also distract from anything that might be too intense.”
4. Imagine Yourself In Your Happy Place
Choose a place that makes you feel safe, happy, and protected, and practice going there in your mind while pregnant. It can be a made-up place or somewhere real from your past or present.
“Place yourself somewhere happy for you, like the beach or near a stream, and try to bring all the details in,” Lozada explains. “How does the sand feel on your toes? Is the sun warm on your skin? When you’re in labor, you’re having intense sensations asking for your focus, so it’s helpful to have someone walk you through that scene.”
5. Try “Body Roaming"
If transporting yourself to a full and detailed scene becomes too difficult, there are other options. Lozada says body roaming can be easier in those moments.
"What can be helpful is doing a body check to calm and relax yourself while visualizing the parts of the body. You can tell yourself to take a deep breath and relax your forehead, then your eyes, and then your jaw. It can be helpful because sometimes you’re so in it that trying to get to a beach scene is too far, but instead of focusing on the sensation in your belly, focusing on relaxing your shoulders can be an easier ask.”
6. Make Like Butter & Melt
This visualization is a good one to practice before bed. It’s meant to relax every part of the body, and hopefully make labor easier when the time comes by relaxing the pelvic floor.
“If we can visualize the face melting and relaxing the jaw, that will help the cervix and pelvis to relax,” says Baur. “I always tell moms, ‘Open mouth, open cervix,’ because that softening melts down through the body. Visualize your body melting during the exhale, and becoming softer and more relaxed. When our mind relaxes, our pelvic floor relaxes.”
7. Focus On Your Chakras
If you’re into learning about chakras and their meanings, Lozada says focusing on those is another great coping mechanism. Even if you’re not, trying to imagine these colors radiating from different parts of your body is still a good distraction. “Imagine the colors of each of your chakras, like purple from your head and blue from your throat,” she explains.
8. Think About Being In A Safety Bubble
If your birth plan has to change last minute or things begin to feel scary, having a bubble can make you feel more secure.
“Another visualization I teach is a bubble of peace,” says Baur. “It’s this visualization of being inside a protective bubble. If people tell you a scary birth story or tell you negative things about your pregnancy, and we envision a bubble where nothing negative can come in, that can also help during birth. If a nurse or provider says something scary the day of, a mom can block that out and focus on the positive.”
9. Pretend You're Wearing A Numbing Glove
“Imagine there’s a numbing glove on your hand and put it on other parts of your body,” says Lozada. Not only will this draw attention to other parts of the body, but it may feel like a mom has more control over what’s happening. Besides, who wouldn’t kill for a numbing glove mid-labor?
10. If All Else Fails, Swear
Yep, you’re d*mn right. Science says it works.
“There’s some evidence that swearing actually can help with pain,” says Camann. “It’s been shown in scientific studies that when you use certain words, it can help with types of pain. For example, if you get up at night and walk into a dark bathroom and stub your toe, you say some choice words, and there’s actual physiological reasons that distracting from that pain is helpful.”