What Does Mindfulness Have to do With Maternity?

I love the name of my business. It came to me naturally when I made the decision to become a professional birth worker in the roles of doula and childbirth educator. After studying mindfulness for several years and having a personal mindfulness meditation practice, I thought it would be a great idea to combine my two loves, meditation and all things pregnancy, birth and baby, together. That was the conception of Mindful Maternity Birth Services. However, let’s get back to the original question…what does one have to do with the other?

Let us step back and define what mindfulness is in the first place. In its most basic form mindfulness can be defined as the opposite of mindlessness, or “autopilot.” How often have you driven to work, for example, and then realized, upon arrival, that you didn’t even remember the drive? Or, maybe you are an avid TV watcher or Facebook user who goes through the motions of answering your child’s questions, but can’t really remember what they were talking about or wanted from you. These are small missed moments of your life. Does that sound dramatic? It should!!

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” For some, that means simply stopping, noticing their inhales and exhales, feeling the warmth of the sun on their skin or even feeling their bottom in a chair and their feet on the ground. It sounds simple enough, but it actually takes practice. One’s mind may start to wander, which may frustrate the new meditator. That’s ok. Remember, Kabat-Zinn said “nonjudgmentally”- don’t judge what’s happening. Simply acknowledge the thoughts and then try focusing on feeling your breath again. It is an activity that really doesn’t have a “wrong way” or a “right way”, so you don’t need to carry any performance anxiety into mediation with you. Just sit and BE. It will take some practice, but eventually you will feel your inhales and exhales get longer, and relaxation will settle in your body. No “body” can benefit more from mindful meditation than the pregnant woman’s body. Let’s look at this more closely.

From the moment a woman finds out she is pregnant, her mind races with visions of her child’s future; in her mind’s eye, she envisions her baby’s milestones, successes, and mulls over fears for its future.  Her thoughts then come back to wondering the sex of the baby, what the name will be, what her family will think, when she will look pregnant, to worrying about the pain of labor and pushing a baby out. She wonders- is she even ready to be a mom in the first place?! You get the picture. Her mind, and her body, need to slow down so that she can enjoy the next 9 months and so that her body is relaxed and ready to do the work it needs to do. I think part of my job as a birth doula is to remind a mama and her partner to stop, relax, visualize their baby and their birth, feel all of the little (and big) things that are happening within her body, and to find a sweet contentment with the stage of pregnancy she is at and not rush through the months of preparation.

As Elisha Goldstein, PhD, co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles, said in an interview, putting focus on “the little things is where life happens.” I would hate for a mother to look back and say, “I don’t remember much of my pregnancy.” Even more important than living in the moment and being present during pregnancy, mindful meditation brings many health benefits to both mom and baby!

1. According to Brainwave Institute UK, endorphin levels are elevated during meditation. Endorphins are the pain-relieving and pleasure-enhancing hormones that you want as elevated a possible during pregnancy and labor.

2. Meditation also increases DHEA levels. DHEA is another hormone in our body that, when at optimal levels, helps prevent depression and keeps the stress-related hormone, Cortisol, at lower levels.

3. Meditation can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure. As deep relaxation through meditation takes place, stress levels decrease.

4. I saved the best for last! Quiet mindfulness enhances the connection between a mother and her baby. This is a beautiful opportunity to spend time visualizing your baby surrounded by love.

As if those benefits weren’t enough of a reason to practice meditation, research has also shown that all of those above-mentioned benefits can lower cesarean rates and lower use of epidurals in laboring women. It is a win-win!! Meditation is a free gift that I encourage all pregnant women to practice. If you practice consistently, and with honest effort, over time you will see its benefits. It is subtle yet powerful.

So, my bottom-line advice to all pregnant women? Hire a doula and meditate!! (Oh, and don’t forget to take a childbirth education class!)

Kathryn Malloy, CD(DONA), LCCE
Mindful Maternity Birth Services

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