Pregnancy is a major life event that comes with a mix of joys and fears. Giving birth to your first child and becoming a mother is a milestone full of excitement, wonder, happiness, and change. While the happiness of meeting and holding your child for the first time is incomparable, the transition from being responsible just for you to becoming pregnant and a new mother is a big shift that can create stress and anxiety for any woman, even the most organised and adaptable of us!
A lot of attention is rightfully placed on pregnant women’s physical health, but we need to also be aware of their mental and emotional health too. Expecting mothers are now having an especially stressful time with the restrictions and social distancing measures in place for COVID 19 and the uncertainty of its implications to pregnancy and children.
According to a study on Journal of Affective Disorders, pregnancy is a time of increased vulnerability for the development of anxiety and depression, especially if there is a lack of social support, adverse events in life and high perceived stress. The right support for a woman’s emotional health before and after labour can make a difference when it comes to perinatal anxiety.
Managing Emotions During Pregnancy
Mothers-to-be often complain of tiredness, trouble sleeping and general fatigue, which can then carry on after the birth of the baby. These can be a physical effect of pregnancy and giving birth, then suddenly caring for a new-born 24/7, but it can also be the manifestation of stress in the body. Becoming more familiar with the inner workings of the body and learning how to “read” its signals can make a big difference in managing stress and emotions and supporting the health of both mother and baby.
Generally speaking, pregnant women are advised to look after themselves through movement, good nutrition and rest. Relaxation techniques such as breathing and guided meditation can be useful to become more aware of the body, to lower the intensity of labour pains and have a less stressful childbirth experience. Body awareness also helps to differentiate between different types of food cravings – sometimes food can become a crutch to deal with boredom or stress instead of indicating a nutrient deficiency.
A positive mindset can also go a long way when mentally preparing for birth and transitioning into motherhood. Fear can be the manifestation of our feelings about the unknown. We tend to imagine the worst possible scenario, but if we learn to build a positive picture in our mind of what could happen then we can better prepare ourselves for the future filled with hope, even if the details are still uncertain.
Athletes and professional sportspeople use Sophrology visualisation techniques to prepare before competitions, rehearsing their every move in their mind and body, so when it comes to the performance, the body is more relaxed and prepared, and everything feels like it has been done successfully before. This mental state is called being “in the flow”, when things fall into place and there are no fears or anxieties attached to an event.
How Sophrology Can Help Manage Stress and Anxiety during Pregnancy
Developed in the 1960s, Sophrology is a dynamic form of meditation with relaxation techniques that uniquely combine visualisation, breathwork, and gentle movement. It is a blend of different disciplines and methods, from ancient Eastern traditions to modern science. The Founder of Sophrology, Professor Alfonso Caycedo, trained as a neuropsychiatrist and spent his life exploring ways of achieving balance in body and mind through a combination of different practices.
It has been practised in Continental Europe for four decades and in France and Switzerland, women have been using Sophrology for years to prepare for pregnancy and birth. It is known to be so effective that it is even reimbursed by the Swiss and French health insurances.
Over the years pregnant women have used different techniques for birth preparation, for example, hypnobirthing, to help manage pain and anxiety during labour. Hypnosis techniques are based on achieving a sense of relaxation through suggestion, in an altered state of consciousness similar to being asleep or under local anaesthesia or mild sedation.
Sophrology operates differently from hypnosis, even though it draws some elements from it. During a Sophrology session, you are completely aware of your surroundings and in an active state of consciousness. It allows you to easily reap the benefits of meditation while performing movements, change your breathing patterns, follow guided visualisations and are in complete control of your mind and body. It also stimulates your creativity, confidence and positive outlook on events.
Sophrology For Birth Preparation
Sophrology for birth preparation supports women with all aspects of their pregnancy, from dealing with the physiological changes in their body to managing emotions such as anxiety. Sophrology can provide support and reassurance during and after pregnancy when the responsibilities of motherhood and sheer exhaustion become overwhelming.
Using breathing exercises and gentle movement together with visualisation, Sophrology is a quick and adaptable way to help women deal with some of the discomforts of pregnancy such as nausea, fatigue and sleep problems, and also creates a better bond between mother and baby, both before and after birth.
Breathing exercises have a number of beneficial effects on the body: studies found that slow, deep breathing can help lower heart rate and blood pressure, regulating the autonomic nervous system and decreasing stress levels.
A Relaxed and Aware State
Achieving a sense of relaxation allows a woman to experience childbirth with decreased levels of stress and discomfort, and feel empowered and in tune with her body.
With a regular Sophrology practice, an expectant mother can visualise a successful birth, seeing herself being able to cope with anything that happens during labour, without worrying excessively and instead, simply living the experience. The technique can be used both in natural births and medically-assisted births, with epidural injections and Caesareans.
Some women may feel terrified about giving birth for the first time and may be playing worst-case scenarios in their heads. They may feel they are not up to the challenge and fear complications. Through Sophrology relaxation exercises, they learn how to feel more empowered and serene, acknowledging that labour is a natural event with many positive emotions attached to it.
Pregnant women who practise Sophrology regularly become more confident in their abilities and can trust their body to cope with the physical strain during labour and also recover at their own pace afterwards. Recuperation is just as important in Sophrology as the main event of giving birth.
After the birth, Sophrology can help with lack of sleep, normalising sleeping patterns and recovering energy spent nursing. A more relaxed and balanced mother can take better care of her baby.
If you are planning to have a baby or are already pregnant, Sophrology offers useful tools to take you through all the steps before, during and after pregnancy. One of the resources you need most during pregnancy is the adaptability to cope with many physical and emotional changes and Sophrology has many exercises fit to help with that.
Once Sophrology becomes part of your daily life, you will find other challenges and events less daunting – Sophrology is an asset you can use in any situation to feel calm and centred.
You can find a good introduction to Sophrology in The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology and you can access many Sophrology exercises through our online course.