Here’s a bit of science to back up why the practice of visualisation is so powerful and worth taking up during pregnancy and for birth.
Visualisation is a big part of mindfulness. It helps you take your mind off trying to control the physiological process of birth or what your care providers are helping you with, stopping your body from tensing up and feeling the pain that comes with that physical tension. But can visualisation also help to ‘achieve’ the birth that you want? Well, our Reticular Activating System could be the facilitator of the ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ thought process.
We all have a Reticular Activating System (RAS). This is a bundle of nerves at the brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through. You could think of it as our personal information organiser.
When we consciously focus on something, we trigger the RAS to look for things associated with that subject or theme.
Think about when you scan a long list for your name; you can exclude other names without really having to absorb them. Or when the news on comes the radio that you want to listen to, you might not have been listening intently before, but as soon as the music comes on, your RAS tells you that this is what you want to pay attention to.
The RAS works without you having to do anything; the process is effortless. It only focuses on information that it believes is important to you.
So, if having a calm and positive birth experience is important to you (I think if you’re reading this, it probably is!), why would you focus on anything else? This handy little system takes your beliefs and wants and looks for information that will help you live within those parameters. So as another example, if you believe you are a terrible cook – you probably will be. It influences your actions, so your motivation to be a good cook will be diminished if you feel there is no hope. On the other hand, if you believe you CAN be a good cook – your RAS system will help you find ways to help this process and filter out any negativity that it knows will hinder you.
So, where does visualisation come in?
Well, think of it as re-programming your belief system to send the right signals to your RAS. When we first meet them, 99% of our Mindful Birth clients viewed birth as scary, painful, and something they needed to ‘get through’. So what do you think these beliefs make their RAS do? Yep, they encourage it to seek more information to confirm these beliefs. It wants to constantly reaffirm this negative narrative. So our job as Mindful Birth teachers is to change that (untrue) narrative and use visualisation to encourage the RAS to seek out the true positives about birth.
Put simply, your RAS influences the world you see around you.
So how could visualisation help influence your birth to be calm and confident, no matter how it happens?
As we just said, the RAS influences the world you see around you. If you genuinely believe that birth will be an awful experience, then we’re sorry to say, it may well be. But, if you can educate yourself to understand what the process actually entails (and trust that your body and care providers know exactly what to do), extinguish this fear of the unknown, and look forward to what is going to be the most life-changing and incredible time in your life (aka meeting your baby!), then your RAS will look to reaffirm these beliefs.
Here is a practical suggestion on getting started with visualisation if you are new to it, and this focuses on the moment you will meet your baby:
- First, consider the words you would love to be associated with your birth. Write them down and put the paper (or post-its) somewhere in your home where you will see them often. These are some common words: calm, peaceful, personal, and loving, but there are no right or wrongs, and they are unique to you. You can have as many as you like and add to it as you think of more. For extra good vibes that appeal to your calm subconscious, write them in calming, happy colours!
- Now translate those words into visuals in your head. How do you want the first time you meet your baby to look? The journey to meeting your baby may take twists and turns, but the first meeting of your baby will always be a moment to cherish
- Use your senses to guide you with your visualisation. How does the room feel? Is it quiet, dimly lit? What can you hear? How do YOU feel at this moment? What do you think your baby will look like? How will they sound at the moment when they first see you?
You can do this at any moment in the birth process – it could be visualising the room you are in as you go through the stages of labour. It could be the moment you are birthing your baby. Practice this visualisation daily, even if for only a few minutes.
If you can practice visualising your birth as the beautiful, calm and magic time it will be, you will be giving your subconscious and conscious permission to work together to make it happen.