Ask the Expert: Can mindfulness be of benefit in pregnancy and childbirth?
Q: Can mindfulness help when giving birth?
A:"The practice of mindfulness in pregnancy has been shown to benefit women amazingly well during labour, birth and post-birth, says Riga Forbes,author of Mindful Pregnancy & Birth (Leaping Hare Press, £8.99).
New US research demonstrates that women participating in mindfulness-based birth preparation courses need less pain relief, feel more empowered and able to cope in childbirth, and also have improved wellbeing postnatally, with far fewer incidences of postnatal depression.
With less usage of drugs such as pethadine for relief of discomfort, not only are mothers more alert and connected with the process of bonding, but so are their babies. Results like this mean the initiation of breastfeeding and bonding can happen more easily too, which is immeasurably beneficial for both mother and child.
In order to use mindfulness training to prepare for birth itself, it's important to have a support system, either a course or a weekly group or a book with guided meditations which give a structured framework to practice.
When we take these skills into childbirth, we can use them to help focus on breathing, explore and observe sensations in our body without reacting in fear or panic, and to use cultivation of presence during the experience of birth to find more acceptance and empowerment in ourselves.
This works at a physiological level to enable the body to relax more, which in turn optimises the brain's secretion of oxytocin, thus supporting the birth process to unfold easily. The wonderful effects of relaxation during birth will have a positive impact on women at many levels and will facilitate further wellbeing, for baby also, as the new motherhood phase approaches.
Mindfulness provides a core of stability that not only helps us to address stress, but also allows us to recognise and work with the origins and triggers of stress in our lives. It's like a wellbeing toolbox that anyone can learn and use anywhere, which sounds to me like the perfect gift for a new mother.