Having a baby is probably one of the most life-changing events you can experience – affecting everything from your body, to your emotions, home, workplace, and relationships, just to name a few! It is a time of great joy, anticipation, dreaming, planning, and above all, worry.
For many women, pregnancy is an emotional rollercoaster – especially for those who have struggled with anxiety or depression in the past. In fact, research shows that women with a history of depression have a higher likelihood of experiencing it again in the months both before and after a baby's birth. Prenatal stress can also impact fetal development. Studies have shown that it can even affect cognitive, emotional, and physical development in infancy and childhood.
The good news is that over the past decade, there have been countless studies on the science of mindfulness and meditation, as well as on the unwanted effects that stress and anxiety can create during pregnancy. Research published in the journal Psychology & Health shows that looking after mental well-being during pregnancy and early motherhood can have a positive effect on both mom and baby. Using meditation as a tool to refresh and focus your mind in a positive direction can help you listen to your body (and that tiny heartbeat!) with important results.
What is Meditation?
Meditation doesn’t necessarily entail sitting cross-legged on a pillow and chanting “OM.” It can be as simple as taking a minute to breathe deeply in-and-out during that quick bathroom break at work as you try to focus on the incredible work your body is doing nurturing your baby. It can be some quiet time in a special place at home being aware of passing thoughts, clearing your mind, and letting go. It can be a walk amongst nature, just breathing and being present with the world.
What are the Benefits?
Just as your prenatal vitamins and light exercise can keep your pregnant body feeling strong, meditation can help you feel more focused and energized. In addition, research now shows that meditation during pregnancy not only reduces the mother’s stress, it also helps to give a baby a better start in life. How?
1. Reduced Risk Factors. Research shows that high levels of stress and anxiety increase risk factors during pregnancy (1), and by keeping stress levels low (2), you give your baby a better environment in which to grow.
2. Promotes a Healthier Pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy and a baby born with a healthy birth weight are important for future development. A study that explored preterm birth found that women who participated in a mindfulness training program were 50% less likely to give birth early than women with no mindfulness education (3).
3. Reduced Pain During Labor. Meditation can help you focus on your breathing instead of focusing on your pain during labor. A study of a group of people who attended a four-day mindfulness meditation training found that they were able to decrease the intensity of a painful stimulus by 40 percent (4). Not only is pain reduction a helpful tool during birth and labor, but it is also beneficial during recovery when your baby needs you more than ever.
4. Enhanced Immunity. Meditation enhances the body’s immune function (5).
How do I Start?
With all the science that proves how meditation can support pregnant women during one of the most mentally demanding times of the lives, why isn’t it being recommended along with prenatal vitamins, nutrition, and exercise? Where do you start?
Well, a simple way to see if meditation is right for you is the new digital platform called Expectful, which makes it easy for expectant and new moms to meditate. Each one of their guided meditations in their ever-increasing library has been created to support you throughout your pregnancy and motherhood journey, and a free trial is now available at expectful.com.
With a new year (and perhaps new pregnancy) just dawning, there’s no time like the present to add some meditation time!
- Whirledge, S., & Cidlowski, J. A. (2010). Glucocorticoids, stress, and fertility. Minerva Endocrinologica, 35(2), 109-125.
- Van den Heuvel, M.I., Johannes, M.A., Henrichs, J., & Van den Bergh, B.R. (2015). Maternal mindfulness during pregnancy and infant socio-emotional development and temperament: The mediating role of maternal anxiety. Early Human Development, 91(2), 103-108 .
- Sriboonpimsuay W, Promthet S, Thinkhamrop J, Krisanaprakornki, T. (2011). Meditation for preterm birth prevention: A randomized controlled trial in Udonthani, Thailand. International Journal of Public Health Research, 1(1), 31-39.
- Zeidan, F., Martucci, K.T., Kraft, R.A., Gordon, N.S., McHaffie, J.G., & Coghill, R.C. (2011). Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. The Journal of Neuroscience 31(14), 5540–5548.
- Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S.F., … Sheridan, J.F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564–570.