Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Pregnancy Anxiety and Depression

Mindfulness Meditation

If the fear of going through labor is making you anxious or depressed, don’t get down on yourself. These are common feelings. Pregnancy can be a blessing and a joy, but it is also scary, especially for first time mothers. In fact, according to a survey done by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 52 percent of women report an increase in anxiety or depression during pregnancy.

A recent study, published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, found that first-time moms who added a short course in mindfulness to their childbirth education course had less anxiety about childbirth. They were less likely to suffer from postpartum depression than women who took the standard preparation course. They were also less likely to need an opioid pain medication during labor.

This study supports previous studies that found mindfulness meditation practices to be a safe and effective way to reduce anxiety, pain, and depression. If you find yourself obsessing about labor pain to the point where you become anxious or depressed, managing these symptoms can be important for both you and your baby. Studies show that fear of childbirth – especially in first-time mothers – increases the risk of Cesarean section and postpartum depression.

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness at its most basic level is a process of quieting your mind by focusing on the present moment. Meditation is a practice that helps you learn to develop mindfulness. There are many ways to practice. Meditation can be done for long periods, short periods, while sitting, breathing, chanting a mantra, or walking.

When you learn to achieve a state of mindfulness, you become more aware of sights, sounds, and smells. Thoughts and emotions are allowed to come and go. You learn not to follow these thoughts and emotions; you just let them pass without judgement. Over time, your mind clears and these thoughts and emotions no longer control you. This is not as easy as it sounds, that is why meditation needs to be practiced.

In the BMC study, the first time mothers were taught sitting meditation, yoga, and walking meditation. They were also asked to hold and ice cube while concentrating on their breathing to learn how to control an unpleasant sensation. All of the meditations and mindfulness techniques are designed to find inner resources of strength that we all have.

Does Mindfulness Really Work?

Meditation and other mindfulness practices like yoga have been around for thousands of years. Millions of people have found benefits.  The fact that these practices have endured for so long and have now spread widely into our modern culture is a strong recommendation, but what do the studies show?

It is easy to be skeptical. How can sitting quietly do anything but waste valuable time? Meditation and mindfulness are hard to study. The benefits are not easily measured. But lots of studies have been done and the weight of the evidence is impressive. Neurological studies suggest that mindfulness and mediation can change areas of the brain over time. These areas are the parts of the brain that control feelings, pain, and emotions.

A review of 47 strong studies on meditation, involving over 3,500 people, was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The review found evidence that mindfulness meditation programs, given under controlled condition, do improve levels of anxiety, depression, and pain. The authors concluded that there is enough evidence of these benefits for clinicians to learn about meditation programs and to talk to their patients about them.

How to Add Mindfulness Meditation to Your Prenatal Care

Ask your prenatal care providers if there is a meditation program or group you can join. This might be especially important if you are struggling with fears of labor or if you have a history of being anxious or depressed. But anyone can benefit from meditation to reduce stress. There may be a Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Program (MBCP) near you.

Finally, I’m sure you know that stress continues after pregnancy. It is part of every life. You can use the skills you learn in meditation for the rest of your life. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a program developed at the University of Massachusetts by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Since 1979, this program has spread through the country and around the world. It is offered at hundreds of university hospitals and clinics. Once you develop your own mindfulness practice, you may find that your quality of life becomes better. Millions of people have had this experience. Chances are there is a MBSR program available near you.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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