Turns out that what you learn during yoga class can help you during labor.
Whether you’re curious about natural childbirth, looking for another tool to use during labor, and/or interested in dispelling the idea that birth doesn’t have to be painful and scary via your own birth experience, mindfulness childbirth classes might be right for you. A June 2017 article in Reuters reported that those who attended childbirth classes which place an emphasis on mindfulness practice reported lower rates of postpartum depression and avoided pain medication in early labor.
Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) was developed by Certified Nurse Midwife Nancy Bardacke, who, after working for 30 years with women during childbirth, realized that there was immense power in learning to be in the moment, even if in that moment, there is pain.
Rachelle Oseran studied with Bardacke, and now teaches mindfulness childbirth classes in Israel, although she has also been a Lamaze instructor for more than two decades. “They are 2 very different paradigms, and I acknowledge the need to meet the different learning styles of expectant couples,” Oseran says. “Lamaze classes are more oriented to information as a tool for empowerment, while MBCP classes develop a ‘mode of being.'”
What happens during a mindfulness childbirth class? A (who had her second child six months ago) recognized some of the techniques from a college mindfulness meditation class. “The best thing we did was to hold an ice cube in our hands for about a minute,” she says. “We had to either focus on the ice cube, or distance ourselves from it, trying to figure out what worked best for us. The ice cube pain represented the contraction pain. We went through the timing and breathed through contractions with that experience as a guide. I practiced at night when I couldn’t sleep. When I got to the birth, the whole contraction process was about what I expected.”
According to Ashlee Neuman, Senior Editor at The Bump, the aim of mindfulness childbirth classes are to help women be fully present during labor and delivery. The classes can include information about birthing positions, as well as yoga and meditation. Lauren, who’s expecting her son in August, reported that in her mindfulness birth class, “We lay down on yoga mats in the natural class, and there was a recording of a man slowly talking about going to our relaxed, calm place. The idea is to find a calm center, that when the pain is bad you can drop into that happy place or during contractions when you need to re-charge. We get into hard positions, are urged to be mindful of our breathing and breathe through the discomfort.”
“The goal is to cultivate awareness of both your body and your emotions,” says Neuman. “Most people take classes at the end of the pregnancy, but some people start sooner—which could be a good idea if you’re especially stressed about childbirth or have a high-risk pregnancy.”
The practice of mindfulness can also change your relationship with pain, and help you to deal with contractions during labor.
Mindfulness can help to decrease pain and depression when practiced regularly, and for folks who deal with pain as the result of chronic illness, over time it can actually alter the pain you do and don’t feel over time. “You can relieve pain by focusing on your breath and not on thoughts of pain. The same areas of the brain are activated during mindfulness meditation as are activated when subjects were given other methods of coping with pain,” says Dr. Leah Weiss, a Stanford University professor and licensed social worker whose focus is mindfulness and compassion in the workplace.
Another method of natural childbirth involving meditation is hypnobirthing, but there is a difference between that and mindfulness practice. While both focus on altering your perception of pain, hypnobirthing is explicitly for labor and delivery, and is predicated on the idea that your body knows what to do while you’re giving birth, and you don’t need any intervention, because it’s natural. You focus on positive thinking and serious relaxation. Mindfulness is a life skill that can be applied outside of the birthing suite.
“If things don’t exactly go according to the mom’s original birth plan, mindfulness training can also help a woman still own the experience and be accepting of the situation,” says Neuman. She adds that mindfulness is a strategy that can be used long term, when things get tough in parenting, and that partners, who are urged to take classes as well, can utilize mindfulness practices during stressful situations that come about in pregnancy, labor, and after.