A study last month supports using mindfulness to reduce the fear surrounding labor while also decreasing the likelihood of developing postpartum depression in new mothers.1 I have a been working with a new mother who has been struggling with postpartum depression, and reading this article resonated with what I have experienced with her.
When Expectation Leads to Fear
There are a lot of expectations of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant bonding. This study discusses the idea that it can be very daunting hearing stories of “being ripped apart,” or 48-hour labors from friends and family members. Being frightened of childbirth going into labor can prolong the experience, as well as increase the likelihood of a cesarean and postpartum depression. A solution to the fear aspect of this equation certainly could come from mindfulness training. Of course, if there are underlying nutrient deficiencies or organic pathology, there are other avenues of treatment. In the case of the patient we were seeing, we’d exhausted many nutrient supplementation ideas, and I started to notice a significant amount of expectation which permeated our conversations about her experience, much of which had to do with what she had been told early motherhood would be like.
Thief of Joy = Comparison
It is easy to feel let down when we build up a story in our minds based on others’ experiences and opinions. When our own experiences don’t match, commonly we feel that something is wrong – and a big aspect of this is a reflex defense mechanism that says that “something” is wrong, so that “I don’t have to be wrong.” The fact of the matter is that nothing is wrong, and no one is wrong. The experience is likely just different. With our patient, this became apparent when questioning led to a few succinct statements involving descriptions of profound love and compassion for both her family, and child, as well as a lack of fatigue, or interest in caring for her new child. Her experience was just not as “ooey-gooey” as some of her friends had told her it would be. Mindfulness helps us overcome the anxiety of these experiences not matching.
Mindfulness is the Practice of Paying Attention
Mindfulness is a practice that involves paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. In the study, 30 women in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy were randomly selected to undergo mindfulness training or traditional childbirth classes. The mindfulness group had lower scores for postnatal depression and were less likely to use opiates during labor. The mindfulness training concentrated on the temporal nature of contractions, as well as breathing and staying focused on the physical sensations and interpretations of those thoughts to be more transient.
Mindfulness is a Great Remedy for Fear and Anxiety
The hope is that learning mindfulness during pregnancy and childbirth will give new parents a valuable skill to use during the most stressful time of child rearing. Since mindfulness is a great way to work through anxiety and stress, it is a great thing for a new parent to be familiar with. It will also allow parents to assess what is really going on between them and their children, and be more aware of how expectations may be influencing their emotions regarding a very new aspect of life.
- Duncan LG, Cohn MA, Chao MT, Cook JG, Riccobono J, Bardacke N. Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomized controlled trial with active comparison. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017;17(1):140.
Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.