What to Know About Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP)

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Childbirth can be intimidating for a lot of women, especially after hearing stories about intense labor pain and complications. In fact, there's a lot of negative talk surrounding childbirth, so it's very easy for fear and anxiety to set in, especially for first-time moms. In fact, 21% of women have serious anxiety during pregnancy.

But research shows that utilizing mindfulness during pregnancy, childbirth, and beyond may actually reduce stress and lessen anxiety. And it may even lead to healthier newborns with fewer developmental issues as they grow up.

Although research is still preliminary, it's showing a great deal of promise. Plus mindfulness is easily accessible and inexpensive. Here's everything you need to know about mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting.

What Is Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting?

Originally developed by Nancy Bardacke in 1998, the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) program merges two disciplines—childbirth education with mindfulness practice. In general, MBCP follows the principles of mindfulness to support pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting.

During labor, women learn how to utilize their skills to work through the pain rather than letting fear and resistance dominate their thoughts. So, by learning to relate differently to the discomfort they are feeling women learn to work with the intense physical sensations they are feeling and can reduce the likelihood that they will feel overwhelmed.

Mindfulness-based childbirth also teaches women to accept the discomfort they are feeling as well as learn to let go and trust their bodies to do its job. Likewise, MBCP prepares women to accept what happens in childbirth especially if things don't go as planned, which in the end reduces the overall stress and anxiety that comes with not being in control.

How It Works

The primary principle of MBCP is to learn how to stay in the moment in order to deal with pain and fear. After all, when your mind wanders you can create all types of scenarios that may never truly happen.

So, in order for women to stay in the moment and focus on getting through what is right in front of them, they often concentrate on their breath and are mindful of any physical sensations they are experiencing. They also rely on touch from their partners or loved ones and verbal reminders of what they should be focusing on.

MBCP also encourages women to expand their awareness of what is happening and why. Consequently, when contractions start to get intense, being reminded that they are one step closer to meeting their new baby is often helpful. This way, they know that what they are experiencing will not last forever and that in the end, they will get to hold a miracle in their hands.

Later, during the fourth trimester or postpartum period, women find that the mindfulness tools they used during labor are just as useful when dealing with a crying baby or feeling overwhelmed by all the new responsibilities. They just fall back on what they learned in pregnancy and focus on their breathing.

Benefits of MBCP

Overall, the goal of MBCP is to promote the mental health of parents as well as support childbirth self-efficacy, ease labor, improve partner relationships, enhance child well-being, and create parenting sensitivity.

Additionally, teaching mindfulness skills may also improve the likelihood of long-term physical and mental health benefits for parents and their children. Here are some other benefits of Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting.

Reduces Stress

One of the biggest benefits of MBCP is the fact that it can significantly reduce negative feelings including anxiety, distress, and hostility. And, research seems to support these claims. In fact, one study that incorporated an eight-week mindfulness program noted reductions in depression, stress, and anxiety compared with a control group.

Participants in the mindfulness portion of the study indicated that they learned how to stop fighting against things and to accept them as they are. They also remembered to just stop and breathe when faced with a difficult situation, and then take action. Doing so helped them avoid acting out in anger and frustration.

Meanwhile, another study looked specifically at pregnancy anxiety. During this study, pregnant women who were struggling with high stress or pregnancy anxiety took a mindfulness class where they learned how to cope with pain, negative emotions, and hard social situations. When compared to the control group, they experienced greater reductions in pregnancy anxiety.

Decreases the Risk of Premature Birth

Although more research is needed in this area, there are a few studies that show that mindfulness could reduce the risk of premature birth. In fact, one study found that a mindfulness program may have an impact on premature births.

During the study, which was conducted in Northern Thailand, pregnant women were either given typical prenatal care or participated in a mindfulness program. The women in the mindfulness program learned different meditations as well as how to build awareness and acceptance of their thoughts and emotions. Throughout the program, they were encouraged to meditate for more than an hour daily.

At the end of the study, only 6% of the women in the meditation group delivered their babies prematurely. Meanwhile, 16% of the women who received standard prenatal care delivered their babies prematurely.

Increases Positivity

Sometimes pregnancy can be an overwhelming experience and women can pay more attention to the negatives than the positives. To determine if focusing more on the positives could have an impact, researchers took a small group of women and began teaching them how to utilize mindfulness.

What they discovered when they compared the women with a control group that only read about other women's positive experiences, is that the women in the mindfulness group saw greater increases in their overall sense of well-being.

They also reported more positive feelings like enthusiasm and determination. Additionally, the more mindful they were after the research process ended, the more likely they were to report a greater sense of well-being, self-esteem, and positive feelings.

Promotes Healthy Development

Researchers have also noted that mindfulness can have positive impacts on a baby's future development. For instance, in a study from the Netherlands, babies whose moms were diligent and successful in practicing mindfulness at the beginning of the second trimester had fewer developmental issues.

Likewise, at 10 months these babies had fewer difficulties settling down and adjusting to new things. In other words, these babies were more likely to calm down quickly after getting upset and crying. They also were more likely to keep their hands off things that they were not supposed to touch.

Meanwhile, another study found that mindfulness can also impact a baby's ability to discern which sounds should receive their attention. In other words, babies of mom who practiced mindfulness were examined when they were 10 months old while the researchers played different sounds.

What they discovered by observing brain activity was that babies whose moms practiced mindfulness were able to discern by listening to audio recordings, which sounds they should listen to. In other words, they were very successful at managing what should capture their attention and what should be ignored.

A Word From Verywell

The key to understanding mindfulness and making it work for you in childbirth and in parenting is recognizing the fact that it's a practice. So, in order for it to work, women have to practice it consistently.

What's more, it's a life skill that can be utilized beyond childbirth, equipping the user with the unique ability to work through difficult situations that are outside of their control while reducing your stress and anxiety.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Sriboonpimsuay W. Meditation for Preterm Birth Prevention: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Udonthani, Thailand. International Journal of Public Health and Research. Volume 1, No. 1 (2011).

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Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.