Five ways mindfulness and self-hypnosis can help new parents cope
Hypnotherapist Sophie Fletcher tells Lisa Salmon how the techniques can be used to ease stress and fatigue in that tricky first year
BECOMING a parent is wonderful but also often life-changing, stressful and sleep destroying – and many exhausted mums and dads don't know if they're coming or going.
But what can help, says hypnotherapist Sophie Fletcher, author of Mindful Mamma (Vermilion, £12.99, available now), is hypnosis and mindfulness, which, as well as being relaxing in themselves, can help make the whole parenting melee easier to deal with.
"Mindfulness is shown to reduce stress and improve mental and physical wellbeing, while hypnosis visualisation and hypnotic language is perfect for encouragement, changing perspective and getting things done," she says.
"Classic aspects of mindfulness and hypnosis have to be adapted for new parents so they can apply them quickly and easily to their day," she adds.
So how can these tools help new parents day-to-day? Here, Fletcher outlines five ways mindfulness and hypnosis can ease the first year of parenthood, and explains how to do it.
1. The 10-second breath technique – to help you pause for a moment
Sometimes it can be hard to find time to stop for five minutes, so try the 10-second breath technique; breathe in 3, 2, 1, breathe out relax, relax, relax. It can be done anywhere – for example, in the moment you walk from your sitting room to your kitchen, or just before you get out of bed. It's a moment to just press pause and a reminder to check in with yourself.
2. Visualisation – to help a new mum heal after giving birth
The first 12 weeks are a steep learning curve for both parents and baby. It's often referred to as the fourth trimester. Some techniques give a new mother permission to slow down, adapt to parenting, learn how to be a mother and help build confidence.
There are many different visualisations to help with aspects of these early days. One of these is a healing visualisation – evidence shows hypnosis and mindfulness-based approaches can influence wound healing. Guided imagery is an effective and simple self-hypnosis technique here, especially when used with imagery such as colours and shapes.
For example: 'If the discomfort were to have a colour or shape, what would it be and how could you change that colour or shape to make it different and better?' This is a tool to aid physical healing after birth, and mothers can use these techniques to help facilitate healing but also manage discomfort.
3. Rehearsal imagery – to deal with fatigue
Trying to do anything when you are tired is hard, but using self-hypnosis can help. 'How to get things done when you're exhausted' is a simple exercise in slowing down and setting mini-goals. Mini-goals are boosted by hypnosis rehearsal imagery. This means setting yourself a small goal and playing it through in your mind.
If that's posting a letter, it would be imagining writing it, doing everything you need to do to leave the house, leaving the house, posting the letter and then feeling how good it feels to have that job done. If you're really struggling, you can set tiny goals like having a shower then using the rehearsal imagery to set it up. This type of visualisation is used by groups such as athletes to boost performance.
4. De-stress – to improve milk flow
How you respond to your baby when you breast or bottle-feed them is important – being connected supports the brain changes that are happening and helps with responsive parenting. For breastfeeding mothers, stress can inhibit milk flow and can also reduce the quality of breast milk. Evidence shows relaxation and mental wellbeing can improve milk quality and quantity.
There are two visualisations. Either the mother can relax with the Confident Mamma track which can be downloaded from the mindfulmamma.co.uk website (priced £7.99). This is to help reverse the stress response – when the mother relaxes, milk flow can improve.
Or a simple hypnotic suggestion can turn the flow of milk up or down. You just imagine a dial in your mind, perhaps in your own control room, and this dial can turn milk flow up or down. The more the mother practises it, the easier it gets.
5. Quick Release exercise – to cope with crying
I have met many parents who have struggled with crying, including some who have reached a point when they have been worried that they felt like hurting their baby. When you are exhausted yourself, and your baby is crying a lot, it can feel as if there is no end to it and no way out of it.
This Quick Release exercise helps you connect with the tension you feel in these tricky moments. Stand up tall and put your arms by your side. Breathe in deeply. As you breathe deeply, clench your fists as tightly as you can. Now as you breathe out, relax your hands. Let the weight of your hands pull your shoulders down. Roll your shoulders. Repeat three times. Then shake it out.
If you want to go deeper into this, when you breathe out make a sound deep in your throat, like deep humming. It can really help to let go vocally. Keep your jaw relaxed as you breathe.