Becoming a Mindful MamaWhether you’re wondering how motherhood will impact your career, stressing over how you’ll do as a parent, or just reeling from the tide of hormones coursing through your veins, anxiety and mood swings during pregnancy are pretty common.
by Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D.
Babies live in the moment, so get in synch now!
Despite your delight at having a baby on the way, there are still plenty of changes to your life and body that can be tough to cope with at times. Whether you’re wondering how motherhood will impact your career, stressing over how you’ll do as a parent, or just reeling from the tide of hormones coursing through your veins, anxiety and mood swings during pregnancy are pretty common.
How can you stay balanced through the ups and downs of pregnancy and beyond? California psychologist Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., thinks mindfulness is the key. Mindfulness helps keep you anchored in the present during challenging times, and lets you approach unfamiliar experiences with curiosity rather than fear. It also prepares you to communicate and bond with your baby – who lives very much “in the moment.”
Here are some tips from her book Mindful Motherhood (New Harbinger Publications, 2009) on practicing mindfulness.
Quick Mindful-Mama Moments
Here are a few things you can do in any moment of your day, no matter what is going on, to cultivate mindful awareness:
• Find the place in your body where you can most strongly feel your breath moving in and out. Whether this is around your nostrils, in your chest, or in your belly, bring all of your awareness to this spot for 10 full breaths. This brings you into your body and into the present moment.
• If you are pregnant, feel this breathing as though you can sense the oxygen in your blood moving through the placenta and into your baby. If you have an infant, hold the baby and feel the place where your breathing and your baby’s breathing can be felt on your body. Focus on that place for 10 breaths.
• Focus intensely on the place where the breath stops going out and starts going in, and then on the very end of the in-breath and the beginning of the out-breath. Let those two spots, those little moments when you are neither breathing in nor breathing out, be the focus of your attention for about 60 seconds.
• Bring all of your attention to the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet for 10 breaths. This grounds your attention when it is flying all over the place or when you are really agitated.
The following is not traditional mindfulness. But it can be helpful if you feel as though you are too agitated to bring mindful awareness to a situation, or if you feel like your behavior might be difficult to manage:
• Find a word or phrase that is deeply calming, emotionally nourishing, or sacred to you. For some, the words “love” or “peace” are good. For millennia, people around the world have used the word “Om,” which is simply the universal sound that represents the source of all that is. Even a phrase like “Be still” or “Be well” will work. Just breathe in through your nose and say this word or phrase on the out-breath, either out loud or in your mind, until your attention feels a bit more stable.
What You’re Preparing For
A bit like attunement, synchrony is a way of paying attention to your baby that finds its roots in mindful awareness. You can learn your baby’s “language” as it is being expressed through his movements, his breathing, his crying, and his attention – what he looks at and reaches out for, or when he turns within. Synchronous communication happens when you notice your baby’s actions and engage with her in them. She sends you a signal, and you respond to it. She yelps, and you smile or jump a little or yelp back. She smiles, and you smile in return. She says “Oooh” and raises her eyebrows. You say “Oooh, oooh, oooh” and raise your eyebrows twice. This kind of repetition is baby-style play. You show her with your body that you recognize her, you acknowledge her. You begin to notice what works and what doesn’t by looking at the reactions you get from your actions.
As well-respected pediatricians T. Berry Brazelton and Bertrand G. Cramer put it:
“As a mother learns that the rhythms of the baby underlie the capacity to attend to her, she synchronizes her own behavior to the infant’s. She learns to match the infant’s cues, to time her responses. She learns to turn away or to tune down when the baby does. And she learns that she can add a little bit of magnification to each behavior, which will lead the baby on. As the baby smiles, she smiles more broadly, teaching the baby how to prolong a smile. As the infant vocalizes, she adds a word or a trill, leading toward imitation. By matching her rhythms, her behaviors too the baby’s, she enters the baby’s world.”
Mindful awareness makes all of this possible and often makes it come quite naturally. Being present and in your body allows you to become more receptive and sensitive to the baby’s cues in a way that can be more difficult when you’re stuck in the thinking mind.
Reprinted with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Mindful Motherhood, Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., www.newharbinger.com.
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