How Visualization Can Improve Your Childbirth Experience

This is the vision board I (Missy) created for my 2017 life goals. Here's a helpful website with some tips on creating your vision board. The ideas can easily translate to a birth vision board!

This is the vision board I (Missy) created for my 2017 life goals. Here's a helpful website with some tips on creating your vision board. The ideas can easily translate to a birth vision board!

Have you ever created a vision board to help you reach an important goal in your life such as lose weight, reach a certain level of income or meet the love of your life? Vision Boards became wildly popularized at the height of The Secret fame and as the public became familiar with the idea of the Law of Attraction, which essentially "the idea that whatever we give a lot of attention to will become part of our lives. The theory likens us to magnets that are constantly attracting what we think about" [1].

Could this be a tool you could use to ditch your fear of childbirth and create a positive and satisfying experience? We think so!

Scientific Support for Visualization

Just about anything that could fall into the category of self-help is going to be criticized by someone for being “woo” or wishful thinking. Thanks to the Age of Enlightenment, many of us demand cold, hard facts and proof before we’re going to believe anything. While ancient philosophers, and present day holistic care providers and Eastern Medicine practitioners promote the Law of Attraction, I know there are some who would like to see scientific studies that reveal quantifiable results to explain why and how it works.

Good news! We actually have several studies that not only show evidence to support that visualizing future events make them more likely to occur in areas like sports and physical therapy, we also have studies that show guided imagery specifically improves outcomes for pregnant persons! For example:

  • A 2012 study on Mirror Neurons suggests that “when we observe someone doing something, the same pattern of brain activation that allows that person to do what they are doing is mirrored in the brain of the observer. It is as if the observer is doing those same things. Activations are seen in the premotor and parietal cortex of the brain: regions that prepare the body for movement and attention. Thus, our brains appear to mirror the actions of another person automatically” [2].
  • A 2011 study on generating mental imagery stated that “Positive picture–word task used to evoke mental imagery leads to improvements in positive mood, with transfer to later performance” [3].
  • A 2013 study on Optimism and Mental Imagery exhibits that, “The ability to generate vivid mental imagery of positive future events may provide a modifiable cognitive marker of optimism. Boosting positive future imagery could provide a cognitive target for treatment innovations to promote optimism, with implications for mental health and even physical well-being” [4].
  • A 1991 study on Mental Practice Among Olympic Athletes stated, "mental practice and visualization, including internal and external perspectives and association with sociodemographic data, prior collegiate experience, coaching influences, and Olympic team selection. Analyses suggest that mental practice may be associated with more successful track and field performance for selected groups of athletes" [5].

Support for Visualization in Pregnancy and Childbirth

Many cite sports psychology exercises as impetus for using these strategies in pregnancy, but we know that the biological state of pregnancy affects hormones and brain function, so is it the same for pregnant people and birthing persons? The short answer is yes! Here are findings from just a couple of studies with pregnant women:

  • A 2013 study on Effects of a Guided Imagery Intervention on Stress in Hospitalized Pregnant Women “provides preliminary evidence that a guided imagery intervention may be effective in reducing maternal stress in hospitalized pregnant women and supports the feasibility of conducting a randomized clinical trial to further support incorporating this intervention into care" [6].
  • A 2008 Study on Stress Management During Pregnancy suggested that “relaxation-guided imagery designed as a primary prevention strategy for stress management [contributed to] improved breathing; ability to relax, clear one's mind, and become calm; ability to channel and decrease stress; release of anxiety; use of R-GI throughout the day helped control anger and state of mind, leading to a smoother day; and improved ability to fall and stay asleep" [7].

There are plenty of other studies to support variations of positive imagery, visualization, and mental rehearsing, but I think this list will suffice for this blog post! Essentially, beyond the anecdotal evidence from individuals who will tell you vision boards and other mental visualization activities helped them reach certain goals, we have scientific studies showing physiological evidence that this actually works!

3 Ways to Use Visualization to Improve Your Birth Experience

Most importantly, the key to creating a vision board that works is focusing on how you want to FEEL, not just what you want.

To be honest, judging from the variety of situations used in the multitude of studies, the sky is the limit for how you can incorporate visualization and the Law of Attraction to prepare for and create a positive and satisfying childbirth! What's awesome is this tool is simple, natural, affordable, accessible to everyone! Most importantly, the key to creating a vision board that works is focusing on how you want to FEEL, not just what you want. Incorporating those emotions in text, along with the images can take your birth vision board from being a pretty piece of art to a useful preparation tool.

Here are some ideas to inspire your experimentation:

  1. Draw a picture of your ideal birth experience. In the Envisioning Your Birth Booklet and the Your Birth Experience Parent Guide, parents can illustrate their ideal childbirth, focusing on the emotions they want to feel and what they want to accomplish, then create a birth vision statement focusing on what means the most to them in birth
  2. Create a Vision Board to create an artistic representation of the things you want most for your birth experience. You can use photographs, your own artwork, images and text cut from books and magazines and paste them into a collage that inspires feelings of hope and excitement for the environment and kind of experience you want to occur.
  3. Write Positive Birth Affirmations. Meditating or simply focusing on the positive goals, feelings and outcomes you desire can make a huge impact on your outlook as you approach your birthing time. Focusing on facts rather than irrational fears can help how you feel and truly impact what actually happens. The YBE Birth Affirmations Coloring Book is a great way to add your artistic flair to this popular birth preparation activity. You can even use the pages as inspiration to create your own personal birth affirmations!

Contribute Your Birth Vision Boards!

Have you created a vision board to prepare for your baby’s birth? We’d love to see them! Share a picture of your creation on any social media outlet and post the link in a comment on this blog or include the hashtag #ybebirthvision so we can find it!

Written by Missy David, BS, CD(DONA), CYBET, CLC, HCHD

References:

  1. (2017, April 24). Definition of the Law of Attraction. Retrieved from http://sciencing.com/definition-law-attraction-5313099.html
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/srinivasan-pillay/is-there-scientific-evide_b_175189.html
  3. Pictet, A., Coughtrey, A. E., Mathews, A., & Holmes, E. A. (2011). Fishing for happiness: The effects of generating positive imagery on mood and behaviour. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(12), 885-891.
  4. Blackwell, Simon E., Nathaly Rius-Ottenheim, Yvonne W.m. Schulte-Van Maaren, Ingrid V.e. Carlier, Victor D. Middelkoop, Frans G. Zitman, Philip Spinhoven, Emily A. Holmes, and Erik J. Giltay. "Optimism and Mental Imagery: A Possible Cognitive Marker to Promote Well-being?" Psychiatry Research 206.1 (2013): 56-61. Web.
  5. Ungerleider, S. (1991). Mental Practice Among Olympic Athletes. Perceptual and Motor Skills,72(3), 1007. doi:10.2466/pms.72.3.1007-1017
  6. Jallo, N., Cozens, R., Smith, M. W., & Simpson, R. I. (2013). Effects of a Guided Imagery Intervention on Stress in Hospitalized Pregnant Women. Holistic Nursing Practice, 27(3), 129-139.
  7. Jallo, N., Bourguignon, C., Taylor, A. G., & Utz, S. W. (2008). Stress Management During Pregnancy. Family & Community Health, 31(3), 190-203.