Words by Susan Morrell
November 30th, 2016
Perhaps you’ve already thought about the role of mindfulness in pregnancy, thanks to a prenatal yoga class or a friend’s positive birth story. If, however, your only knowledge of childbirth comes from film and television – with all its screaming and sweaty-faced drama – you may balk at the idea that childbirth can be a relaxed and blissful experience.
But generations of women have known that the key to an easier, more enjoyable birthing experience is mindfulness. The truth is, for a healthy mum and baby, childbirth doesn’t have to be traumatic or painful. And even for those dealing with more complicated pregnancies, the mind-body connection is a powerful tool that all women can use to overcome fear and reduce discomfort in labour.
Obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read, author of the groundbreaking book Childbirth Without Fear, was advocating relaxation techniques as a key component of childbirth preparation back in the early 20th century. His theory of the Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome, identified a woman’s fear as the root cause of pain in childbirth. It’s not just a notion of “mind over matter” either. There are direct physiological links between a woman’s emotional state, and responses in the brain and the body.
Thanks to our primitive fight-or-flight response, adrenaline is released at times where we feel threatened or without control. Muscles tense and natural processes of the body (such as moving a baby from womb to world) are stalled or completed stopped when fear is allowed to take over.
Think of a wild animal that senses the threat of a predator while giving birth. Her labour will pause so that she can move to a safer place. There may not be any ferocious lions in the labour ward, but there are plenty of factors that can make laboring women feel uncomfortable and tense.
Midwife Ina May Gaskin’s Sphincter Law goes into more detail. She states that conditions like being observed, feeling humiliated or judged, or being in a cold room with bright lights can all delay or even reverse cervical dilation. Just think of other intimate bodily functions involving sphincters and the conditions needed for them to happen easily (privacy, quiet, a relaxed body, for a start).
By learning to turn off our constantly buzzing brains, silence the fear and trust in the natural processes of our bodies, we can overcome fear and reduce discomfort in giving birth.
A mindfulness practice in pregnancy will not only make those exciting, sometimes worrying nine months more chilled out and enjoyable, but will prepare you for the challenges of labour.
Where to begin? Hypnobirthing, a popular relaxation technique, is taught in some maternity hospitals or by independent instructors. Pregnancy yoga classes incorporate mindfulness techniques and offer a wonderful way to bond with other expectant mums. If you can’t find either in your area, look online for guided meditations or simply develop your own practice at home.
Here’s how: take a few moments every day to unplug (literally: turn off those phones!) and bring your awareness inward.
Connect to your breath and think about how secure your baby feels within the warmth of your body. Remember that despite the worries you may be dealing with – at work or in your relationships – your baby is snug in your womb, lulled to sleep by the relaxing rhythm of your heartbeat, motion and breath. Your mind will wander – just keep bringing your focus back to your breath. Lengthen it by counting to four on the inhale, and eight on the exhale (or any number that feels good to you). This method works well at blocking out the distractions of a noisy hospital environment.
Practice visualising an easy, comfortable birth. Use mantras and affirmations to make you feel calm and confident. Try statements like My body knows what to do and I am strong, safe and secure. Find ones that speak to you and make you feel like an empowered birth goddess.
Take comfort in knowing that you are connected to the millions of birthing mums that have gone before you and to those that are walking the same path right now.
By cultivating a mindfulness practice in pregnancy you’ll be better able to switch off from worries and stay relaxed on the big day, allowing your amazing body to simply do what it is more than capable of doing: to give birth smoothly and without fear.
Susan Morrell is a certified pregnancy yoga teacher, doula-in-training and mum to one son with another on his way.
Did you miss the previous part in our Mindfulness series? Catch up on the importance of exercise here.
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