Mindfulness Practices for Pregnant Women and New Mothers
Mindfulness is the practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Mindfulness applies to both bodily actions and the mind’s own thoughts and feelings. By practicing mindfulness, pregnant women and new mothers have the unique opportunity to not only be mindful of their bodies but also the state of being of their offspring during pregnancy as well as after delivery.
In early pregnancy, it is important to be mindful of how the pregnancy is affecting your eating, your sleeping, your moods, your physical sensations in order to get through the first trimester with minimal discomfort. Notice how your feel after you eat. Does the food agree with you or make you nauseas? Notice how you feel being around certain people or situations. Take control of avoiding unnecessary stress and practice relaxation breathing when you feel tension in your body.
During the second trimester, take time every day to connect with your baby through a mindfulness meditation of counting fetal movements. After eating a meal, lie comfortably on your left side and notice the baby inside of you. Stay focused on every twinge and kick. This practice will prepare you for staying calm during delivery as well as keep you informed of your baby’s status. Babies will typically move at least 10 times in a one hour time period and this is a useful sign of fetal wellbeing. Check with your health care provider regarding when you should notify him or her if movement is less than expected.
In the third trimester, being mindful is important in preserving mom’s health. Since the enlarged uterus shifts the center of gravity, pregnant women are more at risk of falling. So, be mindful of how you are walking. Take your time and avoid taking unnecessary risks like snow skiing or riding a horse. Be mindful when walking up and down stairs and hold on to railings when available. This is also an important time to rest. Be mindful of when you are tired and listen to your body. By conserving energy, you are allowing your baby to grow the way he or she needs to grow and helping to maintain a healthy body in the process. There is nothing to be gained by wearing yourself out. And remember that pregnancy is not a competition to see how many things you can do with 20 -30 extra pounds to carry around. Take some time to “baby” yourself!
During the labor and delivery and process, mindfulness is a great way to deal with the uncomfortable sensations of childbirth. Every time you have a contraction, imagine riding a wave and just watch your body as it tightens and releases, breathing slowly and deliberately. Notice the spaces between contractions and use this time to rest being mindful of preserving energy. Use the breath as a valuable tool for getting through each contraction and during the birth of your baby. You need oxygen to sustain the effort of childbirth and your baby needs oxygen to handle this very stressful experience as well. When in doubt, BREATHE!! Breathing will not only help improve oxygen levels, it will also help to keep you calm and in control.
After delivery and during the early days of postpartum, use mindfulness tools to help you get through this time of adjusting to parenthood. Take time to really “be” with your baby during feeding, diaper changing and bursts of activity. Notice your baby’s preferences, habits, and daily rhythms. Use the early days after childbirth to find out who your baby really is in mind, body and spirit. Use non-judgmental awareness as you assess this new person in your life. The better you get to know your newborn, the easier the transitions to parenting will be. Another mindfulness practice that is soothing to both you and your baby is infant massage. Take time to gently stroke your baby’s back, arms and legs. Feel the smooth texture, smell your baby, listen for sounds and notice how baby reacts to being touched gently and lovingly. This type of non-verbal communication is a wonderful way to start your lifelong journey in a nurturing relationship between you and your child.
Mindfulness is a practice that will take you through life in the most satisfying ways. And like anything else, you need to take the time to practice in order to achieve the many benefits. Here are a few tips for integrating mindfulness into your everyday life:
- Try to be mindful for one minute every hour. Touch base with your breathing throughout the day wherever you are, as often as you can.
- Each day, be aware of one pleasant event while it is happening. Keep a mother’s journal and record these events as well as your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
- Bring awareness to any difficult situations that may arise and look for patterns. Record what happened, and how you dealt with the situation.
- Be aware of the connections between physical symptoms of distress that you might be having such as headaches, increased pain, palpitations, rapid breathing, muscle tension, etc. and the ability of the breath to help decrease these symptoms. Just sitting quietly while noticing the breath will help slow your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure and put you in a state of ease.
- Be mindful of your needs for a healthy diet, regular exercise, your need for sleep, intimacy, and humor. The more you honor your basic needs, the stronger your foundation for health, increased resilience to stress and greater satisfaction with your life as a person, as a partner and as a parent.
“Every moment of you waking life is a moment in which you might bring greater stillness and awareness. Mindfulness is a lifetime’s journey along a path that ultimately leads nowhere, only to who you are. The way of awareness is always here, always accessible to you, in each moment.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD