Pregnancy + Meditation
Today is Birth Day… perhaps!
It’s my official due date and while being incredibly excited not only to welcome our son, I feel at the same time, an incredible calm.
I’ve felt this way throughout the entire duration of the pregnancy and without a doubt, this is largely due to having incorporated a meditation practice into my life about three years ago.
I’d tried meditation on and off for a good twenty years before I finally found a practice that stuck.
I would attempt to sit in stillness, in a certain position and attempt to force myself to think of nothing.
Inevitably, I’d last for a few minutes, decide it was a waste of time and opt to go on a run instead.
Arguably, a run, or any exercise can be meditative… but it’s not meditation.
Nor is yoga.
As I love running, I love my yoga practice; I feel incredibly grateful to have found a teacher I love with whom I’ve practiced for a few years now and more recently to have met our doula, also with a rich and experienced background in asana.
But there’s room for all and for me, all three have become part and parcel of a balanced pregnancy exercise regime.
Prior to having a meditation practice, any time I’d feel anxious, my only means of addressing it was through what felt like therapeutic exercise which, for me, was a far better option than going down the route of prescription meds.
By no means is this the only reason I have chosen to be an endurance athlete; I love my sports of Ironman triathlon and marathoning; the stress-relief side effect is simply one of many benefits.
However, I’ve learned along the way that having more tools in your back pocket to be able to deal with anxiety, or whatever emotions that may pop up that may feel uncomfortable, tools that you can use in a setting where you can’t simply go for a run, for instance, is an invaluable part of being able to progress down each of our respective journeys, whether we’re talking career, relationships… or becoming a mom!
This is one more reason why becoming pregnant for the first time at age 44 was the right time for me.
I wasn’t ready ten or even five years ago.
Details aside (hubbie was traveling extensively for three years for his agency and we were both uber competing in our sports), on a very fundamental level, I can only imagine how pregnancy may have been if I’d not yet sorted out how to sift through times of feeling anxious, and not doing so through training.
While there are many forms and styles of meditation, for me, the one which made the most sense was Transcendental Meditation.
A non-profit organization which uses 100% if their course fee to supports educational and charitable initiatives, it’s teachings simply made sense to me.
Our teacher gave us each a mantra and explained that the mantra and the thoughts are friends, so when one is sitting in meditation and realizes they’re thinking a thought and not silently repeating the mantra, all they need to do is gently guide their inner voice back to the mantra.
There was no right or wrong way to meditate, no need to ‘start over’ after a thought presented itself and the peaceful feeling, calm and focus it elicited even after the very first session was a clear sign that this was the right fit for me.
This is the short story.
There was peaks and valleys along the way, without a doubt, but incorporating this into daily practice has led to a not only a very sustainable feeling of calm, but the ability to flick away a thought which in earlier years could easily have turned into a huge worry, as quickly as one might whisk a pesky mosquito away.
Which is precisely why I’m so grateful to have learned all of this well before becoming pregnant!
I knew of the health benefits on myself as a healthy, athletic woman, but imagine the benefits on the baby; and backing up a little, how much this helps one become pregnant in the first place!
A few stats on the matter:
- Moms to be who meditate have a 50% increased chance they’ll to carry to full term; Moms who have high levels of stress or anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to deliver their babies at preterm or low birth weights (1).
- Prenatal stress can also impact fetal development. Studies have shown that it can even affect cognitive, emotional, and physical development in infancy and childhood. All the more reason to squeeze in some meditation time!
- Meditation makes you more aware, which, during pregnancy can help you tune into you which in turn helps you tune into your baby. When you become more mindful of how you are feeling emotionally, you start to be able to listen to your body more. This can be extremely beneficial in pregnancy and labor. An increased body awareness can decrease pain during labor and help you manage stress and anxiety with more ease (2).
- Moms who meditate experience 40% less pain in laboring in a natural childbirth versus moms who don’t have a practice. Meditation training found that they were able to decrease the intensity of painful stimulus by 40 percent (3).
- Decreased pain is also beneficial during pregnancy when your body is preparing for birth and recovery after birth when your new baby needs you more than ever.
- Since pregnancy suppresses the body’s immune system (to ensure the fetus isn’t rejected as something foreign), your body is less able to fight off infection and illnesses, making it more susceptible to colds and flu. Meditation enhances the body’s immune function. (3) A healthy immunity can help keep your body healthy during pregnancy and protect you and your baby from immune-related issues after delivery.
- Studies show that babies that are born to moms that meditate tend to have a better temperament. They can self-regulate themselves sooner, and get into negative states less often (4). Having a happier baby is good for your mental state, and can make transitioning into motherhood a bit easier.
And those are just the tip of the iceberg!
Just like the opportunity to create an optimal gut biome and brain development for our babies by continuing to eat the most nourishing, nutrient dense foods during pregnancy, this incredible moment in time is equally one in which we expectant moms can also provide them with a calm and peaceful energy both in utero as well as during their transition into this world.
An absolute gift.
Already pregnant and not yet meditating? It’s never too late to start.
I recently learned of an app created for this very purpose!
Expectful (5) is an app designed by a mom for Meditation, sleep, fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood!
They offer different types and durations of meditation for all stages during pregnancy and have a pay it forward program they call 3 for 1, and for every subscription purchased, they give one to someone in need, reminding us that our meditation practices will benefit the lives of three other people: your baby, another expectant woman, and her baby.
So this evening, as the expected due date approaches its end (although there are still six hours left!), I sit in a calm, supported space, ready to welcome our son whether he decides to begin his journey tonight, or hang out a bit longer before he starts.
The timing will be just as it’s meant to be.
(3) Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K. & Sheridan, J. (2003). Psychosomatic Medicine 65. 564–570.
(4) “Maternal mindfulness and anxiety during pregnancy affect infants’ neural responses to sounds”