How Prenatal Mindfulness Can Help With Anxiety & Morning Sickness During Pregnancy
Three women share how mindfulness meditation helped them cope with the physical and emotional challenges that pregnancy brings.
While we often view pregnancy as a "glowing" time, for many women the first trimester brings nausea, food aversions, and fatigue. Mamas-to-be may also feel anxious during pregnancy, especially if they've previously experienced fertility struggles or miscarriage.
Research shows prenatal mindfulness—defined as paying attention to the present moment—can help women cope with the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy. Indeed, a May 2017 study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth suggests mindful meditation can help women manage the fears of childbirth, increase their ability to cope with labor/delivery pain, and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.
"Becoming a parent is the most profound transformation in the adult life cycle," says Nancy Bardacke, study co-author, nurse-midwife, and founder of Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP). "Integrating mindfulness practices such as breath awareness and yoga with childbirth education helps mothers-to-be and their partners cultivate lifelong skills for healthy living and wise parenting."
While you should always seek advice from your doctors if you are having a difficult pregnancy, many mamas-to-be are trying alternative options, such as mindfulness, to relieve their symptoms. Below, three mothers share how prenatal meditation helped them weather the physical and emotional difficulties of pregnancy.
Prenatal Mindfulness for Anxiety
After Christina Barger, 32, experienced two miscarriages, the thought of becoming pregnant again filled her with terror. "After giving birth to my first daughter, I had two miscarriages. I felt okay after the first one, but after the second loss, I began to worry that something was wrong with me," says Barger. Her fears triggered spikes of anxiety, and her emotions felt out of control. She also had intrusive thoughts like, "What if something went wrong during my previous C-section that's left me unable to carry a baby?"
Initially, she found support on Facebook, reconnecting with old high school friends. One friend suggested she try mindfulness and meditation, sharing it could help Barger manage her stress.
"I used an app called Expectful, with meditations created specifically for fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. I began meditating for 20-minutes every night," she said. "At first, my mind wandered, but instead of getting distracted, I returned to my breath, focusing on the music of the meditation."
Two months after her second miscarriage, Barger learned she was pregnant with a rainbow baby. Her pregnancy wasn't easy. The initial months were filled with unbearable anxiety followed by high blood pressure. Throughout her pregnancy, Barger worked 12-hour days as a nurse. Still, she'd find 5-10 minutes to meditate during her work day. She says the practice helped her stay grounded during this challenging time.
Her son is now eight months old, and Barger continues to meditate each night. Practicing mindfulness helps her manage the ups and downs of parenting young children, anchoring her in the present moment.
Prenatal Mindfulness for Hyperemesis Gravidarum (Severe Morning Sickness)
During both of her pregnancies, Nicole Scotto, 32, experienced profound morning sickness, known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). HG is a rare condition causing severe nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and electrolyte imbalance. "It was physical and emotional torture. I could not find any joy in my pregnancy, and often wished for it to end," says Scotto. Medications and alternative therapies didn't lessen the nausea and physical discomfort.
After the birth of her first daughter, she struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, stemming from the hormonal imbalances that come with HG. "When I decided to get pregnant again, I knew I had to do something differently," she says.
Scotto read a Facebook post discussing "mother's mindset," and how mindfulness could help mothers-to-be manage the stress and emotions that accompany pregnancy. "As soon as nausea set in, I began meditating," says Scotto. "Mindfulness helped me find strength, escaping from the persistent symptoms that once again threatened my mental and physical well-being."
Scotto listened to soft meditations, which helped her cultivate present moment awareness. "I learned how to pay attention to each moment. I'd listen to the sounds around me, including my breath, the hum of the refrigerator, and the wind blowing through the trees."
When hardships arose throughout her pregnancy, Scotto turned to mindfulness. She even had a "mindful birth" using breathing exercises and meditation to help her ride the painful waves of contractions. "For me, mindfulness meditation became a tool, giving me the grace and strength to make it through each moment," she says.
Prenatal Mindfulness for Insomnia
Sarah Stone, 40, experienced prenatal insomnia during both of her pregnancies. "I had a lot of worries about becoming a mom for the first time," says Stone. Like many mothers-to-be, she wondered how she'd balance work and family life. With her first pregnancy, Stone also worried about labor and delivery, hoping for a safe birth and a healthy baby. Thoughts like these kept her tossing and turning at night.
Stone had tried meditation during yoga class and discovered prenatal mindfulness at the beginning of her first pregnancy. She began taking a few minutes each day to engage in the practice, focusing on her pregnancy-related anxieties. "At first, I thought I had to meditate in a certain way, but I realized it's just a way to embrace the moment, and focus on my self-care," she says.
Mindfulness meditation also gave Stone an outlet, helping her to feel in control when everything in her life felt unpredictable. "Pregnancy is exciting, but it's also a worrisome time," she said. "Mediation helped me manage my fears, anchoring into the present moment. The practice helped me enjoy my journey to motherhood, with all its twists and turns."
How to Practice Mindfulness
Want to practice mindfulness during pregnancy? It's surprisingly easy to incorporate into your life. Start by checking in with your body and mind throughout the day—while doing dishes, laying in bed, taking or shower, etc. Become aware of your breathing, and focus your mind on the present moment. Whenever your thoughts start to venture, reel them back into your calming mindset.
Don't be too hard on yourself when starting the practice; you can't expect to meditate for 30 minutes straightaway. Instead, try weaving mindfulness into your schedule, concentrating on being present.
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Apps can also help in your mindfulness practice. One of the top choices is Stop, Breathe & Think (free; App Store and Google Play). This app guides users through meditations, and it encourages them to check in with their emotions. Helpful instructional videos on topics like yoga and acupressure are also available. Moms-to-be can turn to the app for lowered stress and anxiety, a clearer mind, better sleep, and plenty of other benefits.