I wrote this birth meditation a few years ago after I attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, a well known Buddhist monk. He’s written a very beautiful pebble meditation which I do sometimes with my children, but which I’ve adapted for pregnancy. I just thought that it fitted perfectly. We give it out as an additional birth meditation or a slightly different way to do your affirmations in our class, it’s not for everyone but give it a chance as it can be a very peaceful thing to do.
You can either do this birth meditation on its own, just read it out loud somewhere quiet to yourself on a daily basis, or actually do a pebble mediation with it. To do this go for a quiet walk and collect 4 pebbles on your way. Each time you do the birth meditation, for each element take a pebble in your hand, a round one can be reflective or pregnancy, and turn it over in your hand observing the pebble closely, it’s weight, how it feels in your hand, what you can see on it then read the affirmation with that pebble before moving onto the next pebble and next affirmation.
You can continue to do this birth mediation with you baby, then toddler after they are born. It’s a very simple but lovely exercise as it does connect you unconsciously with the true depths and heights of your being during pregnancy.
Mindful Mamma Birth Meditation
“I am beautiful like a flower, aware of this tiny baby blossoming like a flower within me. I am unique, my baby is unique. I promise to nourish and love myself, thereby nourishing and loving my baby growing within. By watering the flower within me, we both grow strong and healthy. At birth I unfold like a flower unfurling in the warmth of the sun.”
“I am strong like a mountain. I touch the earth and sky, at one with nature and with my baby. In my strength and my solidity I support my baby. With this strength I empower myself and prepare for my incredible birth”
“I am like a lake. Crystal clear, calm and tranquil. Still – as if you could take the perfect picture. In my tranquility and peace, peace and tranquility in others are reflected. My baby benefits from this calm and their development and birth is also reflected in my tranquility. When I smile, others see this peace deeply within me and I reflect on my love for my baby developing within his or her calm and peaceful waters”
“I am like space. I have movement all around and feel my baby moving freely within. My mind is free and still. My focus is clear in this space and I have freedom and a deep sense of peace and of who I am and how I communicate with my baby growing within me. Space gives me clarity and comfort both while I am pregnant and during my baby’s birth”
Adapted from the pebble meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
We’ve just had a really interesting discussion about limbic imprinting on our practitioners forum. There has been quite a lot of research, more than you would think that examines long term impact of experiences in the womb and just after birth. This form of work is called pre and perinatal psychology.
Amongst many other things the research explores such things as how stress in the womb impacts on brain development, the impact of painful procedures at birth on pain thresholds, even how the type of drugs given during labour correlate with drug abuse later on. If you want to learn more have a look at Janus’s The Enduring effect of Prenatal Experience or Kelly and Verny’s ‘The Secret Life of the Unborn Child’.
While I think that this sort of research on limbic imprinting is very important, and we should be aware of it, it shouldn’t cause fear, worry or guilt. Sometimes mothers do not learn about their different options until they have had a baby and look back wishing that they could change it; sometimes babies do have life saving interventions, and we should focus not on how damaging that can be psychologically, but how we as loving, mindful mothers can tune into our babies and reduce the impact of any such interventions. Which we definitely can.
Sometimes we can’t change the path but we change how we respond to limbic imprinting
Some of you may assume that I had a tranquil waterbirth at home, but in fact my first son was born before I knew anything apart from how to say “yes, I consent” and he was born by caesarean, on Christmas day, as a footling breech into a theatre with bright lights and midwifes wearing tinsel. I worried for months that the reason my wound was taking so long to heal was because some tinsel had dropped into me.
The second time I did it differently. I’d been using hypnosis mp3s from about week 15 and I was very very relaxed during pregnancy, not blinking an eye when my waters broke at 32 weeks. No amount of leg crossing stopped my second son being born as a VBAC, a great birth in itself, but he was welcomed by a hoard of paediatricians, who waved him in front of me like a trophy, dumped him on my chest for a token minute or two, then whisked him off to NICU.
But it was ok, I was prepared, I had been using hypnosis from very early on and I was not stressed or panicky; my head was clear and I knew what I had to do, I tuned into my instincts. But at night he was on his own in an incubator, while I was somewhere else upstairs. I now believe we are connected at a much deeper level and experiences since then that have happened, ones that I cannot explain away, give rise to that view; my mother actually refers to the invisible umbilical cord as a lifelong communication system.
The danger of misrepresenting research on limbic imprinting
In the debates around limbic imprinting, there are some people who I deeply respect but can be zealots around how a poor experience in utero or at birth can affect people for the rest of their lives. This morning I read this
“If our first impressions of being in the body are anything less than loving (for example, painful, frightening or lonely), then those impressions will imprint as our valid experience of love. It will be immediately coded into our nervous system as a comfort zone, acting as a surrogate for love and nurturing, regardless of how undesirable the experience actually was”
It disturbed me because the intent is that if this happens we can’t change it, that our children are less somehow because of their experience at birth. What statements like this neglect to address is the remarkable plasticity of our brains, which is at its most potent between 0-3 years of age.
So how can we see limbic imprinting differently and more positively?
One of our practitioners, Guin a clinical psychologist who has done additional training around this area, described these changes to me in this way “One suggestion I found helpful was the idea that with difficult early experiences it’s not so much an instant effect that is permanently wired into the brain, but a bit like a rivulet running down a mountain, it will tend to follow the same path – ie. the more the baby experiences responsive parenting, the more this will strengthen the neural pathways that are connected up in response to that. “
Natalie, a midwife who teaches our class, “ One of the things I like about “The Inner World of the Unborn Child’ is that it gives suggestions of how to change the unborn baby’s experience. For example, stress during pregnancy. He is very practical that even with the best will in the world women will experience stress during pregnancy but states if the mother communicates love and acceptance to her child she will protect the baby from the effects of stress. This really helped me during my own pregnancy. I was mindful of how I was feeling and empowered by having the knowledge to do something about it. I had a complex visualisation of transferring love from me and my husband to Noah. I believe, that is how we should be using the research.”
How psychological preparation can help
Psychological preparation that helps you understand how you can help your baby in the womb and after they are born, by learning how to relax, connect with them and to be loving and compassionate can really help reduce any other effects that you are concerned about. This has a positive affect on limbic imprinting. We are human after all, we do our best, but sometimes things happen that we don’t expect or can’t prepare for. Learning the value of mindfulness and being in each moment enables you to be open to the experience and to be able to respond compassionately.
A birth with intervention, can make it harder than a straightforward normal birth, but as a mother you become a vessel for that child physically and emotionally, good preparation helps free up the emotional space for you to do that – however, the birth is.
My 7 year old who was separated at birth, enjoyed kangaroo care, supported by wonderful midwives, I made sure that something with my smell on was in the incubator, and that I pumped my boobs like there was no tomorrow in my own private pumping room until my milk flowed so that I could breastfeed him.
Then I strapped a tube to my breast, while he was tube fed, right by my nipple in those first couple of days and dropped my breastmilk through it before his sucking reflex kicked in. We were home with breastfeeding established within 6 days.
I have no doubt it was because I was a calm ship for him amidst it all, and that this calm ship, his steady anchor in all of that unfamiliarity, was the thing that carried him home and nurtured him from then onwards.
He is now an incredibly sociable, secure and loving child. People warm to him immediately, he exudes joy and happiness. I have absolutely no worries about him as a mother.
When I read about limbic imprinting, I became aware that there is much we can do as human beings, that we are not passive journeyers but active participants who are evolving and changing all the time. We are imprinting, throughout our lives. Phobias, for example, can happen at anytime, and are a form of imprinting, but can be reduced or even completely eliminated in a couple of hours with hypnosis. For me this says everything about how our brain is receptive to changes. It can get slower as we get older; working with hypnosis on people before the age of 30 sees much quicker results, but even up to our 90’s, as demonstrated in research in book, Sharon Begley’s The Plastic Mind we can change our automatic responses, effectively rewiring our brain.
What can you do now?
The best things to do for your baby during your pregnancy are to spend time relaxing and connecting with your baby, let go of panic, worry or distress. If you have a stressful job, don’t beat yourself up, but find ways of reducing that stress – employers should have a responsibility to ensure a stress free or stress reduced environment for you and your baby. If, after baby is born, you are still concerned, be that responsive mindful parent, responding to your babies cues and needs. Perhaps consider a class like, BabyCalm or even visit someone trained in early parenting, perhaps have a birth review (this can help you see things more objectively and help you move on) or even rebirthing.
Most of all be aware that a baby with a compassionate and loving parent cannot fail to thrive however their birth was, my son is evidence of that.
Social Media is interfering your baby bonding moment.
by Sophie Fletcher
Roll up roll up, we’ve just had a baby, yep, just a couple of minutes ago. Let’s get our baby onto our social networks, Facebook/tweet/pinterest our birth, hell why not go the whole hog and broadcast the birth, live? The moments after birth are so important but that important baby bonding time is now usurped by Facebook and twitter.
We live in age of instant communication, we become immersed in it, hooked on it and we begin to forget what experience really is. I’ve started reading a great book called “You are not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier, he writes “Giving yourself time and space to think and feel is crucial to your existence. You have to find a way to be yourself before you can share yourself”.
Important words, especially to a new mum or dad whose baby’s tiny visual digital imprint may have begun after their first scan and extends into those precious moments after the birth. Surely being at the birth is one of the most important times to really experience that rare moment when you become a mum or a dad, to get to look at and absorb the wonder of this tiny little being you have waited so patiently for. Baby bonding is about this magical moment, when the oxytocin is sky high and your baby is in your arms for the first time. By tweeting, facebooking or blogging about it instantaneously you lose the experience of being in that moment and of your baby bonding with you.
I was inspired to write this blog after talking to a midwife who coordinates breastfeeding training and she asked me how we can make women understand just how important that first hour is after birth for baby bonding. She said women are taking photos on their phones tweeting, facebooking and are not present with the baby or engaged in the experience. Her worry is that this will affect the baby bonding and will have an impact on breastfeeding. I had often considered the consequences to the birth or postnatal period of exposure, through films, photos or other media on the birth itself, as well as after the birth, and here was a midwife who was seeing it happening in labour rooms everywhere. Since I spoke to her midwives say this is one of the most irritating things after the birth, and have gone as far to admit they just want to confiscate the phones, when they see a new baby left on the bed while mum is texting.
We underestimate what experience really means, to be mindful of that moment in time, to absorb the feelings, the environment and to be really aware. If we are clicking away behind a camera lens mindlessly in those precious moments we are losing that experience. Of course we can be mindful photographers, but we are not mindfully present in the experience of observing, holding, smelling and bonding with the new baby.
The second thing that strikes me about the endemic use of recording equipment and online narratives of a birth is the affect it can have on the birth itself. Birth is all about oxytocin, and what we always teach in our Mindful Mamma classes is that it’s a shy hormone, it doesn’t want to be watched and observed. Filming a birth may be perfectly fine for some people, but we underestimate the unconscious processes unfolding during a birth and knowing you are being filmed may consciously feel fine, but may actually slow things down if at some level you are aware of it and feel uncomfortable.
When I originally taught hypnobirthing I was asked if the people on my classes would be interested in filming their births, it seemed completely incongruent to me that we were asking women to be filmed while at the same teaching about the role of oxytocin and reducing interruptions or people in the room. I have never asked and never will even suggest this to my clients. If someone wants to film their birth, it should come from them, not because of the expectations of others or because everyone else is doing it but for reasons that are embedded in their own values and beliefs. It’s worth stopping and thinking about why you want to film, record, facebook or tweet your birth. Why do you need to do it in that moment?
But importantly after baby is born, put away the camera or ask the midwife/doula/other birth partner to take a photo, mum don’t go near a phone at least in the first hour. Enjoy that baby bonding experience, have your baby on your chest, smell your baby’s skin, explore your baby’s face, experience that love you feel without interruption, you’ll only get a limited opportunities to do this in your life. And it’s pretty amazing.
My name is Liz Shier. I’m a BabyCalm teacher and I’ve been working with new families, in various roles for the past 15 years. I have seen how all the conflicting advice and pressure we have from society and ourselves, make the transition to Parenthood so much more difficult than it need be. In my experience it is getting worse and not better.
If there were five things that would help a new mum to make her experience with her baby as exciting and stress free as possible what would they be?
Limit your vistiors – This is probably the hardest thing to do…….everybody wants to see the new baby (Mummy and Daddy tend to get forgotten now). It is so important to get to know your baby without worrying about anyone else. Of course, you will have some visitors…but don’t be tempted to clean up on their behalf or to look after them…point out where the kettle is and tell them how you like your tea!!!
Ask for help – from family, friends and health professionals. If you do have visitors, don’t be afraid to ask them to bring a meal with them, wash the pots for you……a real friend will just turn up with dinner, make you a snack and leave it in the fridge for later, iron a few of your clothes, run the hoover round, make you a drink, NOT ask to hold the baby, then leave.
Listen to you instinct – Very difficult if you have family and friends telling you how they used to do things…even the most well meant comment can reduce a new Mum to tears. Remember, you know your baby better than anyone!!!!!!
Don’t push Dad/partner out – As a mother you soon learn how to quicky change a nappy, quickly bath your baby. Dad’s need to build up their confidence too. So many times, I hear…’It’s just quicker if i do it’. Yes, it might take them longer to put a nappy on. And yes, they might not choose an outfit that matches, but just go with it. It’s bonding time for them and a 5 – 10 minute break for you. (I’m an ex-midwife, mother of 2 and, a Grandmother and a BabyCalm teacher…..I still put nappies on back-to-front and do baby grow poppers up the wrong way)
Understand things from your babies point of view – they have spent 9 months being next to you constantly. Replicating the womb like environment, eg: closeness, movement and noise will ensure they feel safe and secure, so less likely to cry. Don’t believe the saying about spoiling a baby with too many cuddles!!!! It is not possible. The part of the brain that is responsible for habit forming does not start to develop until 2 years old.
Any last tips for new mums out there?
Enjoy this precious time with your baby. It does pass so quickly. If, however, you feel still feel constantly overwhelmed, sad or depressed please share it with to someone.
Tell us about the classes you offer?
As a BabyCalm teacher I offer 3 classes
1) The Colic and Crying Workshop – an emergency 3 hour workshop that can be taken from birth to 12 weeks with the sole aim of helping parents to calm their baby. £35
2) The Antenatal Workshop – a 3 hour workshop, taken during pregnancy to prepare parents to be able to welcome their baby in a calm and confident way. £35
3) The 4 week BabyCalm Parenting Course – an 8 hour (2 hours per week) course, just for Mums and babies, designed to soothe babies and fill new Mums with confidence £75
How can our mums contact you if they want to know more?
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept is as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”
Recently I was reminded by a friend about the bigger picture. She said birth is just a small part of the journey we experience as pregnant women. The much bigger part of the experience is what comes after – motherhood. She wondered why women are so focused on the actual birth rather than their baby and suggested that this preoccupation with birth prevents a woman from wholly preparing to be a mother, connecting with her baby on their journey.
There is no doubt that the focus has shifted from having a baby, and the baby themselves, to how the women are going to manage the birth, get the right pushchair, finish the nursery, perhaps moving house (surprisingly common!) or how long their maternity leave is going to be. In our Mindful Mamma classes at the beginning we ask everyone to spontaneously write on a note the first word that springs to mind when you think of birth, very often baby isn’t in the mix, instead words like pain, control, blood, long and hard work float to the surface from fears harbored in the unconscious.
But the truth of it is that from conception to birth to motherhood is a life creating, life changing, daunting, challenging and absobloodylutely incredible journey. Birth is just a moment, an intense moment, of a period in your life that will bring you highs and lows, tears and laughter, fear and joy. There is nothing more frightening than a baby making their first wobbly steps near your mother-in-law’s granite fireplace and nothing more wonderful than your baby’s chubby arms loosely clasped around your neck as they fall asleep rhythmically breathing into your ear. But we don’t dwell on any of these before they happen, we experience those moments as they happen and enjoy them or manage them skillfully in the moment.
Imagine conception as the planting of a seed, the seed growing beneath the surface nurtured by the soil, out of sight but watched expectantly until it breaks through the surface. The plant continues to grow but from this moment is reliant on the water and sunlight to grow and blossom. Just as this plant needs water and sunlight your baby needs your love, care and gentle compassion to nourish their emotional well-being and growth.
Motherhood can be a wonderful thing and it can also be a mirror of birth in terms of the emotions. There is fear, there is sometimes that sense of losing control, and there is joy, happiness, the worry of not knowing what is the right way and wrong way to do it.
Birth is just the beginning, and just like motherhood you can choose to get on and do it and do it your way, intuitively with love, strength and patience. Your baby’s journey into this world begins at birth, just as your journey into motherhood begins and your partner’s journey into fatherhood begins.
So allow yourself to become aware in this moment of your baby, the core of your being, your connection with each other and how you are moving forward together hand in hand on a new, exciting and eventful journey that will last long after the birth.
Prior to the birth, allow yourself the time to reflect on what type of teacher you want to be, how you want your baby to learn. Being mindful of that responsibility, reflecting and welcoming that role will in turn strengthen and prepare you the birth – the moment that your journey begin and the moment that your flower nudges through the soil and begins to grow into a beautiful blossom cared for and loved by you.
Did you know that how your baby is born can have a significant effect on her emotional and psychological makeup as an adult? Everything she registers and feels during her initial entry into the world will be memorised and can influence the rest of her life. Elena Tonetti, an advocate of conscious birth, refers to this as “limbic imprint”. Leslie Temple-Thurston, a teacher of enlightenment, refers to this as “negative or positive imprinting”. The greater the birth trauma, especially through unnecessary or even necessary intervention, the greater the negative birth imprint.
Babies are extremely sensitive, and those born to intervention and rough handling can find the experience extremely shocking and abusive, even if birth attendees consider the handling normal (Leslie Temple-Thurston). While babies may forget their ordeal in the hours and days that follow, the memory of the experience is held deep within them and doesn’t spontaneously go away. Unless babies are helped to release the stress of this imprinting (Aletha Solter, The Aware Baby), it (stress and imprinting) stays with them for the rest of their lives whether they are conscious of it or not. This is because during birth the limbic system registers all of the sensations and emotions around the experience of birth, and the memory of it lives in the body for the rest of our lives whether we are conscious of this or not.
Elena Tonetti says that “if our first impressions of being in the body are anything less than loving ([violating], painful, frightening, lonely…) then that “anything” imprints as a valid experience of love. It is immediately coded into our nervous system as a “comfort zone”, acting as a surrogate for the love and nurturing [that we expect to receive], regardless of how painful, frustrating and undesirable it actually was. And in the future, as adults, we will unconsciously, automatically recreate the conditions that were imprinted [into us] at birth and through our early childhood” (The Limbic Imprint by Elena Tonetti).
If birth trauma is extreme, a baby’s first experience of life will feel like he has entered a dangerous and violent world (Leslie Temple-Thurston). Chances are good that the psychological conditioning he receives, because of his experience at birth, will also be extreme. Abuse and trauma at birth imprints a baby with tremendous shock and fear (Leslie Temple-Thurston). If a baby feels disempowered or victimised at birth, either through rough handling by less than sensitive birth attendees, or as a result of mechanical intervention, he will unconsciously try to recreate this experience in later life either by becoming a perpetrator of abuse himself, or by allowing others to abuse him. A large body of evidence exists to show that complications during delivery are associated with physical conditions and behavioural disorders in later life. Birth trauma has been shown to be associated with a range of problems including addictions, poor problem-solving skills, short attention span, low self-esteem, inability to be empathetic and responsible and a host of physical health problems (www.birthpsychology.com).
So how we birth our babies clearly has a considerable influence on the kinds of people they become and has a lasting impact on how they will function in the world. This isn’t something to be taken lightly. How many of us spend time considering the possible emotional and behaviouraleffects that birth can have on our children’s lives? Unfortunately we live in a culture where the emotional and psychological impact of the birth experience on a baby is not taken seriously or really even understood. Birth is usually regarded as a physical, medical experience (often emergency), and the instinctive, natural and spiritual component is seriously disregarded. As a result many women feel let down by their birth experiences, and some even go as far as enduring traumatic births, often unnecessarily, and suffer consequent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) long after the birth (Birth Trauma Association,www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk).
Birthing a baby is not “routine procedure” – it is a completely unique and sacred moment in time. It is possible to have a natural, gentle, healthy and positive birthing experience, and if you are expecting a baby I would say that you are entitled to it. In most cases in this day and age, a gentle, natural birth requires disciplined preparation and is not usually handed to us on a plate. In fact, entering a birthing field consciously (fully present, aware and unmedicated) requires serious mental and emotional preparation. And contrary to popular belief, with proper guidance and support this is possible for a considerable number of expecting couples. In most cases, both mums and dads need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the birth of their babies in order for the birth experience to be a healthy, gentle and positive one. According to Elena Tonetti, many delivery complications are the direct result of family psychological problems that have not been resolved. She suggests that it is crucial to the quality of the birthing experience that these dramas are dealt with before the due date (www.birthintobeing.com).
With adequate preparation we as parents have the opportunity to soften the birthing experience for our babies and help them enter the world with a more favourable first imprint. With proper preparation we can have gentle birth experiences and control to an extent how their nervous systems will be limbically imprinted. In many cases traumatic births can be avoided if the necessary mental and emotional preparation has taken place.
When we decide to have children, we enter a sacred contract with them agreeing to be custodians of their emotional well-being. It is of paramount importance to the future emotional health of our children that we begin this responsibility right at the beginning – at that pivotal point of entry into the world. Because when a baby is born gently into a loving environment, the shock and fear factor is greatly reduced, and this softer imprint stays with her for the rest of her life.
You’ve had so much advice, it’s left you reeling in confusion. Every-one else seems to know exactly what you should do, but this doesn’t really help you to feel in control of the tiredness and emotional changes taking place. Here are some psychological tips to help you through those turbulent early days.
1. Never say “I have done nothing today”. You’ve been there for your baby. You’ve been instantly interruptible (probably a new skill for you), and instantly available for soothing, comfort and nutrition. Research shows that soothing and comfort are as powerful for baby’s well being as food.
2. Never strive to be perfect, always good enough. On a bad day, say to yourself “I was good enough, and that is good enough”.
3. On a good day, capture the moment and bank it in your memory. Remember how special you are, to be a mum (don’t try this on a bad day).
4. Gather friends around you – especially ones with little babies too. Any-one else will have forgotten what it’s really like, and it’s the biggest protector against postnatal depression.
5. Never chastise yourself for needing sleep, rest, a break, a night out, a rant, or whatever you need. Find a way to get it, because it will strengthen you and help you be a good enough mum.
6. Being “mindful” is a psychological term which is used to deal with frustration and low mood. It means focusing on what this feels like, now, and moving away from thoughts of later, or tomorrow such as things that need doing. So while you are cuddling your baby, focus on the cuddle, the feel of it, the warmth, the movement as your baby breathes etc. Push away any thoughts of what needs doing and when. Just “be” with the here and now. Practice this for ten minutes each day and you will realize how powerful it is.
7. Prolactin (the mothering hormone) makes you a little more anxious, a little more irritable, and more submissive and loving. So never try to be all giving and all loving – there will have to be some irritability and anxiety thrown in. We’re back to never trying to be perfect!
8. The effects of prolactin, coupled with a striving for perfection may mean that you find it hard to let your partner do his bit with baby. However, if you want him to help you when the baby is older and if you want him to understand why you feel so drained and why the house is in a mess, then start to give him time alone with baby now. How else will he become confident and competent with his baby?
If you begin to feel that you aren’t coping and that you are not okay within yourself, or if others start to tell you so, don’t hesitate to see you GP or Health Visitor, or find a counsellor. Post natal depression passes much quicker with help and support, and no one deserves to feel awful, so why not go and get the support to help yourself through it sooner rather than later.
This isn’t a psychological tip for mum, but it is about baby’s psychology. While I don’t normally advise about what to buy (there isn’t really very much that baby needs), I am going to mention the Tummy Tub for your newborn baby. Here’s why http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Hnonw1jZDo
Last week, I took my three year old, Kurtis, to his first swimming lesson. Even though he is my third, I was still excited. As I arrived, somewhat late (very little changes, even when you’re on your third baby!) and when we approached the side of the pool ready to get in, the lesson had started. There was one child in the water, sobbing, and crying for his mummy, who watched anxiously from the side. He kept trying to wriggle out of the instructor’s arms, looking over at mum, pleading and desperate.
Now, of course, I don’t know that he was desperate. That is my interpretation. My interpretation would also be that we “should” listen to the child’s distress and respond. I guess the mum’s heart was telling herself that too – but for reasons of her own, she resisted that gut feeling. We are persuaded, often, in our society, to put our maternal instinct aside and the result is that mum hurts too. Luckily, that is changing, but only because science is now producing evidence that love and care are brain food for a baby. I decided that her way of doing things belongs to her, and my way is different. So I stayed on the side, waiting for my son to want to get in the water (I knew it wouldn’t take long, because although he was anxious, he won’t be able to resist for long.) I had done this with previous lessons, and of course, we do it when settling children in to nursery or pre-school too. Anyhow, after a couple of minutes, the instructor took him into the water, unwilling and beginning to cry, and asked me to move to the viewer’s area because it was disrupting the class to have me there. I think she meant I was disrupting her, because the other mum in question had also come to the side, after over ten minutes of her child sobbing and appealing to her.
I wasn’t happy to have him cry, so I hauled him out, comforted my distressed child, and left. As I was leaving, three mums came running out to me to comfort me. At some level, they get that this process hurts mums too. They “reassured” me that he would only sob for four or five sessions, and then he would love it. I felt the pressure to bow to an institutional system which I disagree with. I felt the sense of inadequacy that I was pandering to him, and that I had been a disruption to the smooth running of the class.
After we were dressed and leaving, the class was finishing. The child was still crying and sobbing. Half an hour must be a long time in a three year old’s life. My boy skipped out of the room. Did he become “spoilt” in that he got his way? Who knows.
As parents, we are caught by two evolutionary driven systems. The system to conform to society and learn from others. This helps us work within our society and raise children who can function in it. It makes us sociable humans. But the maternal instinct sometimes works in opposition to the social system. The maternal instinct is to flush with pleasure when baby smiles, and to be distressed when baby cries or refuses food. I’ve had my fill of controlled crying (9 years ago when I blindly followed the advice of books) and of not sleeping with my baby (heightening my nocturnal anxiety about his welfare- that isn’t neurosis, it’s natural when separated from your baby). I’m so pleased things are changing with regards the advice coming out.
Why Love Matters is a book which summarises the science beautifully. But, and it is a big but, all advice can be interpreted as a “should”. “Shoulds” put pressure on us, make us feel like others know better than us, and introduces the possibility of failure. There is very little out there to tell a mum to listen to her heart, her instinct, and her baby (we need a new version of Dr Spock). To love to love, for love’s sake. Not for science’s sake, or even baby’s sake. If you do it for baby’s sake, you forget to give yourself a break, and to realise that sometimes you just need a cup of tea on your own, and that is okay. If you do it because your heart tells you to, you do it genuinely, and, by the strangest coincidence, that is when your baby gets the most from it too.
So, I was quite proud of myself (after debriefing with two friends to help me make sense of my feelings) that I listened to my maternal instinct, and not societal pressure. Our classes and cd do give advice, but they also help you to listen to your heart, body and baby, during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
Happy New Year! New Year often brings change, as does a new baby. However, with a new baby, we don’t always come equipped with the right psychological experience!
We tend to be good at focussing on one job at a time, perfecting it, succeeding in it, getting praised for it, and moving onto the next – whether we are passing exams, cooking a meal, or going shopping. A baby warrants very different skills.
A parent needs to be instantly interruptible, highly responsible, very self sacrificing, and often without any adult support to hand. A friend once said to me “I’ve done nothing all day! I’ve not even put the washing out.” I said, “you have nurtured and cared for that little one all day, a job which no-one else can do as well as you, because you are his mother”.
I have been interrupted three times writing this (so far). Twice to cuddle my three year old (he is tired) and once to stop the tea from burning. It’s taken me nine years to learn to be instantly interrruptible without frustration. Sometimes, I even feel gratitude – because I am lucky enough to him for my children to come to me and ask for that special thing. A cuddle.
If you sometimes wonder whether you are as important as a mum, as you are in your career, read Naomi Stadlen’s “What Mothers Do – especially when it looks like nothing”. It’s a nice boost when you feel useless.
There are two things which will help you adjust to the changes. One is the temperament of your baby. Time and time again, our parents tell us how calm their baby is. By listening to our cds regularly, you are releasing calming hormones to your baby through the placenta.
This affects the brain development of your baby. Also, a calm birth makes for a calmer baby – though science has yet to research and demonstrate this important phenomena. Our classes are designed to help you get your calmest birth possible.
The second thing which will help you adjust to being a parent is the attachment and love that you feel for your baby. Dealing with a sudden mid-night waking is a lot easier if your heart can melt when you see the cause of your exhaustion! Our classes help you to prepare for parenthood by looking at ways of adjusting to your baby’s existence, and developing a relationship with your baby before he or she is even born.
So, if you have been trying to get your pregnant friends to join our classes, and they aren’t sure, just remind them that it isn’t all about the birth – it’s mostly about the baby!
Whatever adjustments and challenges your New Year brings, I hope you really enjoy them!
At Mindful Mamma we already know that mums who delivered naturally are responsive to their babies, and that babies born vaginally are known bond quicker and feed better. But this study, which has been widely reported, left us thinking there are perhaps more environmental factors which influence how a mother responds to their baby’s cry and the emotional bond they feel with their baby. We find that women who have prepared well, are able to make informed choices and who feel empowered by their births respond well to their baby whatever their birth and feel that they had a positive birthing experience.
Lack of response to the baby is often linked to post natal depression and guilt that the mother hasn’t been able to give her baby a “perfect birth”. In the study by Dr. James Swain, Child Study Centre, Yale University it isn’t clear how the women were chosen, what sort of birth preparation they had, nor the circumstances under which they had a caesarean. So it really isn’t the full picture.
The study published yesterday has found that mothers who delivered vaginally compared to caesarean section delivery (CSD) were significantly more responsive to the cry of their own baby, identified through MRI brain scans two to four weeks after delivery.
The results of the study published today in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggest that vaginal delivery (VD) mothers are more sensitive to hearing their own baby-cry in the regions of the brain that are believed to regulate emotions, motivation and habitual behaviours.
A caesarean is a surgical procedure, in which delivery occurs via incisions in the abdominal and uterine wall. It is considered necessary under some conditions to protect the health or survival of infant or mother, but it is controversially linked with postpartum depression. In the US the occurrence of CSD has increased steeply from 4.5% of all deliveries in 1965 to a recent high in 2006 of 29.1%. In the UK the figure is slightly lower at around 23% – this varies from hospital to hospital.
The critical capacity of adults to develop the thoughts and behaviours needed for parents to care successfully for their newborn infants is supported by specific brain circuits and a range of hormones. The experience of childbirth by VD compared with CSD uniquely involves the release of oxytocin from the posterior pituitary, uterine contractions and vagino-cervical stimulation. Oxytocin is a key mediator of maternal behaviour in animals. You produce additional amounts of Oxytocin during the birth and after the birth the rush of love is linked to a rush of Oxytocin.
“We wondered which brain areas would be less active in parents who delivered by caesarean section, given that this mode of delivery has been associated with decreased maternal behaviours in animal models, and a trend for increased postpartum depression in humans,” said lead author Dr. James Swain, Child Study Centre, Yale University. “Our results support the theory that variations in delivery conditions such as with caesarean section, which alters the neurohormonal experiences of childbirth, might decrease the responsiveness of the human maternal brain in the early postpartum.”
The researchers also looked into the brain areas affected by delivery conditions and found relationships between brain activity and measures of mood suggesting that some of the same brain regions may help regulate postpartum mood. So this may have an impact on postnatal depression.
At Mindful Mamma we teach you to trust and have confidence in your birthing body, so the risk of caesarean is significantly reduced if you have prepared well for birth emotionally and practically. HypnoBirthing mums have an average of 9% of caesareans compared with a national average of 23%. Those mums who have delivered by caesarean have demonstrated a positive response to their baby knowing that they had the best birth possible and even the preparation they undertook, kept them connected with their baby who had the psychological and neurological benefit of reduced levels of cortisol in the womb while mum took time to relax during her pregnancy.
Mindful Hypnobirthing is a bestselling book on hypnosis and mindfulness for birth. Written by Sophie Fletcher one of the UK's leading hypnotherapists for pregnancy and birth, it will help you to prepare your mind and your body for a positive experience of birth.
The downloads on this site are written and recorded by Sophie and are designed to be flexible. Whether you are doing hypnobirthing or wanting to try out some relaxation for pregnancy you will find something here for you.
If you have bought the book you can download the mp3s from the publishers website mindful-hypnobirthing.co.uk or by contacting us directly.
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This month our 'Confident Mamma' mp3 album is our featured product. Click on the picture to find out more about it.