Holly Ashby is a writer who works for the meditation company Will Williams Meditation, who can help expectant mothers with meditation through pregnancy . Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Many women, when they get pregnant for the first time, are surprised at how difficult the experience can be. Pregnancy is often viewed as a joyful event where women glow beautifully with contented expectation. However, the fact that pregnancy comes with its own challenges is something that’s far less culturally visible. Pregnancy represents a huge physical transformation for women, including intense nausea, fatigue and aches – not to mention the anxiety-inducing prospect of birth.
Avoiding stress is a key part of easing the process, but this isn’t always possible, especially when hormones are going haywire and everyday life keeps up with its usual demands. There is a little bit of relief in the fact that pregnancy is one of the rare moments in life where it’s socially acceptable to demand things off partners and family members, but you also need to remember to be kind to yourself.
During pregnancy, self-care is more important than ever, and meditation can be a useful part of this.
A Better Pregnancy with Meditation
Rather than the fairy-tale image of a sunny, bare-footed and dreamy pregnancy, you may well find yourself hot, exhausted and bestowed with a newfound ability to weep at any given moment. While fluctuations of hormone levels are completely natural and unavoidable, meditation will reduce stress and make it easier to deal with the emotional impact of growing a new human – which everyone would agree is no small task.
Studies tend to focus on how various factors in pregnancy will affect the baby, rather than the mother, but recent research has found that pregnancy can alter the structure of women’s brains. While there’s far more research to be done, it seems the anecdotal phenomenon of “baby brain” actually has some physical roots. There’s some grey matter volume loss in mums (which isn’t necessarily the bad thing it appears, but a sign of brain specialization – the same thing happens during adolescence), including in areas which control memory.
This suggests that pregnancy and new-mother forgetfulness isn’t a cultural myth, but a sign that mothers’ brains are gearing themselves up for more specialized tasks (although the sentiment “but your brain is built for this!” is no excuse for men trying to get out of the night feeds). This can be disconcerting for lots of women, especially if they usually feel capable and in control but are suddenly at the whim of their bodies.
Furthermore, expectant parents can feel anxious with such a big new responsibility, and under pressure to get everything perfectly organised before the baby arrives. Some women are also understandably trepidatious about giving birth – modern medicine may have made it an awful lot less dangerous, but it can be still be pretty scary.
How meditation helps
Meditation helps expectant mothers feel more relaxed and comfortable in various ways. Firstly, it’s been shown to boost the hippocampus and improve memory, so some of that baby-fog which has people leaving milk out of the fridge and the front door unlocked could clear a little with regular practice. It’s also a wonderful way to feel rested, letting our minds deeply unwind, even in the later stages of pregnancy when it’s notoriously difficult to sleep.
Setting aside time to meditate everyday will help pregnant women manage any anxiety they may feel – some even meditate during the quieter moments of birth in order to handle the pain. Another outcome which can be hugely beneficial for expectant parents is that meditation boosts our empathy and compassion. These are vital qualities in raising children, and are important between couples during the difficult early days where looking after a baby is a 24/7 job and nerves are inevitably stretched.
Meditation and The Baby
There’s always going to be some stress in pregnancy. As much as it would only be fair, very few of us can go on 9-month holiday with a team of servants to hand, so life with all its usual stresses will carry on regardless. However, it’s been found that if women are under a lot of pressure during their pregnancy it can have an impact on their baby. When we go into “fight or flight” mode and release stress hormones, such as glucocorticoids and cortisol, the developing fetus is also exposed to them. A growing body of evidence suggests that too much stress can be linked to later behavioral, mental and health problems.
Of course, the last thing a very stressed pregnant woman needs to do is add to her worry by feeling guilty about the impact of her stress, but meditation can help during this time. We intuitively know that being relaxed as possible during pregnancy is the best thing for us, so the fact that meditation has been shown across a variety of studies to reduce stress is very comforting. It even physically reduces the areas of the brain which trigger our stress response, showing just how profound the effect is.
Even if you’ve never meditated before, all these reasons and more show why pregnancy is a great time to start. Apart from anything else, the fact you’ve dedicated half an hour a day to yourself before you are plunged into a whirlwind sets a precedent of self-care that will serve you well throughout motherhood. Making sure you don’t forget to look after yourself will put you in the best possible frame of mind to look after someone else.
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