Preparing for Birth with Mindfulness

From Lamaze to the Bradley Method to Hypnobirthing, there are lots of choices of childbirth education programs and schools of thought to help you get ready for birth. Whether you check out a book or take an in-person or virtual class, you can likely find something that works for you.

When I was pregnant with both my kids, the book that I was most drawn to was Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond by Nancy Bardacke, a certified nurse midwife and mindfulness teacher. I listened to the book in audio format and read the physical version too. Plus, there are guided meditations that you can purchase on CD, stream, or download and I meditated along with those as well. In this post, we’ll talk through what mindfulness is and how it can help you prepare for birth.

What is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness has Buddhist roots and Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is credited with bringing it into the mainstream in the United States with his development of a program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. According to Greater Good Magazine, “mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” [1]

Mindfulness also includes non-judgement, that is, allowing thoughts and feelings to just be, without assigning them any kind of value. If you’re angry, you might notice the anger and feel curious about it. You’re angry, so how does that feel in your body? Do you notice bodily sensations, perhaps a clenched jaw or roiling stomach? Is your heart beating hard or do you feel hot or cold?

The idea is that noticing these thoughts and feelings, but not judging yourself for them or needing to act on them, will help reduce stress, improve focus, and make you less emotionally reactive, among other potential benefits. Researchers have studied the effects of mindfulness and confirmed these benefits. When a mindfulness intervention was tested in a small randomized controlled trial, for instance, participants who experienced mindfulness-based childbirth education were less likely to experience postpartum depression and more likely to have a positive experience of childbirth than another group who experienced traditional childbirth education. [2]

What does mindful childbirth preparation look like? 

If you want a more formal class, you may be able to find a Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting class near you or take one virtually. In a class, you’d connect with other families who are also expecting a baby and experiencing similar life changes.

If you choose to prepare on your own, there are several ways to go about it. First, you can get the book Mindful Birthing, maybe even from your local library if you want to save money. I was able to listen to the book for free by borrowing the audiobook from my library. Then, as you read or listen to it, do the exercises. In the book, there are meditations that you do on your own and exercises done with a partner.

If you want to incorporate mindfulness more informally into your everyday life as you prepare to welcome baby, there are some straightforward ways to do so. First, eat mindfully. Before you take a bite of something, look at it and smell it. Then, chew carefully, noticing how the aroma you noticed before putting it in your mouth adds to the flavor and how the texture feels in your mouth and as you swallow. As you eat, tune into the sensations of fullness in your body. Second, move mindfully. This may help with common pregnancy aches and pains, too. As you wake up in the morning, pay attention to the position your body is in and notice where you perceive tension, tightness, pain. Is there a way you can move your body to alleviate discomfort? If so, do it. As you move through the day, do so while paying attention to the position of your body and your baby within your body. Put your hand on your belly and breathe deeply for three or four or five breaths.

All of this mindfulness work may seem silly—how can it help during birth? It’s true that childbirth may be a more intense physical experience than you’re normally having day to day. But this mode of getting to know your body and your baby by just paying attention and having self-compassion when things come up for you may help you keep equanimity about your birth, regardless of what happens.

  1. “Mindfulness: Defined,” Greater Good Magazine
  2. Duncan, L.G., Cohn, M.A., Chao, M.T. et al.Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomized controlled trial with active comparison. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 17, 140 (2017).
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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