Meghan is a birth doula, postpartum doula, herbalist and breathwork teacher who is passionate about supporting the transition into motherhood. She lives with her husband in Boulder, Colorado and offers virtual doula support for expecting parents anywhere in the world. For more about her services and blog posts about all things holistic birth- visit her website www.birthandbeing.com.
During pregnancy there is so much to learn about what’s safe and what’s not, along with all the big decisions you’re making about how you will birth and parent. This is an especially big change if it’s your first child. If you haven’t considered all of these things before, you’ll probably start reading books, researching online, and maybe even taking classes on childbirth, breastfeeding or newborn care.
With all this new information swirling around in your head, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why one of the most important things you can do is learn how to meditate and how to start a regular practice during your pregnancy. The meditation during pregnancy benefits will spill over into birth and those unpredictable postpartum nights.
So if you’re ready to commit to a whole new level of self-care, keep reading to learn all about the meditation during pregnancy benefits, how to start a meditation practice, and where to find resources to support you.
Mindful pregnancy sounds nice doesn’t it? But if you’re suffering from extreme fatigue, morning sickness, and other aches and pains it might sound like a far away ideal. But the concept of mindfulness doesn’t mean sitting in a full lotus meditation pose smiling in bliss. It’s much simpler than that.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are, what we’re doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (1). You can practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere. And once you master this skill during pregnancy, you can make decisions with much more awareness and intention.
Sometimes it means being mindful of the fact that when you feel fatigue, you have to say no to some commitments and just rest. It might mean noticing that everytime you eat pizza you get nasty heartburn, and saying no to that craving next time. A mindful pregnancy is important because when so many things are changing inside of you, it’s easy to feel out of control. And one of the meditation during pregnancy benefits is helping you feel like some of that power is back in your hands, or head.
So what is the process of meditation like during pregnancy? It’s not much different than meditation outside of pregnancy, although you might not be able to sit still as long which is fine because you can even meditate while walking. But let’s dive into the meditation during pregnancy benefits before we learn about all the different options of how to do it.
Top 6 Meditation During Pregnancy Benefits
The pros of meditation during pregnancy are pretty far reaching and will help you feel much better prepared for birth and parenthood.
We all know how dangerous stress is to the body, but what we may not think about is how stress can impact a baby during pregnancy. 100 years ago people thought that babies felt no pain, and couldn’t hear or see until they emerged from the womb. But that’s not true. A fetus’ senses are highly attuned, and their bodies react strongly to stress chemicals mom is producing in her body. In fact, they are literally bathing in it.
When mom experiences anxiety and stress, her body produces cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Not only are these getting into the baby’s bloodstream through the amniotic fluid but they also reduce oxygen levels to the uterus. Studies have shown that women who experience higher levels of stress, especially during the first trimester may experience more pre-term labor and have babies with low birth weight (2).
Lowering stress is one of the top reasons to meditate, especially during pregnancy. The sympathetic nervous system will relax and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to activate. This is the rest and digest mode, where your body can do all the clean up and repair necessary to be healthy. Heart rate is slowed down, oxygen is moving freely in the body and you’re able to fully digest your food and get all the nutrition needed from it.
When you are less stressed, the whole body functions better. This means baby will get more nutrients and more oxygen too. It also means they won’t have to process out all the stress chemicals and hormones you produce when in that fight or flight stress mode.
So what results can you expect to see from meditation during pregnancy? The first and probably most important of the meditation during pregnancy benefits is lower stress.
What if you already struggle with mental health before pregnancy? There is a lot of debate about continuing on medication and what’s safe. But what is more important here is making sure to keep your mood stable enough that you don’t significantly relapse after pregnancy. Postpartum depression and anxiety are severe problems that can be dangerous to the mother so discuss what to do about your medication with your doctor to keep yourself healthy during pregnancy and afterwards.
You should also consider yoga and meditation during pregnancy to help keep your mood healthy because they have no negative side effects for baby. One study showed that out of 22 people who implemented a mindfulness practice to cope with anxiety and depression, it significantly helped them and at their three month follow up 21 out of the 22 were still practicing the techniques (3).
One of the meditation during pregnancy benefits is that it could teach healthy coping methods to deal with the transition into early parenthood. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the baby is crying and you’re doing everything you can to get them to sleep. This gets your nervous system all fired up and sends off those stress hormones into the body, which can last long after the baby finally does relax and fall asleep. This can leave you wired and awake until the next time they get fussy.
See how stress can cause anxiety, which then causes sleeplessness and therefore more stress and anxiety? It can end up being a vicious cycle. If you have a strong meditation practice you can consciously slow your breathing to relax your body and mind- so although there are still plenty of things outside your control, anxiety doesn’t have to be one of them.
This is a major concern during pregnancy as high blood pressure, or pre-eclampsia, can cause damage to organs like your liver, kidneys and brain. Pre-clampsia can also lead to seizures, which are dangerous to both mother and baby, and if it’s severe sometimes an emergency cesarean or labor induction is necessary.
High blood pressure during pregnancy should not be ignored! But along with managing it with your healthcare provider, there are things you can do to naturally help lower blood pressure. Cutting back on salt and increasing potassium and magnesium rich foods can help.
Reducing stress can also go a long way in helping to lower blood pressure. This is a great reason to run a warm epsom salt bath, light some candles and relax. And you don’t need to sit in a perfect meditation position in order to lower stress and blood pressure. Closing your eyes and taking long, slow deep breaths in the tub is a great way to get all those meditation during pregnancy benefits.
There are certain things you just can’t avoid during pregnancy. Some of those are nausea, headaches, fatigue, and aches and pains around your back, hips and pelvis. And since most of the pain relievers you normally depend on can’t be used, learning to manage these pains naturally is important.
Have you ever seen a kid fall down on the playground? Often times they will jump right back up and get on with playing, but if a caregiver or teacher rushes over with concern, they tend to have a meltdown. Pain is funny like that because when all your attention is focused there, and you get nervous or upset, it tends to get worse.
This is why one of the meditation during pregnancy benefits is pain relief. If you can train your mind to observe the pain without identifying too closely with it, and instead focus on breathing and calming your nervous system, it will ease up. As you might be starting to see meditation isn’t just a spiritual thing, but about learning how to have more control over your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Having such a flexible and adaptable brain is kind of like a superpower. This is a really important skill to learn for birth, especially if you’re aiming to go medication free. But we’ll get to more of that below!
Anyone who’s been through childbirth knows that you need to stay calm and focused to get through it, especially when you’ve chosen to have a more natural birth without pain medications. Meditation during labor is a great tool and during pregnancy you can work with your mind to visualize the kind of birth you want to have. While meditating won’t necessarily guarantee an outcome, the more you visualize a positive experience, the more likely you are to feel prepared and unafraid.
This is important because in order for birth to happen your cervix needs to dilate and open to let your baby through. When you’re scared or nervous, your body tenses up which makes dilation a harder and slower process. The other thing that is affected by how relaxed you are is pain.
When you give birth, the body naturally produces pain relievers like opioids and endorphins that help you cope with what’s happening in the body. This is a really cool thing about biology! But the catch is, you have to feel safe and your nervous system has to be somewhat relaxed in order for these pain relieving chemicals to flow. If you’re in a high anxiety state then adrenaline will be firing off instead.
One of the great meditation during pregnancy benefits is that it teaches you how to relax so that when labor comes, your body can release its natural pain relievers, as well as hormones like oxytocin which help labor progress.
Unfortunately, often before the babies are born they will start to disrupt your sleep. At the beginning of pregnancy, nausea might be keeping you up. And towards those later stages you might be struggling with heartburn, waking up to pee every few hours, or hip and back pain. It can be hard to get comfortable especially if you used to sleep on your back, but at the same time you need to be getting as much rest as possible to prepare for the marathon that is birth and early parenthood.
One of the best meditation during pregnancy benefits is getting better sleep. You will be more relaxed and less stressed. You can learn how to turn off your worries and thoughts so your mind isn’t racing when you lay down to go to sleep. And then there are some amazing guided meditations geared specifically for sleep, like yoga nidra.
Speaking of yoga nidra, this leads me into how to meditate during pregnancy and what types of options you have.
Types of Meditation for Pregnancy
You might be wondering how you can create a meditation plan for your pregnancy, especially if all of this is brand new. I would start out by setting a timer for ten minutes each day, preferably around the same time so your mind and body start to get used to the idea. You can try different meditation techniques each day for a week and see which one you like the most.
The great thing about yoga and meditation for pregnancy is that you don’t have to do the same thing day after day. The only elements you should include in a great meditation plan for your pregnancy are yourself, a timer and a quiet space where you can connect with yourself. It’s really that simple, all you’re committing to is the time for self-care, everything else can be fun and experimental.
Some teachers encourage you to sit in a full lotus posture, with your legs crossed and your posture straight. But sometimes that’s a little too much to ask of a pregnant body. The safest ways to meditate during pregnancy are laying down, doing gentle movements like walking, or sitting comfortably in a chair. You don’t want to put extra pressure on your joints and cause unnecessary aches and pains.
Here are some great meditations to try out:
We talked a little bit about mindfulness earlier, but here is a basic how to guide. Sit down in a comfy position and set a timer for ten minutes (more or less if you want.) Then just focus on the physical sensation of your breath and observe your thoughts and sensations.
If your mind starts to wander and focus on all the things left on your to-do list, just bring it back to your breath. Notice how your mind always wants to stay busy, always ruminating on something from the past or future. Just keep bringing it back to the present moment!
This is similar to mindfulness but with a little more structure. Sometimes having a repeating breathing pattern can help you get out of your head and relax. A really easy one to follow is this. Again find a comfortable seat and set a timer. Slowly inhale to the count of four and then gently exhale to a count of six. Repeat until the timer goes off.
When your exhale is longer than your inhale it helps relax the nervous system. The counting also keeps your mind busy. You might find that by the end of this meditation you feel more inclined to just sit quietly and meditate longer.
One of the great meditation during pregnancy benefits is focusing on the body during prenatal yoga. When you combine a little stretching, exercise, visualization, childbirth education and meditation you get prenatal yoga. It’s an amazing pregnancy meditation for the 2nd trimester once the fatigue and nausea has passed and you’re body is really starting to grow and change.
This is a great pregnancy meditation to connect with baby. You can visualize your baby growing healthy in your belly and a positive birth experience. Sometimes you’ll find pregnancy meditation scripts like hypnobabies, that use hypnosis and visualization together for pain relief during childbirth. It can be really effective!
To do a basic visualization meditation, sit comfortably and set your timer for however long you plan to meditate. Take deep breaths and just allow your thoughts to settle. Bring your awareness to the center of your forehead and start to paint a picture that’s believable to you. Add in little details and pull in your senses, like taste and smell. The more detailed your visualization is, the more likely it is that your mind will believe it.
This is basically the same as mindfulness but instead of paying attention to your breath you pay attention to your steps. Ideally you want to be somewhere in nature, but your backyard or a city park is fine too! If you can take off your shoes, it’s even better, but focus your gaze down towards your feet and pay close attention to each and every step you take. Walk slowly, deliberately and take deep breaths as you move. If your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to your walking and breathing.
One of the walking meditation during pregnancy benefits is that it helps you get the exercise you need. And especially during the third trimester when you need to get baby head down and in a good birthing position, walking really helps!
You can find yoga nidra for free on youtube, or even find a local class. Once you get used to practicing it’s really easy to do at home. The idea is to lay down as if you’re going to sleep, making sure you are very comfortable and very warm. People have different ways to guiding it, but the most important thing is to begin scanning your body, becoming aware of any tension and then gently breathing into each part of the body and relaxing it. Some teachers will encourage visualization or give you affirmations to repeat in your mind. But ultimately you want to work towards deep relaxation so you can drift off into sleep.
Meditation Resources for Pregnancy
If you’re feeling a little daunted and unsure of where to start, going to a class can be a great way to get your feet wet with meditation. Finding a prenatal yoga class is a great place to start, or if you want to try the other techniques just google classes in your area and give it a try. Then again, sometimes you live in a place where meditation classes aren’t offered, or you’re just too busy with other appointments to add something else into your schedule. In that case there are always apps and online resources!
If you’re wondering what online tools and resources will help you learn how to meditate you have a lot to choose from. Youtube is full of free meditations to try, and if you want something more birth focused you can download different options from Calm Birth.
Then there are all the options on your phone. Apps like Headspace, Calm, and the Mindfulness App are all great. Then there are more specific pregnancy meditation apps like Expectful, which provides resources through each trimester along with education and postpartum resources.
As you can see, there are so many resources out there for you. And one of the main meditation during pregnancy benefits? It will not cause any harm to you or your baby, it can only help. And I feel like everyone should at least give a try. You may not see results instantly, but after dedicating yourself to it every day for a few weeks, you’ll notice things start to change.
So do you meditate? Or are you aware of any meditation during pregnancy benefits that I didn’t talk about? Share your wisdom and stories below because I’d love to hear from you!
- Mindful.org (2019). “What is Mindfulness?” Retrieved from: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/
- WebMD. “Fetus To Mom: You’re Stressing Me Out!.” Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/fetal-stress#1
- Ahmad, Samoon (2019). “Meditation and Mental Health.” Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health