Written by Brittany Masson, CLC | Photo by shutterstock.com/Syda Productions
Incubating a baby in your womb often isn’t what you expect it to be. Pop culture dishes out the idea that it all begins with an excited flurry of nerves and joy over a positive pregnancy test, followed by nine months of eagerly nesting in a Pinterest-worthy nursery while taking rest, practicing prenatal yoga, and welcoming loved ones’ doting affection over a perfectly round baby bump. Take a closer look and you’ll see that expectant mothers endure a whole lot more stress and anxiety during these nine months.
Pregnancy causes hormones to undergo a total upheaval and mental health can take a hit because of it. Beyond the hormonal shift, a soon-to-be mama worries about the development of her baby, her own fitness and health, preparing for birth, and getting equipped, both physically and financially, for welcoming a new human into the world. Studies supported by March of Dimes suggest that women who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy “have a 25-60 percent higher risk for preterm delivery” and their babies can be born at a lower than average birth weight. Now more than ever, new moms are bombarded with information about what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to their pregnancy. This is no help when trying to achieve some level of “chill” while incubating your little one. A study conducted in 2003 followed the pregnancies of nearly 1800 pregnant women and concluded that 7-20 percent faced anxiety or depression and, in most cases, these disorders went undiagnosed and untreated.
Addressing a changing mindset should be right up there on your list of priorities along with adapting your health and fitness routines to accommodate overall well-being. Meditation can be a powerful tool to manage anxiety and stress during pregnancy.
What Is Meditation?
According to the popular meditation app Headspace, meditation is “training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective.” It isn’t about changing or turning off thoughts and feelings. It’s the development of mindfulness that gives you the ability to tune into the present and observe your thoughts without judgement. Meditation is a potent skill that can give you the ability to step back from your mind and avoid getting wrapped up in worry, fear, and anxiety. And it doesn’t have to look a certain way. Whether you’re nested in your bed, bouncing on a yoga ball, or breaking a sweat on a spin bike, accessing a meditative state is possible with the right resources and know-how.
Benefits of Meditating During Pregnancy
1. Lower feelings of stress and anxiety
As suggested earlier, spikes in cortisol (the stress hormone) due to anxiety can be harmful to both you and your growing baby. A meditation practice can give you the chance to step out of your head and tune into breathing, stillness, and presence. All are elements that contribute to lowering stress levels. A study in 2014 enrolled a group of pregnant women in a series of weekly Mindful Awareness Practice classes facilitated by UCLA. Results found that the meditating group “experienced larger decreases from pre-to post-intervention in pregnancy-specific anxiety and pregnancy-related anxiety” than the comparative group of pregnant women who read a pregnancy preparedness book.
2. Sleep better and relax with more ease
Sleep so commonly evades pregnant women. Especially in the third trimester when you have to pee often and it’s uncomfortable to lie in one position for an extended period of time. Added to this is the obstacle of a busy and ruminating mind. By tuning into a meditation before sleep or simply building a consistent daily practice, your ability to turn off and relax into rest will be honed. A Biotech Information study suggests that the brain responds to meditation with a “relaxation response” as opposed to a stress response. This relaxation response aids the process of falling asleep and staying asleep.
3. Visualize and mentally prepare for birth
According to research, meditating can increase your endorphin levels. Endorphins are your happy hormones and help in reducing pain. Studies surrounding endorphins and pain management suggest that endorphins possess “morphine-like effects.” Practices like Hypnobirthing can help an expectant mom to bring her meditation practice into the birthing room by tuning into familiar recordings and mantras that trigger the endorphin response. Beyond pain management, the meditation space can be an opportunity to get quiet and visualize a safe and healthy birth. Meditations like “Affirmations for Pregnancy” on Insight Timer walk you through mantras that positively connect the mind with desired outcomes and visualizations of a healthy pregnancy and birth. You can mentally prepare for the birth of your baby the same way an athlete might visualize game day.
Where to Begin
Remember, meditation can be embraced in a variety of ways. Give yourself all the grace, especially as you nurture and grow your little bean. It can look like going for a walk while listening to a guided meditation, tuning into your breath after a Pilates class, or choosing particularly stressful moments, like heading into an ultrasound, to pause for five minutes and quiet your mind.
The good news is that the digital world is teeming with resources just for you and your pregnant brain. Apps like Expectful, Insight Timer, Headspace, and Gentle Birth all cater to or offer programs that give expectant mamas some guidance in their mindfulness journey. What can be most impactful beyond the screen? Taking space away from devices and information overload by simply placing your hands on your growing belly to breathe, tune in, and be.