What to accept when you’re expecting.
I am privileged to have the job of bringing life into the world. My wish for all pregnant women is the gift of a mindful pregnancy and childbirth.
It is of paramount importance to create space for mindfulness as part of the birth preparation and to cultivate mindful relationships with your partner, your family, and most importantly, yourself. Mindfulness may not give you the birth experience you want, but it helps you fall in love with the birth experience you get.
The benefits of meditation are long-established. Meditation creates a deep level of mental rest that is very soothing for both the mother and baby during pregnancy and birth. When implemented daily, an inner silence and space for confidence is created, which teaches you and your baby to avoid reacting negatively to stressful situations. Meditation is the safest and most effective way to non-pharmacologically reduce anxiety and stress, thereby restoring and promoting the immune system of both the mother and her baby.
At 32 weeks, the placenta transports hormones from the mother’s blood into the fetal environment. The fetus relies on the mother for reassurance about the safety of this environment through the hormonal bath. Meditation decreases the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and gives the fetus a signal that it is safe and protected. This is essential as it sets the temperament of calm or anxiety in the baby. Meditation also produces endorphins, our pleasure hormone, which assists with preparation of childbirth due to its pain relieving effect. The effect actually improves with time, so the earlier you start practicing meditation during pregnancy, the greater your endorphin levels will be when it comes time to give birth.
Meditation lowers blood pressure and heart rate, which reduces the risk of preeclampsia, placental abruption, miscarriage, preterm labor, and improves relationships with your loved ones. Meditation also increases breast milk production which is key to a child’s early development, helping your baby sleep well, be less colicky and irritable, have fewer allergies and infections, have a higher tolerance for discomfort and develop skills for self-soothing.
Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” Sudden flashes of insight don’t just happen—they are the products of preparation. Educate yourself so that when it’s time to make decisions, you can make the right choice. I encourage all my patients and their partners to attend childbirth and breastfeeding courses so they know what to expect. The more informed you are, the more empowered and relaxed you’ll be during labor. Fear of the unknown creates pain, which elicits more fear, which produces painful deliveries. Ask lots of questions at your prenatal appointments. Choose a doctor who will provide you with compassionate, individualized care and with whom you form a solid bond of trust as you enter childbirth. Instead of focusing on “the perfect birth,” build your knowledge of different labor outcomes and decide how you’d want to deal with the various possibilities.
This is the best gift you can give your baby. Focus on creating space and making yourself emotionally healthy. Be mindful in not only the external details of pregnancy planning but the inner preparation. Try to avoid over-scheduling and block off some time for yourself. Most women find the last part of pregnancy to be the most exhausting and uncomfortable and your lack of energy needs to be honored. Nap, change your exercise routines and find time to relax and connect with yourself, your partner, and your baby. The quiet time will allow you to pay attention, hydrate, and rest, which will decrease risks for preterm contractions, improve swelling, help you enter childbirth energized, and provide your baby with cues of safety and calmness as it prepares to enter the world.
I have performed thousands of deliveries, yet each pregnancy and birth story is unique and special. A written birth plan can encourage unrealistic expectations because the truth is, we can’t plan childbirth. We can’t plan the timing, the amount of pain a woman can tolerate, the length of labor, the size and direction of the baby’s head, the contractions or how well the baby will tolerate labor. When and how you deliver may be beyond your control. What you can control is how you deal with the unexpected and how you feel about what happens. I prefer a ‘birth wish list’ of things my patients hope I will honor during their experience. Our plan is always the same: a healthy baby delivered in the safest way possible.
No one would show up for a 26.2 mile run without dedicating months to a regimented training schedule. Similarly, fitness throughout pregnancy is imperative. Exercise helps reduce backaches, prevent diabetes, increase energy, reduce stress and improve your mood. It promotes muscle strength, tone, and endurance, improves sleep and helps you adjust to the physical demands of birth. When Lucinda was in labor, she would liken each contraction to a workout—three sets of ten. She’d put maximum effort in her mental and physical energy expenditure during the contraction. The rest in between contractions provided a reprieve to mentally recharge, breathe, rest mentally and physically, create space and build up her energy stores to start again. Her biggest cheerleader, Andy, was beside her providing her with love, support, and encouragement which played an integral part of her successful delivery.
Pain isn’t only a physical discomfort, but an experience of the mind and anticipation of the pain results in needless mental suffering. Mindful birth allows you to experience labor as intense physical sensations which arise, peak and pass. Using meditation to stay focused during childbirth will give you the mental and physical stamina for a successful outcome. Surrendering to the realization that the physical pain your body is experiencing is a sacred, miraculous journey can transform your birth. I encourage all my patients to stay home for as long as possible because labor can last for hours, and pain is always best managed in the comfort of a familiar environment. Remember that asking for pain medication even if you intended to have a natural birth is not a failure. Having an unplanned C-section is not cause for regret if the end result is a healthy baby in your arms. I have never had a patient who received an epidural that regretted her decision. Be flexible.
For most women, a dark and quiet environment is ideal during labor, so ask your nurse or partner to dim the lights and minimize noise. Little things make a difference: a favorite pillow, pair of socks or soothing scent. Aromatherapy, especially the scent of lavender, is very calming in labor. Personal touches from home—pictures, keepsakes or a flameless candle—can bring love into the room. Music is always helpful, even if you’re having a C-section. It’s a birthday party, so have fun and savor the miracle of childbirth.
A patient of mine was so disappointed that after hours of labor, she was only three centimeters dilated. I playfully asked her if there was somewhere else she needed to be. Stop looking at the clock—you have a long journey ahead of you. Choose to be present for the birth of your baby. Breathe and let go of any concept of time or deadlines. When patients get to complete dilation (ten centimeters), I encourage them to “labor down,” meaning that for several hours, they do not push. Gravity, time and contractions will bring the baby down into the birth canal until you feel intense rectal pressure and an urge to push. The less you push, the less exhausted you’ll be, the less swollen your perineum gets and the less you’ll tear.
Watching your child’s birth is one of life’s greatest moments, and a supportive partner can be the most relaxing and calming resource for a mother. I encourage significant others to be full participants in the pregnancy journey by attending prenatal appointments, childbirth and breastfeeding classes, asking questions and being an interactive member of the team. It is a magical time to bond with your partner and your baby. The stronger your relationship is prior to the birth, the more positive your participation will be.
The most important goal in childbirth is to bring a healthy life into the world. Please don’t lose sight of this or take it for granted. Trust your doctors and nurses to guide you as situations change. Be an intensely proud new parent, whether you have a two- or 24-hour labor, an emergency C-section, an epidural or a drug-free delivery.