Much of our mindset about labor is socially constructed – when it comes to birth, we hear about how painful labor is. This does create fear and anxiety and a mindset that we may not be able to cope with the pain of labor. Fear creates undue tension and pain and dysfunctional uterine contractions. Can we change the way we feel the pain of labor by how we think about it? Absolutely, mindfulness can help us have a more gentler birth. By practicing mindfulness, we change our mindset about labor pains and trust that our body is doing the work it needs to do to birth our baby. Mindfulness help us recognize that labor pains are functional and seeing them for what they are rather than what our mind tells us and by accepting and welcoming them rather than fighting them.
How do we practice mindfulness in labor? When we pay attention to our breathing, following our breath in and out, and deepening our breath on the exhalation with an attitude of openness, acceptance and curiosity, we conserve energy and tell our body that there is no real threat. This decreases the release of adrenaline and triggers the release of Oxytocin. Adrenaline is the hormone of excitement and is competing for the same receptor sites on the uterus than Oxytocin, otherwise known as the ‘love drug’ and which is responsible for stimulating labor contractions. It is essential to keep the Adrenaline levels low in order to maximize the work of Oxytocin. This means appropriately managing feelings such as fear and anxiety, and thoughts that center on a preoccupation with the past or future, both of which can be extremely tiring for the laboring woman. When noticing that we are distracted by the past or future, we need to bring our attention back to the present and use our breath as a way of anchor ourselves in a state of rest, particularly in between contractions when we are experiencing no physical sensations.
In preparing for childbirth it is important to consider that our feelings can be extremely challenging, coloring our entry into motherhood. It is essential to acknowledge the potential impact of such feelings and experiences, and to seek appropriate support as well as treat ourselves with kindness and care.