The Benefits of Mindfulness in Pregnancy

Pregnant woman meditating with her child

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Let's face it. Pregnancy can be stressful, especially if you let your mind wander to "what if" questions and scenarios. Stress also can rear its ugly head in terms of obligations and conflicts too. Having other kids to care for, juggling a demanding career and pregnancy, or navigating challenging family dynamics, can all make you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Even the nightly news and your social media feeds can tax your mental reserves.

For this reason, many people are turning to mindfulness during their pregnancy as one way of coping with the challenges they are facing. In fact, this natural approach to taking control of your thoughts and reigning them in has been proven to be useful in reducing stress levels in many different situations, including pregnancy.

What's more, many mindfulness practices have become the basis of childbirth education classes where pregnant people learn not only what to expect during labor and delivery but also how to focus on their breathing and relax their bodies so that they aren't fighting the childbirth process. Here's what you need to know about using mindfulness in pregnancy including both how you will benefit and how you can put it into practice.

What Is Mindfulness?

Even though the concept of mindfulness seems to be a hot, new topic right now, the practice is anything but new. In fact, mindfulness has been around for thousands of years. People have practiced it in a number of different capacities. But most recently, the practice has been touted as one of the best ways to overcome stress or to face challenging situations.

Generally speaking, mindfulness is the simple act of stilling your mind and your thoughts while paying attention to your body or your surroundings with purpose and focus. Even though it is similar to meditation, mindfulness is a little more simple and informal.

Most of the time, mindfulness can be accomplished through simple actions like being aware of your breathing, focusing your attention on one thing, or just slowing down and being more deliberate with your thoughts and actions.

"Mindfulness is an opportunity to take care of yourself," says Kristin Rinehart, LISW-S, LCSW, TTS, the director of behavioral health at Muskingum Valley Health Centers and owner of Changing Minds, LLC. "I remind my patients that by taking care of yourself you are taking care of your [unborn] child."

In fact, mindfulness will be useful for the rest of your life because people will face many challenges besides their pregnancy—and challenges are opportunities to learn and grow, Rinehart says. 

Kristin Rinehart, LISW-S, LCSW, TTS

Mindfulness as a strategy will reduce your stress and give you the opportunity to take it one moment at a time—to be still and relax in peace.

— Kristin Rinehart, LISW-S, LCSW, TTS

Benefits of Mindfulness in Pregnancy

Because mindfulness is a low-cost, risk-free way to reduce stress, it has been researched extensively; and the results have been surprisingly positive. For instance, practicing mindfulness can lead to increased focus, reduced stress, a clearer mind, and better sleep.

In fact, one small pilot study found that pregnant women who participated in a mindfulness program called Mindful Motherhood reported reductions in anxious feelings. They also reported less stress, hostility, and shame.

The group that participated in the mindfulness program had all sought therapy or counseling for mood issues in the past and the mindfulness program they participated in appeared to help them avoid similar difficulties during the transformative process of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, another study on utilizing mindfulness in pregnancy found similar results. In addition to reporting a reduction in depressive symptoms, the participants also reported less stress and anxiety overall. Plus, the benefits of the program lasted into the postnatal period.

Another study looked specifically at pregnancy anxiety and included participants that reported high levels of pregnancy anxiety. Some of the study participants took a six-week mindfulness class while the rest read a pregnancy book.

The people in the class learned how to work with pain, deal with negative emotions, and navigate difficult social situations. And, when compared with the control group that simply read a pregnancy book, the mindfulness participants saw bigger decreases in anxiety overall.

The key to mindfulness during pregnancy is staying in the moment and being there with yourself by breathing, relaxing where you are, and being still, says Rinehart. It's the process of learning to manage the stressful moments in your life. 

"I teach my patients that it is OK to stop and 'just be' without the past or the future guiding you," Rinehart says. "Mindfulness is the opportunity to take care of you—even if it is just for two minutes at a time."

Why Mindfulness Is Important

When people are pregnant, there is a lot of fear of the unknown, says Paul Wright, MD, an OB/GYN with Southeastern Ohio Medical Center in Cambridge, Ohio. For instance, if they have never had a baby, they don't know what to expect.

They don't know how painful labor will be or what the process might be like. Some of those fears can be reduced by taking childbirth education classes, Dr. Wright says, which often employ a number of mindfulness techniques.

"During COVID-19, a lot of childbirth classes were canceled and you could really see a difference [during labor and delivery]," he says. "That fact impacted stress levels a lot."

There also is a lot going in in the body and the mind, during pregnancy. "What if" thoughts lead to anxiousness and increase our stress response, Rinehart says. And research has shown that too much stress can have a negative impact on your pregnancy and even impact the development of your baby. But mindfulness can help offset some of that stress response.

"By utilizing mindfulness practices, moms can 'just be' with their body, focusing on that moment embracing the connection with their baby, relaxing and focusing on the beauty of childbirth—breathing, calming, and preparing," Rinehart says. "Mindfulness allows them to find peace in the present,"

Mindfulness also can help you reduce your fears about childbirth and increase your confidence about birth and parenting.

In fact, mindfulness can be used to reduce your perception of pain and be a tool that you use to help you through the labor and delivery process. It can even help alleviate any unnecessary worries that something is wrong with your baby or that something catastrophic will happen during your birth.

"I always tell the residents who work with me that 90% of my job is letting pregnant women know that everything is OK," says Dr. Wright. "For some people, that reassurance is all they need to reduce their stress levels, but for others, they need a little bit more help."

How to Practice Mindfulness

When it comes to utilizing mindfulness, it is a fairly simple concept to learn. But it will take some practice. Try to set aside a few minutes each day to slow down and relax a little bit.

One way you can do that is to go for a leisurely walk and focus on the smells in the air, the sound of your feet on the pavement or trail, and the way the air feels on your skin. All of those deliberate actions where you are focusing on specific things are what it's like to put mindfulness into practice.

Those focused thoughts also help to squeeze out all the negative or distracting thoughts you might be having. Additionally, incorporating mindfulness is a way to slow down your thoughts—and your breathing—so that you are less likely to ruminate about things that you have no control over.

Tips for Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not about trying to achieve some blissful state. Instead, it's about creating space for yourself to think and breathe. Here are some tips for practicing mindfulness while pregnant.

  • Do something relaxing like sit down or go for a leisurely walk.
  • Set aside a small amount of time, like five or 10 minutes.
  • Take stock of how your body feels and make sure you are comfortable.
  • Pay attention to your breathing or something in your environment.
  • Recognize when your mind wanders (and it will) and redirect your focus.
  • Refrain from judging yourself over your thoughts and just refocus.

"I remember when I was pregnant," Rinehart says. "My mind was thinking all the time—what if I can’t handle childbirth; what if I don’t know what to do; what if it doesn’t come naturally; what if something is wrong with my baby; what if I am not good enough; what if I have postpartum depression; and what if I can’t breastfeed? Mindfulness can help a pregnant mom manage those thoughts as well as manage feelings and physical responses at that moment."

Of course, if mindfulness doesn't work for you, or if you simply don't have the patience to sit still for five to 10 minutes a day, there are other ways to reduce stress. For instance, you can read a book, journal, or talk with a supportive friend. Mindfulness is extremely helpful, but it's not the only way to relieve stress.

"In addition to eating well, exercising, and relaxing, I tell my patients to turn off the TV, stay off social media, and silence their phones if they want to reduce their stress levels," says Dr. Wright. "Those distractions can lead to an unnecessary level of stress and they're fairly simple to eliminate."

A Word From Verywell

Mindfulness can be an extremely easy and risk-free way to manage everyday stress. You can either try some mindfulness techniques on your own or look for a mindfulness-based pregnancy class in your area. Even some childbirth classes will teach you mindfulness techniques.

If you're struggling with significant stress levels in your pregnancy, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider. Not only can they advise you on healthy ways to deal with the stress you're experiencing, but they also can evaluate you to see if there's something else going on that needs to be addressed.

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