April 14, 2014. Dr. Marta Wegorzewska, PhD , in collaboration with Dr. Seth Bokser, MD.
I am terrified of giving birth one day. As a twenty-eight-year-old woman who is planning to have a child in the foreseeable future, giving birth is number one on my list of irrational fears. Can’t my partner do it? He is better at handling pain anyway.
This fear lurks in my mind. I often browse Facebook pages of friends who have succeeded in giving birth to convince myself it is indeed possible. In doing so, I recently discovered a Tedx Talk by Ina May Gaskin, mother of midwifery, who describes a culture of fear surrounding childbirth in the US. I am not alone?
Everyone knows labor is painful. Stories are passed down through generations and linger in every woman’s mind. The due date becomes a moving target. Minutes fall off rapidly from the clock. Time moves faster towards the things we fear most.
As the mind races to acknowledge its fears of the uncontrollable future, the present moment passes by unnoticed. The remarkable finite experience of pregnancy is left unexplored.
Mindfulness, rooted in Buddhism and adopted in the West by Jon Kabat-Zin, PhD, is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment while letting go of thoughts about the past or anxieties about the future.1
In the present moment, a pregnant woman’s body undergoes daily changes. A being grows inside her, dependent on her for nutrients and protection. Stop and take a second to think about that—for nine months a woman houses another being inside her body. The biology of pregnancy is remarkably complex and full of fascinating mysteries.
The mind can in fact be trained to be present. Mindfulness practice has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, improve psychological well-being, help with anxiety and depression and improve immune function in adults.2-7
Mindfulness practice uses guided meditation and yoga practices to observe thoughts, feelings and emotions without judgment as they appear in the present moment. Nancy Bardacke, RN, CNM, MA developed a 10-session Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Program (MBCP) to help parents-to-be work with stress, anxiety and fear that for many are a normal process in the transition into parenthood.
The study of the efficacy of mindfulness-based practices during pregnancy and childbirth is in its infancy. However, early studies are beginning to show a reduction in anxiety, worry and depression among pregnant women who participate in mindfulness practice during pregnancy.8-10
Individuals who report improvement in psychological well-being after mindfulness practice appear to have changes in areas of the brain that are associated with arousal and mood.11 Scientists are also learning that meditation, a component of mindfulness practice, is able to change how certain genes are expressed.12 The expression of these genes affects how quickly we recover from stress and how we perceive pain.12
For all parents-to-be, there is never enough time to prepare for the future. The baby’s room needs to be painted, his name chosen and parenting books read. Experiencing pregnancy in the present moment, however, may help prepare a woman for childbirth without fear. As fear subsides, the excitement of welcoming a child into the world dampens the pain of childbirth.
What should you do if you have feelings of fear about your due date?
Be prepared. Know what to expect on the day you deliver. If you know what is coming, it will appear more familiar when it happens.
Practice yoga and/or meditation. Take time out of your schedule to be present in the moment.
Learn about mindfulness. Read about how mindful birthing can help you through your delivery.
Consider participating in MBCP. Meet others who may share your feelings around childbirth.
This post was checked by the following science articles:
1. Williams, JMG.; Teasdale, JD.; Segal, ZV.; Kabat-Zinn, J. The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. New York:Gilford; 2007.
2. Astin JA. Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation: Effects on psychological symptomology, sense of control, and spiritual experiences. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 1997;66:97–106.
3. Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D, Santorelli S, et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2003;65:564–570.
4. Segal ZV, Williams JMG, Teasdale JD. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. New York: The Guilford Press; 2002.
5. Shapiro SL, Schwartz GE, Bonner G. Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1998;139:267–274.
6. Speca M, Carlson LE, Goodey E, Angen M. A randomized, wait-list controlled trial: The effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2000;62:613–622.
7. Williams KA, Kolar MM, Reger BE, Pearson JC. Evaluation of a wellness-based mindfulness stress reduction intervention: A controlled trial. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2001;15:422–432.
8. Duncan LG, Bardacke N. Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Education: Promoting Family Mindfulness During the Perinatal Period. J Child Fam Stud. 2010 Apr;19(2):190-202.
9. Goodman JH, Guarino A, Chenausky K, Klein L, Prager J, Petersen R, Forget A, Freeman M. CALM Pregnancy: results of a pilot study of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for perinatal anxiety. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2014 Jan 22.
10. Guardino CM, Dunkel Schetter C, Bower JE, Lu MC, Smalley SL. Randomised controlled pilot trial of mindfulness training for stress reduction during pregnancy. Psychol Health. 2014;29(3):334-49.
11. Singleton O, Hölzel BK, Vangel M, Brach N, Carmody J, Lazar SW. Change in Brainstem Gray Matter Concentration Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention is Correlated with Improvement in Psychological Well-Being. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Feb 18;8:33.