Pregnancy and early motherhood are some of the most rewarding and transformative times in women's lives. But they can also be stressful. A growing body of research is showing that mindfulness practices reduce stress, improve mood and have a number of health benefits.
Here are a few quick stress reducers from our Mindful Motherhood program, a program that teaches pregnant women and new moms how mindfulness and acceptance-based practices can be integrated into their lives to reduce stress, improve mood and enhance bonding with their babies. Our research has showed that those who engaged in this training during pregnancy experienced reduced negative emotions and anxiety during pregnancy compared with women who did not participate in the training.
You can do these in any moment of your day, no matter what is going on, to collect yourself into your body and into the present moment:
- Find the place in your body where you can most strongly feel your breath moving in and out. Whether this is around your nostrils, in your chest or in your belly, bring all of your awareness to this spot for 10 full breaths. This brings you into your body and into the present moment.
- If you are pregnant, feel this breathing as though you can sense the oxygen in your blood moving through the placenta and into your baby. If you have an infant, hold the baby and feel the place where your breathing and your baby's breathing can be felt on your body. Pay attention to that place for 10 breaths.
- Breathe all the way out. Focus intensely on the place where the breath stops going out and starts going in, and then on the very end of the in-breath and the beginning of the out-breath. Let those two spots, those little moments when you are neither breathing in nor breathing out, be the focus of your attention for about 60 seconds.
- Bring all your attention to the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet for 10 breaths. This grounds your attention when it is flying all over the place, or when you are really agitated.
- Find a word or phrase that is deeply calming, emotionally nourishing or sacred to you. For some, the words "safe" or "peace" are good. A phrase like "be still" or "be well" will work. Breathe in through your nose and say this word or phrase on the out-breath, either out loud or in your mind, until your attention feels a bit more stable.
None of these practices is oriented toward trying to change or control your feelings, thoughts or body sensations. They are not intended to help you suppress your feelings, or to make them stop. What you are doing is not really a change at all, except in where and how you are placing your attention.
Strangely, what reduces stress best is not trying to make it go away. Instead, by attending to your breathing, your body sensations or a special word, you bring yourself momentarily into a very basic, nonjudgmental awareness. Grounded in this place of awareness, you can allow things to be as they are, almost as though you were sitting in the eye of a hurricane. The stress may still be there, swirling around, but for the moment you are sitting in awareness. It's from this place that you can make decisions about what to do next -- and have those choices be in alignment with your values and goals for yourself as a new mom.
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