Although pregnancy can be a stressful time for some people, there are ways to make it much easier, and becoming proactive about preparing for your upcoming birth is a major one. Many of us learn how to prepare physically for an easier birth by doing yoga, Spinning Babies techniques and prenatal exercise, but it is equally important to prepare our minds and therefore, our emotions! Here are some steps to take that will help you feel more calm, relaxed, and confident during pregnancy, and allow you more joy.
Meditate or do hypnosis every day. Meditating daily has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, calm the mind, and relax the body. Meditating can consist of sitting quietly and focusing on clearing your mind from the usual “chatter” of thoughts and responsibilities. Ways to do that more easily include focusing on each part of your breath; slowly inhaling and exhaling, or repeating a word or phrase that means something to you (make sure it is positive), or imagining a goal of yours coming to fruition. In the case of pregnancy, that goal may be to enjoy a healthier pregnancy and/or an easier birthing experience. Taking 10 minutes a day to meditate in this way can allow you more peace of mind and an easier pregnancy!
Hypnosis often brings to mind stage hypnosis shows or images of people being “made” to do something through mind control, however, therapeutic hypnosis is very different. It’s important to understand that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis and no one else is ever in control of you while you are experiencing it. Even in a stage hypnosis show—the participants have complete control over themselves and just want to be part of the entertainment and have fun.
Therapeutic hypnosis, however, is very beneficial since it relaxes the body deeply, and then relaxes the mind so we have more access to the subconscious and can literally update its “software” to create effects in the body and emotions. It’s important to know that we are all in states of hypnosis daily, many times a day; when watching a screen of any kind, reading, daydreaming, driving a vehicle, and waking up/going to sleep. When we use hypnosis more purposefully, however, we can create changes that will enhance our lives, and of course, assist us with an easier pregnancy and birth.
Hypnosis will begin with deep body relaxation, then mental relaxation such as counting backwards for instance. Then, listening in a hypnotic state to specific “hypnotic suggestions,” which when heard daily can achieve the subconscious updates we need to create the changes in our bodies, minds, and emotions that we desire. With childbirth, it can alter the normal sensations we feel as we give birth; pushing, pulling, stretching, tightening, baby movement sensations, to feel much more comfortable than they normally would. The mind is very powerful so we can use it to create more joy during birthing, and a much more relaxed and confident pregnancy (as well as eliminating insomnia, fear of needles and many other uses).
An extension of meditation, when a person takes time in a quiet state to fully visualize their goals, they are much more likely to achieve them. Athletes, public speakers, and even students who need to present a project in front of the class use visualization to help them prepare. They imagine, many times over, practicing the goal they want to achieve, in detail, and by the time they arrive at the event, their mind and body are in sync with this process. It is all very familiar and has been “practiced” (mentally) so many times that it becomes an automatic response for them. In the same way, visualizing/imagining your own upcoming birth many times can take the mystery out of it, provide confidence, and help re-train your subconscious to create what you want.
Visualization for childbirth involves becoming quiet and relaxed, doing some deep belly breathing to calm your body and mind, and then, from start to finish, imagine/visualize your upcoming birth in a mental birthing rehearsal at least three times a week. This becomes a “blueprint” for your mind and body to follow on your birthing day.
Listening to and/or repeating out loud positive pregnancy and birthing affirmations (phrases) daily can help you feel calmer and more confident, and even change the way you think about your body, your baby, your pregnancy, and your birthing. As you are hearing/saying these positive affirmations, they cause you to think in a more positive way. The continued repetition of certain thoughts over time has also been proven to change your brain, your cells, and neurons, which is done via neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections.
According to neurologist Andrew Newberg, M.D.:
“Human brains respond to positive and negative fantasies (ruminating on specific thoughts) as if they were real. The more emotional we get, the more real the imaginary issue becomes. If you intensely focus on a word like “peace” or “love,” the emotional centers of the brain calm down. The outside world hasn’t changed at all, but you will still feel more safe and secure. This is the neurological power of positive thinking, and to date it has been supported by hundreds of well-designed studies. In fact, if you simply practice being relaxed and repetitively focus on positive words and images, anxiety and depression will decrease and the number of unconscious negative thoughts will decline. Indeed, just seeing a list of positive words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel better, and people who use more positive words tend to have greater control over emotional regulation.”
So, through hearing/saying positive affirmations you can create new thoughts, and as a thought travels through your brain, neurons fire together in specific ways based on the [positive] information they receive. In a flash, those patterns of neural activity change your neural structure, and affect your mind, body, and emotions. Keeping your thoughts positive, then, can assist you greatly as you journey toward childbirth, and daily pregnancy/birth affirmations can be a big part of that.
Fear, in general, can keep us safe from real dangers by alerting us to them and creating effects in the body that allow us to deal with them. However, when we experience fear in response to a perceived threat and remain in that state, maybe for months, it can have detrimental consequences. Some people who are pregnant live with chronic fear, and some have occasional, recurring fears as they are in the planning stage of their baby’s birth. Either way, according to Louise Delagran, MA, Med, “fear often weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, impair formation of long-term memories, and cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions.” All of these effects can create difficulty in making creative, logical plans and decisions about pregnancy and birth.
One way to eliminate fear is to stop and acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling. Pay close attention to your breathing, and notice what you’re sensing in the moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness. Tune into your body’s physical sensations; air flowing across your skin, anything touching your body, etc. Pay attention to what is happening and remember that fearful thoughts and emotions can pass quickly and do not define you. Understanding this can help free you from negative thought patterns. Now take a deep breath, and as you exhale, release anything that does not serve you or your baby well. And now think about the things you can do from now on…to create your baby’s joyful birthing. Focus on what you *want* to happen, instead of fears, and you will be actively working on the solutions and building blocks of your own childbirth experience.
Research your (many) birthing options and make a birth plan.
One of the most important things you can learn during pregnancy is: All choices and decisions regarding your pregnancy, birth, postpartum and your baby’s care are yours to make. Your medical care providers are there to advise you on certain choices as they come up, however, it is to your benefit to learn and research the choices that are available to you. Hospital, birth center or home birth, vaginal or cesarean, medicated or unmedicated, and VBAC are some of your options. Using an obstetrician or midwife, and having a doula attend your birth are also important choices. Learning the benefits, risks, and alternatives to all of the common labor interventions is crucial as well, so you can decide which ones you may want to choose or avoid.
Creating a written birth plan is also extremely helpful since it expresses to the medical staff your desires and needs for your birth experience and postpartum care. To create one, you’ll need to decide what those needs are and how important each one is to you—walking around freely, eating and drinking as needed, epidural or no meds, IV or not, using a birth ball, natural water breaking or not, internal/ external fetal monitoring, etc. These are all choices you get to make, so it’s best to research each one and find out what will be best for your family. Including choices for postpartum care and your baby’s care are also very important, so research those as well.
Tuning out negative messages from others.
We have all experienced negative comments and messages that are provided by well-meaning friends, family members, online buddies, and even strangers when we
are pregnant. These admonitions to “just get the epidural at 2 cm,” warnings about “how terrible transition is,” and scary birth stories that send chills down our spines can have a very detrimental effect on anyone who is pregnant. Consciously, they are frightening and doubt-producing, however, subconsciously, the effects are much worse. Fear and even terror of the upcoming birth process make their way down to the inner mind where all of our belief systems live, and can create effects in the body that are not conducive to having an easier birth. This can include high blood pressure, flattened veins and constriction of muscles and ligaments, possibly preventing the person from remaining in good health or going into labor. As we have also already learned, fear can also affect our decision-making processes, causing us to move away from decisions that would create the kind of birth we really wanted.
So how can we deal with unwanted messages and birth stories that others begin to present to us so they don’t affect our pregnancy and birth plans? If anyone (friends, strangers, relatives, co-workers, medical care providers) begins to say something negative, you can easily stop them. You can put up your hand nicely in the universal “stop” position and say, “What I really want to know is: What was the most positive thing that happened during your birth?” or “What did you love the most about your birth?” or (for medical professionals) “Tell me about the best birth you ever attended!”. It may prompt them to remember something sweet or wonderful and they will stop providing negative information. This will have a much better effect on your emotions and confidence, outside and inside, which is extremely important.
Learning all about pregnant and birthing bodies and the natural process of childbirth is very important, and knowing that the body was meant to nurture a pregnancy and give birth to a child is a great start. Although in some of the media, childbirth is portrayed as a difficult and scary process, it’s actually the most natural process the body can go through, and most of the time childbirth goes very smoothly when we don’t interfere with it. When we need help, we have “lifeguards” in the form of medical care providers to step in and manage the issue. Learning how childbirth starts naturally, what it could feel like, and how to make it easier is vital to your peace of mind and to the results you will get, so make sure that you choose to take a really great childbirth education course like Hypnobabies. You will learn all of those things and much more, including the stages of birthing and advocating for yourself as well as postpartum and new baby care. Knowing all of this information will give you a lot more confidence that you are making the decisions that are the best ones for you and your family.
Taking some easy steps now to plan for the best childbirth experience you can have is well worth it, and we all want that, and deserve it!