Anxiety is common. Most of us know the feeling and it’s yucky. A crazy pace of life, abundant everyday stressors, trauma, and our habitual human tendency to over-think can compound.
Pregnancy may not improve anxiety. In fact, new challenges and worries inevitably arise. These may include physical stresses, the wellbeing of your baby, concerns about older toddlers or children, career or financial pressure, accommodation changes, relationship dramas. The list goes on.
Then add to the mix the emotional residue of a difficult previous birth, plus fear of birthing again. It’s easy to see why calmness is illusive.
In this video, I offer you 8 ways to reduce anxiety in pregnancy and increase calm.
I’ve worked with countless mamas who were strung out, wound up and uptight, all for good reasons. I’ve experienced moments and periods of anxiety myself. Through working with others and myself, I’ve come to see anxiety not as an irritation to be vanquished ASAP, but rather as a messenger asking for a compassionate investigative response.
I’ve come to see anxiety is the voice of a part of ourselves that is not feeling safe.
It’s our individual responsibility to respond with kindness and to encourage that part of ourselves into a place of emotional safety. Over and over again, until we recognise that relaxation becomes a new habit and a new ‘home’.
Anxiety is asking me, and you, to take time to stop, and ask ourselves, what do I need to feel safe? What experience or behaviour is asking for healing? The gentle process of becoming intimate with and responsive to our anxiety is not necessarily comfortable initially, but brings increasing freedom.
Enjoy the video! As always, don’t just believe anything I say. Take what feels intuitively helpful. Test it out. See what works for you. Be curious. Share your insights in the comments or on Facebook.
Over the summer break I was lucky enough to go on meditation retreat for 9 days. The location was a beautiful meditation centre on a wooded hill, overlooking a clear flowing river near Nelson. It’s one of my heart homes, and I am always pleased to return there.
When people hear of my retreat they often say, ‘Oh how lovely. That must have been so relaxing’. Then I explain it was 9 days of silence, no talking, with very little eye contact, no reading, and no writing. Not so fun anymore? Actually, it was amazing.
Meditation retreats have taught me more about my mind and being truly happy, than anything else in my life. They have taught me how to be present in daily life with greater calmness and contentment. But more than anything, meditation teaches me how to respond to the challenging bits of life, including giving birth.
As I breathed between surges during the births of my two boys, I knew the thing helping me most was my meditation training. You don’t have to go on retreat or have any particular spiritual faith to reap the benefits of meditation for birth. Mindfulness meditation is being recognised as a powerful tool for labour that anyone can use with a little practise.
6 ways meditation helped me to give birth
1. Stay present. Just be with what is. On retreat I learn to be present with the pleasant and unpleasant, without wanting or pushing away. In birth, just be with the rise and fall of surges. The coming and going of intensity. The sound of your support person’s voice. The feeling of warm water in your skin. The less helpful alternative? Following the anxiety producing stories of the mind including: ‘That last contraction was a nightmare. I’m losing it, I can’t cope. I’ll be a failure if I have an epidural. I am a useless birther. The next contraction will be worse. I want to stop. I can’t do it. My body can’t do it. This is way worse than I thought. I’ll need a c-section for sure. I’m only 2 cm! That means I have at least 20 hours more of this to go!’. You get the picture. Giving your energy to thoughts that undermine your confidence and self-esteem are very unhelpful. So stay present.
2. Just breathe. Staying present requires something on which to focus your mind. In meditation, and in birth, this something is your breathing. Your breath is always there; coming in, going out, coming in, going out. Returning your attention to the natural ebb and flow of the breath, over and over again, calms the mind and activates a calm-connection response. One researcher calls this the ‘everything is ok’ feeling. And guess what, mindfulness boosts oxytocin release ( that feel good hormone that precipates contraction). A note of encourgament about mindful breathing: when you first do it for a few minutes, you’ll notice your mind is as crazy and untamed as a wild stallion. You’re not a useless meditator ok… that is a normal human brain doing what it does. Mindful breathing is not about having a still tranquil mind, but consistently returning to your object of attention, the breath. the bi-product of this practise is greater calmness and stabilty. It’s the process not the result that works wonders.
3. Smile. Seen many women on TV or in the movies smiling in labor? Nope, it’s all drama, pain, sweat and strain. Believe it or not, many women enjoy birth, or at least moments of it. Two friends have told me that they laughed out their babies. Another one told me her birth was a fun party. Many more have explained that funny jokes really helped. Turning up the corners of your mouth just slightly (think smiling Buddha or smiling Jesus) makes you feel better about the whole process. A little smile releases endorhins and seretonin, and every birth beneifts from more good hromones. Smiling slightly between surges is a great way to put things in perspective. Remember, this is your baby’s birthday, not your grandmothers funeral. On retreat this year, I decided to smile more, not take it all so seriously and enjoy the process. It was amazing. Even though not everything was fun (like the pain in my shoulder after hours of meditation), I was happy anyway.
4. Welcome the uncomfortable bits, because resisting them is more painful. In HypnoBirthing there is an affirmation I really like: I welcome each surge because each surge is taking me one step closer to your baby. It reminds me of a favourite birth video. After giving birth, the Australian mother explains how that even though the contractions hurt, she said she felt happy, because she knew they were helping her to meet her child. When I sit in meditation and welcome the unpleasant sensations that arise, that doesn’t mean that I like them. But I know I can still be happy. And more powerfully, I am strengthening the mental muscle that allows me to respond compassionately to all challenges in life.
5. Know the uncomfortable bits will pass. Everything, really everything, in life is always changing. Nothing stays the same in birth or on meditation retreat or in every second of every day. If you label every contraction with the same narrow definition of pain (and slap an even bigger ‘dislike’ label on top), then that is what you will perceive. Instead, experience the surges as waves. They arise, grow bigger, and pass away. Each one may be a little different, in length, in sensation, in how you approach it, in how you move your body, in how you soften on the outbreath. Did you know only a ¼ of your whole labour is taken up with contractions? The rest of the time you’re, well, feeling pretty fine, hopefully relaxing and smiling. And you can always use ancient Sufi/Jewish/Buddhist wisdom as another affirmation “This too shall pass”.
6. The gentle effort you put in is more important than getting there. My 6 year old son and I were on a bushwalk in summer. It was a bit of a hike, and all the older kids and parents had overtaken us yonks ago. It’s tough always being the slowest and the littlest. But then he piped up, ‘Being last is like eating a chocolate cookie slowly. You get to enjoy the forest more’. The walk wasn’t easy. It was pretty steep on the way up. He could have (and often has) been grouchy and grumpy. But he re-framed the situation in a way that we both were quite happy to take our time and just trust that we would get there slowly and surely. There is lots you can appreciate along the path of birth, (even a birth with gnarly surprises); perhaps the way your husband held your hand and said something kind, or the calmness of your doula, maybe the sound of the birds out the window, or the endless hot water and soft towels in your room, or simply the quiet reassurance of your breath, or the the music playing in the background. My meditation teacher is always reminding me that successful meditation is not measured by how calm, or focussed I was or how close to spiritual nirvana, but how much effort I put in to just be present. And by effort she means how loving, curious, and patient was my endeavour.
Take this to heart. It’s not all about the end result (though holding your sweet baby is pretty neat), it’s how you approach the journey. A meditation practise is an incredible teacher of skills for birth and for life.
with warm thoughts,
PS Let me know: What spiritual practise or wellbeing tool you plan to use in labour!
It’s not surprising women are confused about birth breathing. By the time you give birth you’ve probably watched more than a few onscreen scenes of women groaning, panting, and breathing in weird ways. This video will help you find your own, (most effective), natural rhythm of breathing to support the big work of bringing your baby into the world.
Some antenatal classes give very specific guidelines about how to breathe in labour. In one class I attended, we focussed on long slow breaths. I gave it a go during labour, but ended up feeling tense and gave it up pretty fast. Other women loved that technique, but it just didn’t work for me.
Here’s the thing. You already know how to breathe for birth. It’s the same sort of breathing you use when you are relaxed and happy. It’s your default, easy-going normal way of breathing; its the way your body has been breathing from the moment you were born. Your body’s already an expert breather.
The problem is, we spend a lot of time being stressed in life, and our breathing is affected. When you feel anxious or worried, your breath shortens and tightens, rises to the upper chest, and is less effective. You get less oxygen in the brain and body. Panicked breathing makes you feel more tired and stressed.
Obviously panicked breathing is unhelpful during birth. You want to access your original mode of breathing, to calm down and stay relaxed. What’s the trick? In this video, I share some of my favourite ways to tune into natural rhythmic breathing. Ultimately, just being mindfully present with the breathing and ‘inviting’ your breath to gently soften is most powerful. The effect ripples outwards, and can be used in tandem with conscious relaxation (of the jaw, shoulders and pelvis) and visualisation.
You can let your breathing guide you towards relaxation in birth and in life. Yoga and other breath-body focussed practises like mindfulness, chi gong and tai chi, can be really helpful for making friends with your breath.
How have you made friends with your breathing until now? Share your best breathing tip below. It may be just the thing someone needs to read today!
Sometimes one woman’s journey into motherhood can inspire many others. Katrina Zaslavsky is one women empowering thousands of women for childbirth. Katrina overcame her extreme fears of childbirth and discovered inner peace and power she didn’t know she had. Then she wrote an amazing book, full of stories that make you want to give birth!