Scared about giving birth? It's possible to get relief from labour pains by using effective mind-over-matter techniques, explains Carolyn Cox.
When I was in labour with my second son, I spent the first few hours of contractions in my bathtub, meditating. It was warm, comfortable and relaxing - which was just as well, as my 18-month-old, who was watching a DVD in the lounge, kept popping in for visits while my dear partner headed to work to finish "a few important things" so he could take the next two weeks off. Had I not been too chilled-out from meditating to be bothered, I would have read him the Riot Act. My contractions were strong and regular and progressed quickly. By lunchtime, they were only five minutes apart and getting really strong. From this stage on, I focused on repeating my sutra and imagining my body opening downwards. My contractions started at 7.30am, I left for the hospital at 1.30pm and by 3.40pm my son had been born.
I've been meditating for 18 years and in my experience, pregnancy is the perfect time to learn how to do it. Being able to access your inner calm not only improves your physical health, it also improves your mental state and your ability to deal with the stresses of being a new parent. And as I know from first-hand experience, meditation can also be an important tool in your labour pain relief kit.
Pregnant or labouring women can and should meditate where they want, when they want and for as long as they want. But if you're prone to falling asleep during meditation, make sure you're not in the bath, or make sure someone stays with you at all times. If you suffer from depression, high blood pressure, or are just feeling anxious about giving birth, meditation can really help you.
How does meditation relieve labour pain?
When you get anxious, worried or stressed, your body produces stress hormones and your instinctive "fight or flight" mechanism kicks in. These hormones can suppress important biological functions in order to shift energy into muscle systems, basically readying your body to run away from whatever threat you are facing. This stress response actually lowers your tolerance of pain. Meditation does the opposite, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure, lowering your anxiety levels and reducing the level of stress hormones in your body - all of which help to alleviate pain and can also help you avoid the need for pain-relieving drugs.
A Manchester University study found that while meditation doesn't change the actual sensory experience of pain, it does reduce your emotional response. Often it is not the pain itself but the fear of pain that is so problematic. The emotions and the feelings of powerlessness created when we feel fear can create a sense of panic and stress that only heightens the physical sensation of pain. Meditation, in contrast, reduces these feelings and therefore the unpleasantness of pain.
The other good news for expectant mums is that you don't need years of meditation experience to benefit from this natural pain relief. Research has found that even very brief meditation training can improve your perception of pain.
How can meditation support me during labour?
Entering a meditative state helps you to relax and trust your body. It allows your mind to loosen its need to control and lessens the physical and chemical tensions you create when you are stressed or worried. In effect, you are helping your body to help itself. Through the use of a sutra, or repeated affirmation, you get your worrying mind out of the way and start to use your mind constructively. Every cell in your body and in your baby's body is responsive to positive energy and thought. By envisioning an ideal birth experience, you actively call for every cell within your body to support this intention. This is the conscious, enlightened way of living that we all aspire to.
You can meditate for as long as you want when you are pregnant or in labour. You do not need to be seated or cross-legged; find the position that is comfortable for you and change it as you need to. You are free to move around and make noise. In a meditative state, with the added boost of the labour hormones you are receiving, your ability to tap into your own intuition and your own body is really heightened, so follow those feelings or ideas as they come. If you feel like standing and leaning against something, or even walking, you should do it. Your lead maternity carer (LMC) will have good suggestions for positions that will help your labour progress and help you feel more comfortable.
For meditation during labour, I recommend the use of an affIrmation or sutra that has meaning for you. Gently repeat your sutra as a thought in your head, or say it softly aloud. When I was in labour with my second son, I used "I am relaxing and opening. I am opening and relaxing" at the beginning and throughout my labour. And in the fInal stages, "I can do this. I can do this." At the same time, I imagined my body relaxing down and my cervix opening. Sorry if that's too much information, but you get the idea!
Decide on a sutra that works for you. Make it personal, short and positive, and as if it has already happened or is happening. Try an affIrmation such as, "I am relaxed and calm", "my body knows exactly what to do", "I am strong and calm", or "I am full of energy."
You may find that different but equally positive and powerful words come to mind - this is your inner guidance at work, so just trust it and follow these leads. We are all intuitive by nature and this is heightened at special times, such as during labour.
Can I meditate while pushing?
Personally, I don't think I managed to stay in what you would describe as a "transcended meditative state" for the final stage of either of my children's births - it was more like a "completely focused on giving birth state"! This stage was purely physical. For many of us who have intimately controlled and orchestrated every detail of our lives, giving over control and trusting your body can be frightening. Don't fall into the trap of saying, "I can't do this." Instead, try, "I can do this. I can do this!" and repeat often! Remember the story of 'The Little Engine That Could'? Well, so can you.
Listen to your LMC in these final stages. Make sure you discuss your desire to meditate and use affirmations as part of your birth plan. It may help to repeat aloud the words which support your LMC's verbal instructions to wait, or push or breathe.
Meditation has so many benefits, I highly recommend doing a class and getting into the habit of meditating daily during your pregnancy. Meditation can help make childbirth a more positive, less stressful experience, and will also help you cope much better with the demands of being a parent.
Meditation for childbirth
Carolyn Cox has been practising meditation for 18 years. She is a Reiki master and mother of two. Carolyn is passionate about giving mums the skills they need to access their own inner wisdom. She teaches meditation and spiritual survival skills for mums in Auckland. Visit www.spiritualsurvival.co.nz to learn more about Carolyn and her work.