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Meditation
7 Minutes

Can mindful meditation be a powerful positive tool for pregnancy, birth and development?

We are the chronically stressed generation. Unfortunately, stress can potentially hurt conception, fertility and even birth and a baby’s development. The irony is trying not to be stressed often makes it worse! We need less of that and more practical tools to deal with it. The good news is the latest science is suggesting that even brief mindful mediation can have a REAL and positive effect. We take a look at the science and how to do it. 

Click here for the quick ‘how to’ if you want to take our word for it! Or read on for a quick bit about the science/how it works and why it is worth considering: 

Meditation

 

The last decade or so has seen a bit of an explosion in the research behind the power of meditation and mindfulness. Both psychologically (in terms of wellbeing and managing stress) and physically.

Furthermore, many of us are chronically stressed. Anxiety seems to touch all of us at some point. We know this can have a real impact not only on how we feel emotionally, but also on our bodies.

That being said, it is often quite hard to fight. So, anything that can have a real benefit combating this is worth checking out. 

Can meditation have a genuine impact on birth and a baby’s development?

Many of us have probably heard of Hypnobirthing. A technique used to prepare for birth/pain management. It’s also used for managing the anxiety that many of us feel in the run up to having a baby. 

For some, Hypnobirthing can sometimes be seen as a bit ‘woo woo’. However, science is increasingly suggesting there may really be something to it.

Or at least the principles behind it…. 

Here’s what you need to know (and no, this is not just about Hypnobirthing….) 

The aim of clinical hypnosis is complete relaxation. Or in more ‘sciencey’ terms: neocortical inhibition.

How does Hypnobirthing aim to achieve this/why is it important? 

There is variation of course. However, broadly techniques like visualisation, breathing and mindfulness/meditation are used.  

The thing is, whilst many people speak very positively about Hypnobirthing, the science and evidence around it is a bit lacking/mixed. More needs to be done. That being said, the Cochrane Review did find benefits for some people when it came to control of pain intensity, length of labour and maternal hospital stay. (1) So, there does seem to be something behind this… 

This is where it gets a bit more interesting…

That ‘thing’ may be rooted in some of the science behind how meditation and mindfulness works. Where there is more evidence.

Besides this, not only can this stress/low level anxiety make us feel a bit rubbish and on edge, but, it can have a physical impact. There is no point however hammering home how bad stress is. We know it! Thinking about it only makes us feel more stressed. Sigh…. 

The much better news/thing to focus on is that science is increasingly showing that even small amounts of meditation and/or mindfulness (something that is used in hypnobirthing) can have a real and positive impact on you. Then in turn your baby/future baby. 

Here is what the science suggests could be behind the power of meditation for this stage in your life: 

So, most of us (especially those who are stressed) know about the hormonal mechanism that can allow stress to run riot. Many of us have now heard of Cortisol and particularly the effects on our bodies when we have too much of it. Click here for more. 

Cortisol is a product of one of the major systems involved in stress response and its regulation. This system is known as the HPA axis. This system is activated during stress/threat and studies have looked at it’s end product: Cortisol as an endocrinological marker of stress and anxiety (5). 

Meditation and mindfulness is thought to act directly on this Axis (2) 

In fact, ‘numerous studies have found that meditation may reduce the stress response and lower cortisol’ by regulating the HPA axis (2).

This also applies to stress during/before pregnancy: 

It has been suggested that activation of the HPA axis is one of the main biological mechanisms underlying the effects of prenatal stress (5). 

In addition to this research is suggesting other benefits. Specifically the fact that not only can meditation/mindfulness help regulate this hormonal feedback loop, but, it has also shown some evidence of increasing DHEAS.

What is this and why does it matter? 

This is the major secretory product of the human adrenal and acts as a buffer against stress related hormones. (2) 

Ok….so why should we be practising meditation? 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a reproductive endocrinologist!) to know that reducing stress, anxiety and its physical effects is good for you and a baby/future baby. Not only during pregnancy and for breastfeeding (stress isn’t good for milk production). Also for conception.

The body is smart: when it believes we are under ‘threat’ it diverts resource away from our reproductive organs and to heart and limbs (fight or flight). It isn’t super keen bringing a child into an unsafe environment. Click here for more. 

Meditation during pregnancy could also very important: 

We know that the mother’s cortisol can pass through the placenta. In fact, studies have shown that it can impact the baby’s amniotic cortisol concentration by as much as 40%. Research shows that this can impact HPA axis development and possible stress response. Animal studies even suggest it can impact the placenta’s functionality. (5) 

It has also been said to play a role in birth weight and development (particularly when at the extremes). (4, 5) Further, our old friend Epigenetics (how the environment impacts which genes are essentially turned ‘on’ or ‘off’) click here for more, also suggests that stress during pregnancy can have an impact gene expression. 

Here’s the good news! Yaaas! 

Meditation and mindfulness demonstrate real benefit in tangibly reducing cortisol and regulating this HPA axis. Even better, research suggests you don’t need to become a Tibetan monk to have a significant benefit. In fact, a more recent paper published by a group of scientists in ‘Frontiers in Neuroscience’ suggested that as little as 10-15 minutes a day can have a benefit. Whoot! 

So, here is the quick and easy way that meditation could have a positive impact for you and your baby: 

Taking a step back. The terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ are thrown around quite a bit. What does it mean in this context?

Well this particular study talked of the core concept of mindfulness as ‘paying attention to the present moment and attaining a state of consciousness in a non judgemental and accepting manner’. (2)

 Their study showed that four days of mindfulness meditation (20 mins daily) reduced negative feelings such as fatigue and anxiety. 

Even just ten minutes meditation can make a difference: 

The researchers show that a single 10 minute mindful intervention or a 15 minute focused breathing meditation may immediately reduce the intensity and negativity of emotional responses. Pretty good for those of us who have no time!

They echo the point that: numerous studies have found that meditation may reduce the stress response and reduce cortisol:

‘Our unpublished research also verified that brief mindful meditation may reduce salivary cortisol levels’. (2) 

Bottom line? 

There is real evidence that mindfulness and meditation can help your emotional and physical stage at any point in your life. For our purposes: it is showing a real benefit regulating the mechanisms that can cause us challenges when it comes to conception and having a healthy baby.

The good news: You can do it in a way that suits you. Whether it be just 10-15 minutes of mindfulness/meditation or getting involved in hypnobirthing which uses these techniques. The research does suggest a potential benefit. The good news is that you can find ways that suit you as an individual. 

Here is the ‘how to’: 

There are many ways to do this. It is about finding the right way for you! Click here for more of the ‘how to’ from our resident expert Emmy Brunner. 

References:

1) Madden K, Middleton P, China AM: Hypnosis for pain management during labour and childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14. 

2) Wu R, Lin-Lin L, Jiang C-L: Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Emption Processing: Frontiers in Neuroscience: 2019: 13: 1074. 

3) Nazzari S, Fearon P, Rice F: Beyond they HPA-axis: Exploring maternal prenatal influences on birth outcomes and stress reactivity: Psychoneuroendocrinology: 2019 Mar; 101:253-262. 

4) Isgut M, Smith AK, Reimann ES: The impact of psychological distress during pregnancy on the developing foetus: biological mechanisms and the potential benefits of mindfulness interventions: Journal of Perinatal Medicine: 2017: Dec: 20; 45 

5) Baibazarova E, Van De Beek C, Cohen-Kettenis PT,: Influence of prenatal maternal stress, maternal plasma cortisol and cortisol in the amniotic fluid on birth outcomes and child temperament. Psychoneuroendocrinology: 2012. 

6) Coussons-Read ME: Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: mechanisms and pathways: Obstetric Medicine: 2013 Jun. 

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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