I gave birth for the first time in August. Being a first-time mom, I was nervous and anxious about childbirth. Our hospital offered a course about childbirth that my husband and I attended. They covered topics like when to know when you are in labor, the stages of labor, what things to expect, strategies for pain management, and comfort techniques which included elements of mindfulness. In today’s mindset of no pain, I was pleasantly surprised that these mindfulness techniques were discussed as pain management during childbirth.
While many people define mindfulness in different ways one explanation I like is that Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. This definition especially the last part rings true in many situations, and childbirth is just one of the uses that mindfulness can be applied in apart from daily practice. Mindfulness has many different components. In our class on childbirth we focused on breathing, relaxation and visualization, and mantra.
Mindfulness has a large focus on the breath. Breathing and focusing on the breath is a major component in childbirth, and while things may have changed since Lamaze, breathing techniques are a large component used in getting through labor. There are a variety of techniques, from slow easy breaths, to fill the lungs, to short quick breaths depending on your stage of labor and what you are experiencing. For example, breathing while in early labor may be slow inhale and exhale to get through contractions, while breathing while pushing may be more controlled and shallower.
Relaxation and Visualization
In our class we practiced different relaxation and visualizations as tools during birth. A very popular mindfulness activity is progressive muscle relaxing. This is a type of whole-body scan that reminds you to let go of tension in each part of your body. In childbirth we tend to hold tension in different areas of our body, especially the face. By doing this muscle relaxation exercise it can help to relax your body as you progress through labor.
We also talked through different visualizations. Visualization will vary greatly and can be very specific like visualizing your baby making his or her way down and happy and healthy, or using imagery to imagine you are in a peaceful place sitting on a sandy beach or listening to a waterfall. This allows your mind to wander wherever it may want to help you relax.
For some people a mantra, some words or a phrase, or words of affirmation said is very helpful. During birth people may have mantras or affirmations like I am strong, I can do this, etc. In our class one of the first things we were taught is that pain in childbirth is purposeful, expected, and temporary. I used this as my mantra and told my husband to remind me of these things if needed. This is helpful to help to keep you in the moment and remind you to focus.
These mindfulness techniques can be used in many different situations apart from childbirth. And whether you have a non-medicated birth or medicated birth these mindfulness practices are good tools to have in which ever situation you find yourself in to have a happy healthy baby.
There are many apps and resources online to help in using mindfulness practices for childbirth and other specific circumstances. To learn more about mindfulness visit the Ohio State University Extension Mindful Wellness page and a great introduction to mindfulness.