Mindfulness: Surprising Ways It Changes Your Pregnancy, Labor and Baby’s Future
How often are you in the present moment?
I mean really in the moment. When you’re just thinking, feeling and experiencing what’s happening right this second.
If you’re like most people, the present moment is often bogged down by yesterday and tomorrow’s worries. Although that’s normal in our society, it’s not the calmest way we could be living—especially during pregnancy. Changing your awareness to the present can help you along your journey, during labor and may even have long-term benefits for your baby.
In this post, we’ll demystify mindfulness, tell you the benefits and show you interesting studies to back it up.
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll cover specific practices you can use to boost your mindfulness and introduce calm into your pregnancy.
What Is Mindfulness?
To put it simply, mindfulness is the awareness you have while focusing on the present moment. Another way of looking at it is “living in the moment.”
Although it sounds like a simple concept, it’s harder in practice. Daily stresses, chores and to-do lists can be overwhelming.
Pregnancy can add even more anxieties. Worries about you and your baby’s health. Thoughts about how your relationship and life will change. Preparation for the baby. Buying baby supplies. How bad will labor hurt? Another checkup next week. The list of worries that take you out of the present moment goes on and on.
Although mindfulness won’t cross everything off of your baby to-do list, it can put you more at ease while tackling chores.
To be clear: Mindfulness isn’t about eliminating thoughts, emotions or pain. It’s the practice of being aware that they exist and accepting them, leading to a calmer state.
Although mindfulness is a practice, it’s not one single practice. There are a variety of ways a person can choose to exercise this brain muscle. We will cover specific techniques in our post next week, but here are a few:
- Mindful meditation
- Breathing techniques
- Mindful yoga
- Mindful eating
- Mindful walking
- Exercises involving various senses
- Getting lost in/focusing on a specific activity
Whatever exercises a person uses to increase their mindfulness, they should be done regularly. Using a technique once, or even a few times, probably won’t improve your mental state. Rather, finding a technique that works for you and incorporating it into your daily routine is more effective.
What Are The Benefits Of Mindfulness?
There are many possible benefits of using mindfulness during pregnancy. These include:
- More positive emotions
- Reduced depression
- Reduced stress/anxiety
- Reduced pain
- Improved ability to regulate emotions
- Improved ability to regulate behavior
- Improved working memory
- Improved focus
If the concept of mindfulness sounds too zen and woo-woo to you, consider the studies pointing to its effectiveness.
A 2011 review of research concluded that mindfulness results in positive psychological effects. It seemed to improve the volunteers’ well-being and ability to regulate behavior and emotions.
The practice may help because it can change the way you think about your life. In a 2011 study, about 340 participants completed an 8-week mindfulness course. Researchers observed that participants became better at positively reinterpreting life events. This lead to substantially reduced stress levels. The authors concluded that mindfulness coupled with positive reappraisal can have an upward spiral effect.
Mindfulness may also improve your life physically. A 2008 study found that mindfulness meditation significantly improved chronic pain. The practice may make the pain easier to accept and could improve physical function.
Why Does Having A Mindful Pregnancy Matter?
As you read above, mindfulness can improve anyone’s life in a variety of ways. The practice can also make pregnancy more enjoyable and labor easier and less painful.
There are a few studies investigating how mindfulness affects pregnant women specifically.
Depression & Anxiety
In a 2017 study, a group of 30 women in their third trimester were asked to complete a questionnaire before and after studying mindfulness. Researchers found that mindfulness helped first-time mothers deal with their fears about childbirth. The results also suggested that it may help mothers decrease prenatal and postpartum depression symptoms.
Interestingly, the authors also said there was some evidence that mindfulness techniques can be used instead of opioid pain medication during labor.
In another study, researchers offered a mindfulness yoga course to pregnant women who were considered high-risk for depression. After the course, participants enjoyed an increased maternal-fetal attachment and fewer depressive symptoms.
Research has also shown that mindfulness can help eliminate those pregnancy worries, termed “perinatal anxiety.” In one study, 17 participants met the criteria for having generalized anxiety disorder. After completing a mindfulness program, the participants were evaluated again. The results were surprising. Only 1 out of the 17 people continued to meet the anxiety criteria.
The fact that mindfulness can help depression and anxiety during pregnancy is especially important. Many doctors recommend against using anti-depressants during pregnancy because their effects on a fetus aren’t yet clear. For this reason, mothers-to-be need more tools to control their emotions without medication.
As you probably know, stress can cause numerous physical problems. While not all researchers agree, some theorize that a mother’s stress levels can also impact the baby. In fact, a 2002 study linked high anxiety levels with preterm birth. Read more about stress during pregnancy here.
If stress negatively impacts a fetus, then it makes sense that stress-reducing techniques would help—and that’s what researchers in India discovered in a 2005 study. Out of 355 women, half were told to practice yoga and meditation. The other half were simply told to walk for an hour a day. Those who practiced meditation had fewer premature births and fewer babies with low birth weights.
Long-Term Effects On Your Baby
Positive effects from mindfulness may also last after birth. One study from the Netherlands showed that mothers who scored high in mindfulness in the first trimester had babies with fewer developmental problems. As 10-month-olds, the babies had an easier time settling down and adjusting to new environments. They were also better at controlling their own emotion and behavior.
Another study investigated how a mother’s mindfulness during pregnancy affects a baby’s hearing. Researchers evaluated the mindfulness of women in their second trimester. When their babies were tested at 10 months old, they found something interesting. Babies with mindful moms paid more attention to novel sounds and less attention to repetitive sounds. The authors concluded that these babies had a better way of using their “attentional resources.”
More research needs to be done to clearly define the long-term impact of mindfulness on children. However, these studies show that a mother’s mental state during pregnancy may affect their unborn baby.
In summary, mindfulness can be useful to practice during pregnancy for a variety of reasons:
- Reduce pain
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce depression
- Reduce stress or pregnancy worries
- Reduce chances of baby blues
- Increased attachment with baby
- Positive pregnancy outcomes
A Note About Mindfulness And Pregnancy Research
Although there are several studies on mindfulness and pregnancy, the research is considered preliminary; meaning that more needs to be done. For example, one review of research concluded that there wasn’t any evidence that mindfulness programs helped pregnant women mentally. This could be for a couple of reasons: The women didn’t carry on with their practices at home, the practices weren’t effective for them, or the programs offered weren’t comprehensive.
The best advice we can give you is to find a practice that works best for you and to practice it frequently. Although it won’t happen overnight, over time, you may notice a difference.
Who Should Practice Mindfulness During Pregnancy?
Mindfulness may benefit any pregnant woman. However, you may want to especially consider the practice if:
- You have fears about labor complications and pain. You may find that mindfulness exercises help calm your concerns.
- You have a history of mental health issues. Practicing mindfulness can be a preventative step.
- You have noticed some unpleasant emotional changes during your pregnancy. This includes mood swings.
- You’re considering a medication-free alternative for labor. If you’re considering a “natural” birth, you’ll need another way to control pain.
- You’re experiencing pregnancy anxiety. Even if you’re not anxiety-prone, pregnancy can cause extra worries and lead to emotional distress.
- You have a high-risk pregnancy. If you’re already more likely to have a baby prematurely or with a low-birth weight, mindfulness could help decrease your chances.
How To Have a Mindful Pregnancy
Now that we’ve shown how mindfulness can make pregnancy better, let’s jump into specific practices you can do. In next week’s post, we’ll cover exercises and techniques that you can implement right away to start having a calmer pregnancy.
Have you tried using mindfulness before? If so, leave us a comment about your experience. If you know any other stressed out moms-to-be, help them out by sharing this post!
P.S. Have you tried using a fetal doppler? They are at-home devices that allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while they’re inside the womb. Many expecting moms find hearing their baby a reassuring experience that decreases anxiety. Check out our baby heartbeat monitors here.