Monday, 8 May 2017

Becoming mindful for you, and baby

The week Zakia tell us about how mindfulness can benefit both you and baby, in pregnancy and beyond. 

Pregnancy and motherhood isn't always easy. The myth of a glowing radiant mother-to-be is still prevalent in our society. However, the reality is sometimes different depending on your circumstances. That's where mindfulness can help you. New research is starting to suggest that mindfulness practice can protect the health and well-being of mothers and their babies. Here are three reasons to practice mindfulness during and after pregnancy

1)    Mindfulness reduces stress

In a small pilot study in 2008 (1), 31 women in the second half of their pregnancies participated in an eight-week mindfulness programme called Mindful Motherhood. The programme included breathing meditation, body scan meditation and hatha yoga. In two hours of classes per week, participants also learned how to cultivate attention and awareness, particularly in relation to aspects of their pregnancy: the feeling of their belly, the aches and pains, and their anxieties about labour.

Compared with women waiting to enter the programme, participants saw reductions in their reported anxieties and negative feelings like distress, hostility and shame. These were all women who had sought therapy or counselling for mood issues in the past, but the programme seemed to be helping them avoid similar difficulties during a transformative time of their lives.

2)    Mindfulness boosts positive feelings

Not all mindfulness involves meditation. You can become more mindful by simply noticing the way moods and bodily sensations fluctuate throughout the day. This type of mindfulness can counter our tendency to be “mindless,” when we assume things will be the way we expect them to be—the way they were in the past—and we don’t notice new experiences. For example, pregnant women might expect pregnancy to be exhausting or uncomfortable, so they pay less attention to the happy and peaceful moments.

In a 2016 study (2), a small group of Israeli women in their second and third trimesters received a half-hour training in this type of mindfulness. Then, for two weeks, they wrote diary entries twice daily about how they felt physically and mentally, a way of helping them realise how much things change.

Compared with groups of women who simply read about other women’s positive and negative experiences during pregnancy, or did nothing specific at all, women in the mindfulness group saw greater increases in their reports of well-being and positive feelings, like enthusiasm and determination across the duration of the exercise. Also, the more mindful they were after the experiment (as measured by questionnaire), the higher their well-being, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive feelings one month after the birth—a time when women need all the resources they can get.

3)    Mindfulness may promote baby's healthy development

Some women may worry about the possibility of a premature birth. “Preemies” (babies born before 37 weeks) are at risk of breathing problems, vision and hearing issues and developmental delays. Mothers of preemies often have high rates of anxiety, depression and stress, which often go unacknowledged in the face of the baby’s needs.

Here, too, mindfulness may have a role to play. In a 2005 study (3) of 335 pregnant women in Bangalore, India, half were assigned to practice yoga and meditation while the other half walked for an hour per day, starting in their second trimester and continuing until delivery. The yoga group, who took yoga classes for a week and then practiced at home, had fewer premature births and fewer babies with low birthweight.

A new wave of research is looking at the impact of motherly mindfulness on infancy as well, following babies as they develop. In a 2015 study from the Netherlands (4), babies whose mothers measured high in mindfulness at the beginning of the second trimester had fewer developmental problems. At 10 months, according to mindful mothers’ reports, babies were less likely to have difficulties settling down and adjusting to new environments (“self-regulation”) or controlling their attention and behaviour (“effortful control”).

Mindfulness is beneficial in many ways, for pregnancy and beyond, for both you and your baby.  And to benefit, you need to practice regularly. So let yourself start enjoying simple mindfulness practices everyday, like simply observing your breath, or sitting quiety and listening to all the sounds around you, or mindfully enjoying your food by chewing slowly and tasting and smelling every flavour in your meal. Giving yourself space to be mindful, to be in each moment and experience it fully, is super for your mental health, and is also great prepartion for birth and parenthood.  
Stay healthy, stay happy!

Zakia Mance, Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner