A Guest Post By Kelly Brusch and Nancy Bardacke of Mindfulbirthing.org
Are you experiencing stress, anxiety, or fear during your pregnancy? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. For many, pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting can be both a joyous and overwhelming experience.
Normal levels of stress, anxiety, and/or fear are to be expected; however sometimes these feelings can become problematic. Research shows that in fact stress during pregnancy can be a contributing factor to preterm labour, a decrease in the quality of the childbirth experience, and an increase in postpartum depression.
The good news is that mindfulness practice may help! Studies have shown that mindfulness practice helps us cope more effectively with stress, pain, illness, depression, and anxiety. It also improves brain and immune function.
Below are 5 ways to be more mindful during your pregnancy.
- Practice letting go of attachment to your due date
A great way to begin your mindfulness practice is by becoming a bit more tentative about your due date. Perhaps saying, “I’m due sometime at the end of May” or “maybe around mid-July.” Your due date is a guesstimate and no one can predict exactly when your labour will begin. There is a five-week window of time, between thirty-seven and forty-two weeks when it is most likely that your baby will be born.
This is a mindfulness practice in itself; a way of starting to accept that the future is uncertain, and that that’s ok. It can help us to reflect on how we attach ourselves to our plans for the future, and how releasing this attachment may actually be very beneficial.
2. Awareness of Breathing
Breathing. Everyone does it. And of course without it, we wouldn’t be alive. We usually forget to pay attention to our breath. Yet if we do, we might discover that in each moment the breath is both totally ordinary and completely extraordinary. Just like giving birth.
Paying attention to the breath can be a way to shift out of ‘doing mode’ and into ‘being mode’, allowing us to experience thoughts, emotions, and body sensations directly. The breath can anchor us to the present moment and can be so very helpful during pregnancy and childbirth. If you showed up at the hospital in labour with nothing more than your breath, you would have a powerful tool to use. And if you show up with some training in paying attention to your breath, you would be even better.
Nancy Bardacke, Certified Nurse-Midwife who developed the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting program has created guided meditations for expectant parents, including an Awareness of Breathing practice. You can download this practice and others here.
3. Your Body is Your Mindfulness Teacher
Whether you realise it or not, the bodily changes you experience during pregnancy can be a wonderful doorway to greater awareness. New body sensations, perhaps an awareness of feeling more weight on your legs or a bit of a waddle as you walk or a change in tastes and eating preferences can be an opportunity to observe what attitudes of mind we are bringing to the reality that everything changes, in both pregnancy and in life. Is there frustration or fear or self-judgment about how your body is changing? Could there be a way to observe these changes mindfully, with non-judgmental curiosity? By paying attention to the body mindfully we can learn a skill—and it is indeed a skill that takes practice – of coming to terms with things as they are.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into practicing mindfulness of the body to experience for yourself what attitudes you might be bringing to body sensations, you can download a guided audio meditation called the Body Scan here.
4. Prenatal yoga
Practicing yoga during pregnancy can be a wonderful opportunity to begin or deepen a mindfulness practice. When yoga is done mindfully, you can observe your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations – whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral—moment by moment. During yoga practice, you may notice discomfort
in a particular place in your body. See if you can bring all of your attention to the sensations that you are experiencing as you practice, noticing how the sensations change moment by moment. Going to the edge of discomfort in any posture, you can listen to what your body is telling you while respecting its limits and taking care not to push beyond those limits. This is excellent training for childbirth. You can download a mindful prenatal yoga audio recording here.
5. Being with Baby—A Mindfulness Practice in Everyday Life
Your baby’s movements throughout the day can serve as a reminder to come back to the present moment, the only time we really have to be fully alive. As you bring your attention to your baby’s movements in your belly, see if you can also be aware of the sensations of breathing at the belly, as well as the movements of your baby in your belly. When your attention wanders, which it inevitably will because that’s what minds do, bring it back to the sensations of your breath and the movements of your baby in your belly. Notice any thoughts and/or emotions that arise as you practise. You can listen to a guided meditation practice here for being with your baby in daily life.
If you are curious to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness practice during pregnancy and as a way to prepare for childbirth and early parenting, you can read Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke, CNM or enroll in the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) live-online course. In the 9-week MBCP course you will join other expectant parents around the world who want to experience the benefits of adopting a mindfulness practice during this transformative time. Another option for pregnant couples is to enroll in the online Mind in Labor Workshop, where a full weekend is devoted to introducing mindfulness skills for pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
Nancy Bardacke, CNM, MA, is the Founding Director of The Mindful Birthing and Parenting Foundation
Kelly Brusch, MA, is the Managing Director of The Mindful Birthing and Parenting Foundation