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Mindful Birthing: A Q&A for Expecting Parents

Published on: December 30, 2013


Editor's Note: ParentMap regularly profiles experts and health-care providers working in the pregnancy, birthing and child-rearing fields to bring you new information, guidance and expertise. Here, practitioners Becca Calhoun, Maggie Bolton and Laura Cardinal answer questions about Mindful Birthing. Find more coverage of pregnancy, fertility and new babies at BabyMap.

What is mindful birthing? Is it a new approach?

Mindful birthing is a childbirth education program that teaches skills to work with the profound changes of pregnancy, birth and the transition to parenthood. Mindfulness (the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally) enables us cope more gracefully with the stresses of life and parenting, allowing us to experience pregnancy, birth and parenting more fully.

The formal name of the program is Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) and it is an adaptation of Mindfulnes-Based Stress Reduction, developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Nancy Bardacke, Certified Nurse Midwife, the developer of the MBCP program and author of Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, has been teaching it in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1998. We are excited that this program will now be offered in the Pacific Northwest.

Is this a technique that can be used with any kind of birth  hospital, birth center, home, medicated, non-medicated, C-section?

Absolutely. People who take the course choose a variety of birth settings — hospitals, homes and birth centers. Choosing a place to birth where you feel comfortable is important and being aware of your intention to use pain medication or not can also be helpful. However, the reality is, no one knows exactly how a birth will unfold. Learning how to access inner resources to work with the experience of birth, moment-by-moment, however it unfolds, can reduce anxiety and pain, increase confidence, and help to cultivate a lifelong inner skill for health living, wise parenting, and loving partnership.

It is important to remember that a C-section is a birth experience as well and an experience that you can be fully present for in a way that welcomes a baby into the world. It is not unusual for women to have some post-surgical pain, and the practices learned in Mindful Birthing can be very helpful for coping with pain, enhancing healing in the postpartum period, and for breastfeeding.

What is the connection between mindful birthing and meditation?

In the class, many meditation practices are introduced, including gentle yoga, body awareness, and sitting meditation, all of which will be practiced in class. Participants are encouraged to practice the meditations taught in class daily, as the most important insights will come from experience with the practice. Daily meditation practice is hard work! Childbirth and parenting are hard work, too, and a daily practice can be an anchor in difficult moments. Daily meditation practice is like weaving a parachute so that when life gets difficult or stressful, there are resources to make the fall more gentle and the landing softer. Likewise, the practice can support us in being present for the incredibly joyful moments that arise during the birth process and parenting.

What is the partner's role?mindful-parenting

Partners are also having a birth experience and are transitioning into parenthood (or other supportive roles) and will come to understand that they, too, can benefit from cultivating mindfulness skills. Partners participate fully in the class, including the meditation practices. Partners often find confidence in how to support their partner during birth and also report finding inner resources to cope with work and financial stress, and the joys and challenges of parenting.

What kind of moms are seeking mindful birthing?

This class can be helpful for any pregnant woman, as the skills learned help us to find ways to be present with whatever arises during pregnancy and birth. Often, pregnant women and their partners will suddenly need to figure out how to cope with any number of challenges — an abnormal genetic screening, a medical condition that makes them high risk, finding out the baby is breech, twins, an unexpected C-section, a challenging interaction with a provider, difficulty with breastfeeding, postpartum depression. Mindful Birthing provides skills to help expectant parents work with the many unknowns of this process. A common denominator in the classroom seems to be that most of the women who are taking the class are looking for ways to be more present during this profound transition into parenting and in their life more generally.

Additionally, many participants report finding much joy and support in meeting other expectant parents, who are also learning these skills and preparing for parenting. Many class groups have stayed together for years after the MBCP course and are raising their children together.

Do the tools learned extend to parenthood?

Yes, very much so. This is why the class includes “parenting” right in the formal name. The skills taught in this class intentionally apply not only to birth, but also to the amazing ups and downs of parenting. Most participants in the class report a greater sense of clarity and appreciate the skills that they have cultivated for the journey of parenthood.

What in your opinion is the connection between a mother's "mindset" before and during childbirth and the outcome of that birth?newborn1

We know that the hormones that control the labor process all come from the brain. And, we know how the body responds to stress — with adrenaline — which stimulates the fight-or-flight response. Mindfulness can be helpful in reducing stress and keeping us in the "calm and connection" system, which encourages oxytocin release. This may allow for labor to progress more smoothly or, if complications arise, allow for a greater sense of well-being and an ability to cope with uncertainty.

How is this different than hypnobirthing, Bradley and other methods?

It is a gift that in today’s educational setting around childbirth there are myriad choices for families and we strongly encourage families to find the program that resonates with them. There are many ways to work with the mind to cope with the intense physical sensations of childbirth we usually call pain. In MBCP, we learn to work with pain, but we also learn ways to live each moment fully, to be aware of our automatic reactions and learn ways that we can notice these reactions and make conscious choices to gently respond to them. MBCP teaches us to live our lives with more kindness, clarity and wisdom and extends into the realm of parenting where these characteristics can help us to parent in a way that allows us to be fully present for our children — giving them the gift of parents who really see them as they are.

For classes in the greater Seattle area, contact:

Maggie Bolton, CNM

Becca Calhoun, MPH

Northwest Mindful Birthing & Parenting

For classes in the Bellingham and Mount Vernon areas, contact:

Laura Cardinal, MSW, LICSW

Mindful Families Northwest

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