Mindfulness is definitely the word on the street right now. Everyone from Richard Branson to Oprah Winfrey are getting in the act. In case you’re a little late to the party, mindfulness is a drug-free remedy for stress and anxiety. What’s more, it is now being offered as a birth preparation programme. Founder of Becoming Mother and Mindful Birthing teacher Nadia Raafat explains how being mindful can help you have a stress-free pregnancy and birth experience, and let’s face it – I think we all like the sound of that!
Thirty-something women are more stressed and anxious than they have ever been. Our desk-based, demanding and technological lifestyles have created a highly charged mindset that is neither beneficial to the mind or the body – and certainly not to pregnancy.
Research at Oxford University has shown that practicing mindfulness reduces anxiety and depression in pregnant mothers and improves the labour experience too. Here are some of the ways in which mindfulness can transform your pregnancy and birth experience:
1. Connect to the experience more fully
Pregnancy is an incredible physiological experience. Often we are so focused on what’s happening outside us we miss the miracle that unfolds moment to moment within us.
Because mindfulness invites mental stillness and an increased body awareness, the quality of your physical experience is heightened. Imagine vivid HD technicolour as opposed to plain old black and white.
2. Evolve beyond old fearful beliefs and future-based fearful expectations
When we practice mindfulness all the old ideas and beliefs of the past, as well as future-based fears and anxieties, simply lose their power over us. We discover that we have not consciously chosen many of the beliefs we hold around pregnancy and motherhood and we learn ways to release them or replace them with more helpful positive beliefs.
3. Accept and embrace rather than resist the sensations of labour
Because we are conditioned to automatically protect ourselves from pain, the unconscious response to pain is resistance which creates more tension and therefore pain and suffering. By being present in your body and having the skills to relax, you will know how to break this common pain, resistance and suffering cycle.
4. Become more in tune with the rhythms of labour
By developing the ability to really listen to and hear the communications (both obvious and subtle) of your body going into labour you will find that you are better able to attune yourself with the rhythms of the labour. Responding gently and with trust to the natural progressive stages as they unfold.
5. Learn how to let go of control
Mindfulness invites you to really know your body. With practice you will become super diligent at noticing resistance (both mental and physical) building up and use your relaxation skills to release it – at will. The more you are in tune with the experience, the more confident you will be about surrendering your need to control it. It is important to remember that childbirth is an experience that happens to you. You just need to let it happen.
6. Get more effectively and efficiently into the birth zone
Once active labour sets in, if you have managed to avoid medication you will find that you have entered what is known as the ‘birth zone’ or ‘birth trance’. At this stage in labour all the wonderful natural opiates and endorphins in the body will ensure that you remain calm and relaxed as the labour intensifies. But first you’ve got to get to that stage without intervention. Using practices like yoga and mindfulness will help you access the birth zone and then remain there, – even when you are being distracted by well-meaning midwives and the inevitable small interruptions of the clinical labour experience, like intermittent monitoring and examinations.
7. Learn how to self-soothe whenever necessary
Despite your best intentions to stay calm, labour will challenge you in some way. Whether it’s fear, anger or despondency that overwhelm you, or simply the sensations themselves, you will have the tools to recognise as soon as your nervous system has switched to flight or fight mode. You will quickly be able to restore a feeling of calm and steadiness once again. These skills are also essential for your chosen birthing partner.
8. Keep your baby calm during the labour experience too
If you mind is calm and your body relaxed, the hormonal environment for your baby will be a calm one too, which means less likelihood of foetal distress and a smoother calmer birth experience for your baby as well as yourself. Being born can be an incredibly dramatic experience. We want to make it as easy for them as possible.
9. Be flexible with the inevitable deviations that arise during the labour experience
Many of the disappointments around childbirth are due to our fixed assumptions and expectations around birth. With the best intentions and investment of time and money you simply cannot predict or control the outcome. There are too many uncontrollable variables. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of expectations and attachment to outcome.
10. Be a more Mindful New Mum
Postnatal life is intense. The endless feeds, the sleepless nights, the constant responsibility can all be very overwhelming. But with a more mindful approach to mothering you will be able to step into your new role with a little more confidence and much less stress. Whenever a challenge arises you can use your new skills and understanding to remain steady, loving and calm – the best gift you can give to your child.
Childbirth educator and yogini Nadia Raafat is the founder of Becoming Mother – a label devoted to preparing women for birth with yoga and Mindfulness. She has helped hundreds of women to manage pregnancy stress and birth with confidence through her Yoga and Mindfulness for birth programme.
Nadia’s Yoga & Mindfulness for Pregnancy & Birth DVD is available via Amazon, YogaMatters and Birthease and can also be ordered via her website.