A mum-to-be’s worry list is endless. According to a study published in the European Journal of Public Health, babies born to women who experienced a lot of stress during pregnancy may have worse health than those born to less-stressed women. That’s why it’s important for an expectant mum to find ways to manage stress — and mindfulness can be a great help.
“It is about being fully present in the here and now; in letting go of the mind’s ‘stories’; and observing sensations, thoughts and emotions without getting ‘caught up in them’, explains Silvia Wetherell, a counsellor with More Mindful, which offers counselling services. She also co-founded Mindful Mums, a not-for-profit that organises support groups for new mums.
Studies show that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, stress and depression in expectant mums, as well as provide parents with the tools to manage their relationship with their children. But don’t expect a mum-to-be to practise mindfulness by sitting in a lotus position and meditating quietly for an hour, Wetherell notes. “It’s all about taking the practical approach. Expectant mums have to get creative on how to practise being mindful,” she notes.
Being mindful wherever you are
Wetherell suggests that mums-to-be can adopt mindfulness anytime, like taking a walk, or paying attention to the bliss of having a shower.
Mindfulness helps mums-to-be to recognise and handle difficult thoughts and emotions without resorting to destructive behaviour. For example, a pregnant woman who stresses about the health of her baby may indulge in unhealthy foods without realising it. Or she may provoke arguments with her husband, rather than acknowledge her underlying emotion, which is fear, Wetherell points out.
Studies show that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, stress and depression in expectant mums.
By becoming more aware of her “present moment” experience, Wetherell notes that a mum-to-be will be more open, accepting, as well as have more self-compassion in handling distressing situations. With greater awareness, she will also be in a much better position to make choices that are better for her in the long run, rather than reacting on “auto-pilot”, she adds.
Being more aware helps your bond with baby
Expectant women are often busy as they’ll work up until their maternity leave starts. While some read parenting books or trawl websites to prepare for their little one’s arrival, many still do not really know how to make a connection with the baby that is developing in the womb, Wetherell explains. When the mum-to-be actively nurtures the connection with her unborn child, she is already creating and strengthening an emotional bond. She suggest you:
1. Rest your hand on your bump while talking to baby, in whatever way that feels right for you — it can even be a silent greeting.
2. Play some music or read stories out loud.
3. Apply some lotion and do a gentle yet mindful belly rub.
These acts release the feel-good happy hormones — endorphins and serotonin — and will boost your ability to handle stress effectively. This, in turn, relaxes muscles that promote better nighttime sleep, help you manage labour, plus improve mother-baby bonding.
Mindfulness helps you maintain control
Today’s women are well-informed of the issues surrounding pregnancy and labour, which can cause anxiety and stress, says Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre. In becoming mindful, they can comprehend the “whys” and “hows” that affect them and take a more realistic approach, he notes.
When you are mindful, you have power over what you’re going to do. For example, you could discuss with your spouse what you need him to do during labour, so you’ll both be aware of what each other’s roles are when the big day arrives. This gives the mother control, comfort and security, while lessening her stress, so she can put her energy into the birth process, Koh notes.
Develop mindfulness through…
It helps you to focus on your breathing, which can be useful during the later stages of your pregnancy. Your body also becomes more ﬂexible, which enables you to adapt to various positions during labour. Yoga also reduces ﬂuid retention and boosts circulation. These stretching exercises relieve aches and pains, as well as improve posture to ease the back problems common in pregnant women. If you are new to yoga, ﬁnd a qualiﬁed prenatal instructor. If in doubt, consult your doctor or midwife.
Don’t overlook the pleasures — and beneﬁts — of prenatal massage. It helps you to relax in preparation for labour. Massages also relieve areas of stress and discomfort on the body, especially the lower back. Make sure your therapist is qualiﬁed to work with pregnant women. And check with your doctor before you make an appointment.
Silvia Wetherell suggests simple, deep-breathing exercises to reconnect with your body.
* Focus on your five senses What you hear, taste, touch, smell and see at this very moment means that you are completely in the present — your mind is not creating possible “doom and gloom” scenarios about the future.
* Observe your breathing Take slow and deep breaths, let the air come down into the diaphragm and make the “out” breath just a little longer than the “in” breath. Do this several times a day to reduce your stress levels. Trust us, your baby will thank you for it!
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