I’m the mother of a toddler in Brooklyn and a small business owner. My pregnancy, back in 2013, wasn’t easy. My husband and I conceived faster than we expected, right after we bought a house in a neighborhood I was apprehensive about, and I was now unable to enjoy my beloved glass of wine at the end of a long day. It was all so quick and overwhelming. Exercise always calmed me, but in my first trimester, I was too exhausted emotionally and physically to even get off the couch, let alone to lift and tuck at barre class.
That’s when meditation came along. In November 2013, I participated in Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience. After just a few weeks, I was hooked. I found meditation to be a very important tool to help me simply be and to accept the physical and mental discomforts of pregnancy. “Mindfulness is meeting our lives one moment at a time and that is something we can always do,” explains Melissa McKay, teacher at MNDFL Meditation Studio in New York City.
Meditation lets us be kind to ourselves and is a crucial part of self-love. Though it won’t necessarily change the intensity or frequency of pregnancy symptoms, it can alter your approach and reaction. Here are 5 ways meditation can help with some of the most common pregnancy struggles.
1. Morning Sickness. Let’s first acknowledge that “morning sickness” is actually a catchall term for sickness that occurs throughout the day. According to Simple Habit meditation teacher Andy Hobson, you can use meditation to cultivate more awareness and to work with morning sickness in the same way you would with any other unpleasant feeling or sensation in the body. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted and sit comfortably for 5-10 minutes. Hobson suggests starting with a curiosity about where your morning sickness shows up in your body, how it moves, how it changes in intensity at different times. Then mentally give it a shape or a color to better acknowledge its existence. With practice, this awareness really will lead to a new kind of acceptance.
2. Insomnia. Sleeping during pregnancy isn’t comfortable. Period. You find a comfortable position that works one hour, and then your baby moves, or grows or both, and you’re uncomfortable again. We also struggle to fall asleep because we have so much to think about. And to make it worse, everyone preaches, “Sleep while you can!”. Clearly this cycle won't make us sleep better or more; but meditation and cultivating awareness can give you the mental tools that you need to reground yourselves. Just focus on your breathing and on feeling your physical body resting in bed. My favorite meditation before bed is a simple body scan: concentrate on different areas of your body, and tense and release. Depending on how deep of a sleeper your partner is, you can also do a cleansing audible “ahhhhhh” exhale -- similar to a lion’s breath in yoga. It will allow you to sink deeper into the present moment.
3. Depression and anxiety. Pregnancy messes with our hormones in unimaginable ways, and it’s difficult to isolate the variables when it comes to our prenatal moods. When we are able to meet our lives one moment at a time through meditation, as McKay says, we learn to experience the impermanence of emotions -- even the most intense ones. I love to think about flying in an airplane. Regardless of the weather below, when you’re flying above the clouds it’s always sunny. The clouds are our emotions, and they are present in our journey, but do not have to define it.
4. Heartburn. Heartburn is incredibly common during pregnancy as a result of increased acid reflux and less space in the stomach. Deep breathing is the foundation of any mindfulness practice, and it activates the relaxation response that massages the digestive organs. Try taking a long and slow inhalation, starting with a count of 4 or 5, and take an even longer exhalation. As you repeat this, try to increase the counts so that every time you’re exhaling longer and longer. Relax the belly and envision bringing the breath all the way down to your core. You will likely feel your mind quiet after just a few rounds.
5. BONUS TIP: Labor + Delivery Pain. My meditation practice, which was highly influenced by Nancy Bardacke's Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, was incredibly helpful during my labor and delivery. I was able to be present and find joy in the stillness between contractions, as opposed to anticipating what is ahead. Yes, a lot of my labor and delivery is a blur at this point, but I distinctly remember those moments in between my late (and intense) contractions and my serene focus on the calm.
Janna Meyrowitz Turner is the founder of Style House, a lifestyle communications, content, brand strategy and PR firm in New York City that was recently honored by Observer.com as one of New York’s Top 5 Specialty PR Agencies for Beauty. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Ethan, and their son Harley.