Mental Imagery and Pregnancy
Whether it’s called visualization, mental imagery, mental practice, or mental rehearsal, research for nearly a century has proven conclusively that “if you’ve been there in the mind, you’ll go there in the body.” Though this rings true in a vast spectrum of activities, from sports performance and self-defense to improving leadership and childbirth, it seems that today’s pregnant woman is often left in the dark when it comes to employing the power of mental imagery.
More and more childbirth books have begun incorporating “the power of mental imagery and visualization,” as Suzanne Arms calls it in “Immaculate Deception II: A Fresh Look at Childbirth.” She quotes studies showing that athletes “who did the least amount of physical training and the greatest proportion of visualization” performed the best during the Olympic trials. Arms confirms that these studies have been replicated in other formats, including with non-athletes.
It is common for doctors and midwives to note how easy it is for a woman to deliver her fourth, fifth, or sixth child, since a woman’s body becomes accustomed to the experience. It stands to reason that a woman who mentally practices once or twice per week, for a total of 30 to 60 childbirth rehearsals, might program equally easy deliveries.
“Using visualization for preparation for birth and during labor to remain calm during contractions and to assist the body in opening the cervix and bringing the baby down the birth canal can be very effective,” says Arms, who tells her readers that they can speed up their labors by using mental imagery. She confirms, “It is a matter of mind more than body, of the mind either getting out of the body’s way, or actively assisting it.”
Mentally rehearsing how your own body feels in an imagined scenario is the best way to accomplish mental training according to Aidan P. Moran (in his textbook “Sport and Exercise Psychology.”) He writes that it is best to employ all the senses, feeling, sight, sound, smell, and taste, if you want to “elicit greater physiological activation,” referring to how your cellular connections actually change in response to your mental rehearsal.
Practicing Mental Imagery is Not Difficult
In “Better Birthing with Hypnosis”, Michelle Leclaire O’Neill, PhD, R.N. calls imagery “a formalized approach to day dreaming,” saying “we’ve all used it, whether we are aware of it or not.” Not only can mental imagery be used to create your ideal birth, but it can help you overcome fears about childbirth. O’Neill has used the Leclaire Method of imagery “to help many women sort through and come to terms with negative thoughts or emotions about pregnancy, labor, birth, and motherhood,” revealing that, often, a pregnant woman’s goal is to “reverse the negative training we have received.”
The reason this particular use of visualization has such importance is because most women have been so overtly scared-to-death about childbirth that negative imagery may exist more than positive imagery.
The same research that easily demonstrates enhanced performance due to visualization indicates that negative imagery can worsen outcomes. The unfortunate truth in our society today is that huge numbers of women—imagine—childbirth as a debilitating trial of exhaustion and complications that culminate in interventions like drugs and surgery. Childbirth on television almost never shows the possibility of uncomplicated smooth births. By definition, television entertains us by depicting maternity emergencies, complete with blood and gore. Doctors and their books today often follow suit, sometimes describing every detail of every possible complication known to hospital emergency rooms, even though the vast majority of pregnant women are able to birth naturally and need not enter a hospital at all.
Images of disaster are intriguing to the human mind and these images can revolve subconsciously, and may be adding to why the United States maternal and fetal outcomes rank at the bottom of all developed nations. Almost one in three women end in C-section, and far greater numbers receive drugs for “stimulation” or “pain relief,” while the rapidly growing number of safe and natural birthing books are emphatic that the majority of these interventions are totally unnecessary. Might sights and sounds of television’s emergency births combined with the surgeon’s precautions and the common societal meme of difficult childbirth over the course of a childbearing woman’s life be causing such dire maternal and fetal outcomes?
As some of the most accomplished philosophers suggest, “Either you create the thoughts in your mind, or your mind will be filled with the thoughts given it.”
By James Goodlatte and Kimberly Nelli
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