Mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment without judgment. Everyone has the ability to be completely present and aware of our experiences. We are able to concentrate, which allows us to truly see what is happening around us and within us.
Often we find ourselves remembering the past or worrying about the future, when all we really have is this moment, right now. Our fears and our hopes can prevent us from living fully.
Pregnancy and the journey to parenthood are full of hopes and fears. We hope for a healthy baby. We hope for an easy labor. We hope our baby will feed well and will let us get enough sleep. We fear that something may go wrong, that labor might be too difficult, or that having a new baby will be overwhelming.
Research is showing us that mothers’ fears of labor are reduced when they use a few practices of mindfulness. Many parents I’ve worked with talk about how their experience with mindfulness practice helps them to cope with the challenges of having a new baby. They also say they are better able to enjoy their baby and the fleeting time they have with their newborn.
So how can you increase your ability to be mindful in your daily life in a way that will help you become ready to deliver your baby and to move into parenthood?
Here are a few ideas for expecting mothers:
- Eat mindfully. Avoid multi-tasking when you eat. Turn off your computer. Move away from your desk, and put away your phone. Begin by taking a moment to look at your food. Notice the colors, the textures and the shapes. Take a deep breath and appreciate the aroma of your food. Does your mouth water? With each bite you take, be aware of the feeling of the food in your mouth, what it feels like to chew it and swallow it. What sounds are you aware of? Notice if the flavor changes as you chew it and swallow it. Notice the physical sensations you feel as your stomach fills. Notice your emotions as you simply enjoy your food, using all of your senses.
- Become aware of your physical sensations. When you are driving or sitting at a desk or doing household chores, pause to notice how your body is feeling at that moment. Without judging or trying to change anything, notice if you are feeling warm or cold. Are you having any pain or tightness? Do the muscles of your face feel tight or relaxed? Is your body asking for a rest or to change your position? Is your body telling you that you are more upset about something than you thought you were? Or is your body saying you are feeling relaxed or happy, and that you have the chance to deeply experience a moment of joy?
- Take a moment to breathe. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Notice how it feels to breathe. Feel the air moving through your nose, feel your chest rising and falling, feel your abdomen expanding and contracting with each breath. Are you breathing slowly or quickly, deeply or shallowly, evenly or with an irregular pace? Simply notice without trying to change anything. Follow your breath from the very beginning to the end. When you find you are thinking about something else, simply set that thought aside and pay attention to your next breath.
- Be mindful of your baby’s movements. When you feel your baby move, pause from your activity and bring your awareness to your breathing. As you breathe, feel your baby’s movements. You may want to place your hand on your belly to feel the movements of your breath and your baby at the same time. When your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your baby and your breath. Pause several times during the day to do this practice. If you want to look for patterns in your baby’s movements, keep track of them in a journal or in an app like myHealthyPregnancy.
- Move mindfully. Take a walk, feeling the movement of your feet and legs with each step. Notice how you lift your foot, move it forward, set it down and shift your weight. Then repeat those movements with your other foot. Some people like to do this very slowly. You could also move more quickly. Either way, you are allowing yourself to focus on how it feels to be moving and letting go of thoughts that distract you from your movement.
With each of these mindfulness practices, you begin to spend your time in the present. Rather than judging yourself or a situation, you bring a curiosity to the moment. Instead of trying to control things, you notice you are beginning to let go of your expectations. Your fears about the future are shrinking as you learn to trust your own strengths and abilities to be with whatever situations arise. And you find yourself being kinder to yourself and others.
I teach a 9-week Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting class, offered through the Regions Hospital Birth Center. You can learn more about the MBCP program and classes at mindfulbirthing.org.