The power of visualisation in birth

What do Michael Phelps and preparing for birth have in common?


While catching up on some of the Olympics the other night, my husband and I were talking about the incredible feats of the athletes when suddenly the topic of conversation turned to birth – because, well, that’s just how I roll.

So where’s the connection?

As we were talking I was reminded of a podcast I had listened to on mindset. The speaker was talking about how Michael Phelps prepares for his races – and it’s not all physical.

The power of visualisation

You’ve probably heard about the power of mindset and positive thinking. And perhaps you’ve heard of the power of visualisation. In fact, it’s visualising the perfect race, swim, routine etc that helps these incredible athletes perform as they do.  Often the focus is on what you do want to happen, rather than what you don’t want to happen.

But here’s what struck me about Michael Phelps and how he prepares for his meets.

Yes, he visualises the perfect race.
The race where everything goes to plan.
And then he visualises and prepares for when things don’t go to plan.

Enter the Beijing Olympics


Picture this – it’s the 2008 Olympics and Michael Phelps is on track for yet another medal win – this time for the 200m Butterfly. When, in the last 50m, his goggles filled with water and he has no visibility.
Makes swimming a bit more challenging right?
Not if you’re Michael Phelps. Not only did he go on to win his fourth medal (of eight) at Beijing – he also broke a world record.


How did he manage it?

I’m going to paraphrase a little here but basically, Michael Phelps didn’t just visualise the perfect race.

He also visualised what he would do if his bathers tore. Or his goggles broke.
He had prepared for every eventuality.
So when something did go wrong, when it didn’t go to plan, his nervous system was already prepared. It already knew what to do – so Phelps did what he always did and just kept swimming.
He had confidence that comes from knowing he had planned for everything.

What’s all this got to do with birth?

In birth education, you often hear talk about the power of visualisation, of visualising how you will be in labour, and your perfect birth.

I’m going to challenge this and say that visualisation in birth preparation shouldn’t be about being so focused on a particular type of birth that you won’t give any thought to what happens if circumstances change. Or even acknowledge that circumstances can change.

Visualisation is a powerful tool. 

It can be used to visualise how you will be. How you will respond. It’s about knowing that birth doesn’t always go to plan and visualising how you will be if it doesn’t.
Will you stand strong in your intentions?
How will you keep on track if circumstances change?
How will you stay with your intentions for birth if your care providers don’t have the same intentions as you?
How will you come back to what is important for you if your goggles fill with water?
Visualising isn’t about having blinkers on. It’s about preparing. It’s about having the quiet confidence that comes with knowing that whatever happens, you have prepared.
You’ve got this


Want to know how you can prepare for a positive birth – by feeling confident that you’re prepared for any journey your birthing takes? Check out my Hypnobirthing Australia classes

Kate Vivian is a self-professed pregnancy and birth geek who is finally learning to embrace the chaos of having 3 kids. It was the birth and ‘bringing baby home’ experience of her first baby, and the overwhelming guilt that went with it, that led her to start Bright Mums – and create a world where Mums matter.

 A Certified Hypnobirthing Australia Practitioner, childbirth educator and postpartum doula, Kate works with Mums-to-be not only supporting them through pregnancy, and birth but also teaching them to honour themselves at a time when the world is telling them their baby is the most important thing.

With almost 2 decades in adult education, Kate has the ability to create a safe space, a non-judgey space. A place where Mums can relax and feel supported regardless of what their journey looks like. 

A keen traveller in a former (pre-kids) life, Kate dreams of the day her kids are big enough to take skiing and they can completely show her up while she is busy falling down mountains.

Find out more about Kate here

Wanting to prepare for a positive birth? Find out more about Hypnobirthing Australia classes