Do you regularly meditate? If so, you’ll know its many benefits, backed by a growing body of research.
If not, pregnancy is a great time to start practising and enjoying these benefits!
Benefits of Mindfulness
- Feelings of fear, stress and anxiety.
- Emotional reactivity (improves self-control)
- Aches and pains.
- Concentration and memory.
- Physical and mental stamina.
- Bonding between parents and babies.
- Mental health and wellbeing.
- Effective anti-depressant.
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
- Helps release endorphins (the body’s natural pain relief).
What is mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple meditation technique that you can use at any stage of your life – including pregnancy and during labour. It is a life skill that teaches you to manage difficult situations outside your control while reducing your emotional reaction to them (such as stress or anxiety).
It teaches you to focus on the present and not be distracted by thoughts, emotions, or physical feelings. Instead, you learn to focus on your breath or a simple visualisation whilst acknowledging and letting go of these distractions.
At its core, Mindfulness is about:
- Learning to let go.
These are all essential principles for a positive birth experience too.
Acceptance of the physiology of birth and the importance of flexibility in our birth preferences, as things do not always go the way we might hope or plan.
Learning to acknowledge sounds, thoughts and feelings of labour and birth but not be absorbed by them. Letting go of your expectations and instead focusing on what you are experiencing at that moment.
Trust, firstly, in our body’s ability to birth our baby. But also in our birth partner, our maternity team, and the medical support that may sometimes be needed.
These things don’t happen by chance. For mindfulness to work, it takes practising daily during your pregnancy (ideally 30 minutes a day – but even 10 minutes can make a difference) to build up the skills needed to stop your mind from wandering.
Mindfulness also needs to sit alongside education about what happens during labour, for example, by attending antenatal classes. Knowledge reduces fear of the unknown. It empowers you to focus, trust your body and make informed decisions about any additional help offered by your maternity team, including medical interventions.
The power of your mind
Many people worry about being unable to cope with pain during labour and birth. Not helped by horrible birth stories from friends, family or even strangers!
We know that pain is not just a physical concept. Our perceptions of pain can increase or decrease how we feel pain. Research shows that people who feel stress, fear and anxiety during labour are likely,
- To experience more pain.
- Request more pain relief.
- Experience more obstetric interventions.
This makes a lot of sense if you consider that our body releases adrenaline and cortisol when we feel scared or anxious. These hormones inhibit the release of oxytocin, the hormone we need to create the powerful, effective contractions that will enable us to birth our baby.
That’s not to say that adrenaline doesn’t have a role to play during labour. As you transition to the second stage, your adrenaline levels increase as your body prepares to push out your baby. This is known as ‘transition’ and can make you feel a little panicky and shaky. Mindfulness can help at this stage of labour as you acknowledge and let go of these feelings rather than allowing them to distract you or cause stress. Your birth partner’s support is also essential at this stage!
Also, when we feel scared or anxious, we tend to hold more tension in our bodies. Tension leads to aches and pains and will sap our precious energy levels if left unchecked. Exhaustion can lead to more prolonged labour and increased rates of intervention.
Jon Kabat-Zinn has conducted multiple studies into the effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques (MSBR) in reducing chronic pain. All his studies have shown a reduction in pain intensity after a 10-week mindfulness programme.
So as you prepare for labour, try to avoid the negative birth stories and focus on your daily mindfulness practice instead.
Embrace birth sensations positively
Research shows that by learning to accept the sensations of labour as positive rather than resisting them as harmful or painful, people cope better in labour, feel less overwhelmed and feel less worried about losing control. They also report having a more positive birth experience.
For example, consider each contraction a positive step needed to bring your baby into the world. The more powerful the contractions, the quicker they will bring your baby to you. Recognise that each contraction you experience is one you have coped with and one less you need to go through again.
Research shows that mindfulness can reduce the likelihood of needing medical pain relief, but if you find the sensations too distracting, you can ask for pain relief. Medical pain relief doesn’t mean you have to give up your natural coping strategies – it can sit alongside them! It’s simply another tool in your toolbox.
Consider each contraction a workout
It may help to think of contractions as reps of intense exercise. You focus and work really hard for the duration of each contraction, knowing it has a finite length. As it starts to subside, you can relax, regain some energy, and mentally recharge – ready for the next one.
For example, in 10 minutes, if you have 3 contractions, each lasting a minute, you have 3 minutes of intense exercise and 7 minutes of rest.
Your birth partner is your coach and cheerleader for each contraction. They can help you focus by,
- Assisting you in using your natural coping strategies, such as mindfulness.
- Speaking words of encouragement.
- Physically supporting you or simply laying their hands on you.
- Using touch or holds to help you manage the contraction.
As the contraction subsides, they can
- Give you drinks and snacks to help sustain your energy levels.
- Cool you down with a fan, water spray or flannel.
- Help you into a more comfortable position.
- Performing massage strokes to help release any tension you may be holding.
All the while encouraging and helping you mentally prepare for the next contraction.
Start your practice today
Many books, apps and websites are available to help you get started with mindfulness. Here are a few we know and like:
- Headspace app
- Calm app
- Insight Timer app
- A Mindful Pregnancy, Andy Puddicombe – book
- Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke – book
Duncan, L.G., Cohn, M.A., Chao, M.T. et al. Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomised controlled trial with active comparison. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 17, 140 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-017-1319-3
Hughes A, Williams M, Bardacke N, Duncan LG, Dimidjian S, Goodman SH. Mindfulness approaches to childbirth and parenting. Br J Midwifery. 2009 Oct 1;17(10):630-635. doi: 10.12968/bjom.2009.17.10.44470. PMID: 24307764; PMCID: PMC3846392.
Kabat-Zinn J. An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 1982 Apr;4(1):33-47. doi: 10.1016/0163-8343(82)90026-3. PMID: 7042457.
Kabat-Zinn J, Lipworth L, Burney R. The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. J Behav Med. 1985 Jun;8(2):163-90. doi: 10.1007/BF00845519. PMID: 3897551.
Morone NE, Lynch CS, Greco CM, Tindle HA, Weiner DK. “I felt like a new person.” the effects of mindfulness meditation on older adults with chronic pain: qualitative narrative analysis of diary entries. J Pain. 2008 Sep;9(9):841-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2008.04.003. Epub 2008 Jun 12. PMID: 18550444; PMCID: PMC2569828.
Veringa-Skiba, IK, de Bruin, EI, van Steensel, FJA, Bögels, SM. Fear of childbirth, nonurgent obstetric interventions, and newborn outcomes: A randomized controlled trial comparing mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting with enhanced care as usual. Birth. 2022; 49: 40– 51.