I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Sunshine Coast Hypnobirthing, Yoga and Meditation Instructor, Carrie Jeff from Joymamma. She is a guru in understanding the incredible connection between mind and body which can have such impact on our experiences of pregnancy, birth and parenting. I hope Carrie’s insightful answers to my questions provide you with some food for thought and get you motivated to explore strengthening your own mind/body connection in preparation to conceive or during pregnancy, birth and beyond.
Kate: Hi Carrie! To begin, what is your understanding of the relationship between the mind and body, specifically concerning pregnancy and preparing for childbirth?
Carrie: The mind is a sensitive but powerful tool we all have to help make positive changes to the way we live our lives. On a very basic level, every thought we have creates an emotion within us, whether that is positive or negative. Without us even being aware, our physical body will then act out in a particular way as a result. If you see someone who makes you happy, you smile and greet them with warmth, maybe giving them a hug or some other physical contact. If you imagine biting into a juicy lemon, your mouth may tingle and salivate. What the mind chooses to accept or perceive as being real, the body responds to accordingly.
This has a massive effect on us in pregnancy as we prepare for the birth of a child. If a woman has been inundated with negative stories of other women’s birth experiences or has had an unpleasant previous birth experience of her own, this creates emotions of fear and anxiety and her body then is thrown unintentionally into defence mode, producing stress hormones which interfere with her body’s ability to perform a normal physiological function. When a woman is producing stress hormones during birth, it limits the production of her valuable pain relieving hormones – her endorphins.
As the new baby grows inside the womb, their developing nervous system perceives what the outside world is like through the mother’s emotional state. If Mum can stay calm and produce minimal stress hormones throughout pregnancy, then this new little soul feels safe and confident that the world outside is a good place to come into. There is a lot of evidence and study to show that women who are calm and relaxed during pregnancy have babies who are easier to settle and are well adjusted to life. A child’s brain development continues to depend on emotionally calm present parents once born.
By educating women on how their body and mind are able to work together during pregnancy and childbirth, I am seeing many women having positive birth experiences and calm, happy babies!
Kate: That’s amazing! Can I ask then, how can women stay calm? My understanding of yoga and meditation is that they involve certain breathing techniques and learnt skills that just you can’t just accomplish overnight. Could you please share with us what you believe one must do to really achieve a connected pregnancy and birth experience?
Carrie: The breath is only a small part of the 8 limbs of yoga, but plays a crucial role in yoga and connecting the mind, the body and the emotions. Everyone can learn how to meditate, there are different techniques and it certainly doesn’t mean aiming for an empty mind straight away. Even experienced meditators find each day to be different, when some days the mind is busier than normal.
The ancient practice of yoga provides a pregnant woman with ways in which to acknowledge and accept the changes happening within her and can give her valuable time alone with her growing baby, away from the business of daily life.
Finding a prenatal yoga or hypnobirthing class with an experienced teacher during pregnancy gives a woman the opportunity to learn many techniques vital for birth and also for the transition into motherhood. Learning how to stay calm and focused whilst the world spins is a skill for life. Taking the time in pregnancy to try out different yoga classes and teachers and commit to a regular yoga practice can help a woman achieve a connected pregnancy and birth experience. If classes aren’t available, then I would recommend listening to guided meditations and reading books on pregnancy and birth by authors such as Deepak Chopra, Marie Mongan, Sarah Buckley and Ina May Gaskin.
It’s also important to keep lines of communication open between yourself and your partner. Make sure you make the time to talk and listen to each other on a regular basis. Each of you will be having your own unique experience of the pregnancy so be there for each other. It’s important to approach birth with no major unresolved issues between you, (or any other person present at the birth). Reciprocal nurturing of one parent for other sends a strong message of security to the unborn baby. The quality of the relationship is more important than ever. Develop good habits of communication.
Kate: Wonderful advice. Is yoga accessible to anyone and everyone despite previous experience? And can it also benefit dads?
Carrie: Yes. Even though some women may face physical limitations as their body grows and changes shape, a prenatal yoga class is a space where she can remove all expectations and move at her own pace. This is what I love so much about this practice, everyone works at their own level and reaches the edge of their own endurance and strength. During labour and birth and certainly motherhood, we are going to be pushed up against our edge. The practice of yoga, when we are pushed up against that edge, is to stay grounded and in control.
Dads also can benefit. As a birth partner, their role is to protect the mother’s space, communicate with medical staff and offer her physical and emotional support. Watching a loved one move through this process can sometimes be overwhelming for Dads, but they need to stay calm and focused too. Mothers are very vulnerable during birth and can sense if their partner feels tense or anxious. Staying in control also means important decisions can be made, so that no matter how birth unfolds, they are a part of the decision making team, helping to achieve a positive experience for them both.
When parents are connected and present and consistently treat their child gently and empathically, this produces biochemistry in the brain that is incompatible with violence (Robin Grille, Psychologist). In order to achieve this, parents must first treat themselves gently and empathically. The practice of yoga brings awareness to this and is another of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Kate: Specifically regarding birth, would you have any advice for those who are feeling super confident with their new skills and mindset, but are nervous about the possibility of anything getting in the way (i.e. birth environment, birth support) of achieving the birth they have prepared for?
Carrie: Feeling safe and supported during labour is vital to how the nervous system responds. Often hospital midwives are busy, so continuous emotional support comes from the birth partner. Having a partner who understands this means that a woman can focus on her baby and her body and let the process unfold. Attending independent childbirth education classes together can give partners great practical skills. Hiring a professional birth support person like a private midwife or doula has shown to reduce epidural requests, caesarean rates and also assisted deliveries. This extra support person is also there as a support for the father and will help the couple work together according to their wishes.
Where you choose to give birth is one of the most important decisions you will be making. It’s a couple’s responsibility to learn about the philosophy and services provided by obstetricians and different hospitals and then decide whether it is what they want. If you are unsure about where to give birth, keep exploring, visit other places, ask questions and talk to other women, doulas and midwives. Choose what is right for YOU, even at the last minute. Talk to your care provider about what you want every single time you see them. Understanding your options and discussing birth preferences with care providers prior to birth can help build confidence and avoid many unnecessary conversations during labour and birth.
Trust your intuition and your gut feelings, they will lead you to the right decisions.
Kate: Without a doubt – when it doesn’t feel right, it generally isn’t. So if a woman commits to developing a strong mind/body connection during their pregnancy and childbirth, do you believe this can impact on postnatal and early parenting experiences?
Carrie: Absolutely. Becoming a mother is a massive adjustment in our lives, bringing hormonal changes, breastfeeding challenges, sleep deprivation and stress. If a woman creates space in her day during pregnancy for a yoga and meditation practice, the breathing techniques she learns can then help her find focus and energy amidst all the emotions that come with motherhood. Being aware of feelings and acknowledging them can help restore the body back into balance, which meets both the needs of the new mother, and also the needs of a new baby. When the mind is calm, the body can begin to relax and baby will pick up on this softness, feeling safe and calm also. Letting go of stress mentally and physically will encourage the release of feel good hormones and having these skills means we can adapt instead of just getting through the long and sometimes lonely days.
Birth has a huge impact on how we feel as parents and the connection we have in bonding with our children. Yoga makes so much sense when it comes to birth. Physically, emotionally, mentally and also spiritually. The way a woman feels about herself during pregnancy impacts how she births, which impacts her parenting.
Kate: Thank you so much for your time, Carrie. I appreciate your fabulous words of wisdom and encouragement. To all our pregnant Mama’s or those on the path to conceiving, please investigate where your closest Hypnobirthing practitioner is located in order to support your pregnancy, birthing and parenting journey.