Visualisation within the Birthing Environment
Visualisation is one of the tools and strategies we teach in the Calmbirth program to help you achieve the positive birth experience and outcome that you and your partner long for. However, the term visualisation can also be very misunderstood and daunting for some.
So, what do we mean by visualisation?
We are all familiar with the old adage ‘Seeing is believing’. We all want to believe that anything is possible, and visualisation is a technique that we use in Calmbirth for helping couples create a mental image of the birth they want to achieve – as our goal is to have a natural, safe and healthy baby and mum whilst feeling confident, empowered and supported.
Already we have started to form a mental image of the baby being born naturally, feeling it coming down and out, imagine the excitement on your face and on your partner’s face, the satisfaction of ‘achieving it with no intervention or medication’ and the thrill and joy of the experience of meeting your baby for the very first time, and hearing your baby cry and smelling their skin. The feeling of being confident and supported throughout the entire birthing process. Isn’t this the birth we ALL visualize for ourselves?
Visualisation can then be defined as seeing it, believing it and finally achieving it. Using visualisation throughout labour, creating awareness and placing the energy of your mind to flow through the body, moving it down and out to various parts of your body is an effective tool for labour and birth.
The Visualisation Process in Birth
The belief is that where the mind goes the energy flows. For example, by visualising the uterus working in labour, and placing your awareness on the workings of the uterus’s smooth muscle, the breath supplies oxygen to the muscle and it contracts. Bit by bit, you can visualise how each flow of breath moves down into the smooth muscle fibres of the uterus, gently aiding each contraction, surging, expanding the cervix, preparing the body to birth.
The three muscle fibre layers of the uterus work in unison like a well-oiled engine. Tightening, relaxing, placing pressure to move the baby down through the birth canal and out into the world.
The first layer of muscle fibres, the longitudinal outer layer, extends from the cervix over the top and down the posterior wall of the uterus. These muscles are responsible for pulling up and opening the cervix and the fetal ejection reflex at the end of stage two when the baby is being born.
The middle layer plays a vital role in supplying oxygen, blood and nourishment to the baby. These muscle fibres run in all directions, I like to think of them as figure eights, constantly flowing in a circuit. They aid with dilation of the cervix and opening the neck of the uterus.
The third layer of muscle fibres are positioned at the base of the uterus and can be seen as circular and sling like. These must relax to allow for the cervix to dilate.
Visualisation with Acupressure
When you combine visualization with acupressure, the energy circulates through the meridians, moving around the body. As your awareness moves deeper within, the body releases. Time can pass quicker, with both baby and mother working as one, and the birthing partner playing a very special part in connecting with touch and using words to prompt the birthing mother to visualise what is happening for her and her baby. By placing pressure on the shoulder points and letting a birthing mother know this point descends Qi or energy, baby can descend as the body opens. Partners can remind mothers to visualise the cervix opening like a flower, in the morning as the sun begins to shine; the flower reacts to the warmth and slowly the petals open, ready to bloom. Having trust and patience with the birthing process is important.
Why does Visualisation work?
According to scientific research using brain imagery, visualisation works because neurons in our brains, those electrically excitable cells that transmit information, interpret imagery as equivalent to real life action. So, this means when we visualize doing or achieving something, the brain actually tells our brain neurons to ‘perform’ the movement. This creates a new neural pathway – clusters of cells in our brain that work together to create memories or learned behaviours – that primes our body to act in a way that’s consistent to what we imagined. All of this occurs without actually performing the physical activity, yet it achieves a similar result.
Why visualisation is powerful and works in birth.
When we incorporate the right tools and techniques of visualisation, our inner wisdom can lead us to a greater sense of mindful awareness, an inner knowledge or instinct, that connects both mother and baby. Being mindful is a stillness and an insight into our body, our life and our future. We see this in labour as going inward, observing the changes within the body, slowing and settling of the mind which increases sensitivity to signals from our body that it is opening the uterus, the cervix and preparing the body to birth.
And visualisation plays an important part in connecting with what is happening to the body, visualising of how the uterus is working, each muscle fibre doing the job of moving baby down and out. Visualisation can also aid in removing any fear, for example visualising a place that makes you feel happy and relaxed increasing relaxation in labour. Labour is about flow, not force!
Visualizing using ALL your five senses for birth
Posture and positioning are also essential as the body expands with the growth of the baby. By standing and observing, whether it be you pregnant, your partner or that of a casual bystander, you can see the language of the body as it prepares itself for the final job at hand, to birth this new life. Our bodies are equipped to respond to a range of variations with external and internal environments. We adjust our bodies in accordance with the temperature, lighting and noise of our surrounds.
Therefore, it is important to provide an environment that is right for a birthing mother. I quite often say to the people I teach, this birth cannot be repeated, this is a one-off. Please ensure that you have in place all you need to make the environment in which you welcome your baby in just right for you.
When adjusting internally, think of this as skin pressure, touch, connecting and taking in the sights, and smell. Change the external environment when there is too little or too much, less heat, dim the lights, place music on, eliminate the external noise and so on. The body adjusts, little effort is required. If there is something within the environment causing stress, remove the stress or change how you perceive the stress. Use your visualisation to take you to that special place and breath the stress out, one breath at a time.
Using the breath and visualisation can change the response to the situation, you can change the way your body responds. You can continue with the job at hand or it can stop, awaiting the environment to change. You can choose to ignore, go deeper within, block out the thing that is causing stress or tension by visualising how you want it to be.
Some talk about the pain in labour and birth, this is good pain. For others, they see birth as a process, a discomfort, the body moving through, working with the muscle fibres. Breathing oxygen into the muscle fibres, allowing them to contract, visualising how they each play a special part. Everyone’s perception is different, each body is different and the thoughts, images we carry with us during this time, makes each birth different, whether it be a first or fourth baby, no two are the same. Some describe labour as a time of growth and development, it provides information about the body and the baby. It has a range of sensations, that help the body move through labour and birth, they are, both physical and emotional changes.
The experience, the intensity that is felt, is the way the body responds to the job it is carrying out, birthing a baby! You can see this as information in so many ways. Going through life up until this point getting rid of anything that causes discomfort, any pressure felt within the body, taking control. We medicate, to numb the sensations felt, to move to a different place within our mind. This new sensation that is felt in labour, is a natural bodily function required, the opening of the cervix and the tunneling of the baby down the birth canal, all in anticipation of meeting one another.
You can use your mind to visualise how the body is opening, expanding and allowing the baby to move in sync with you. By bringing awareness through visualisation and breath, to each contraction or surge and releasing, know that each contraction is bringing you closer to the birth of your baby, and that your body is moving beautifully forward to birthing a calm baby.