Relax During Pregnancy and Birth

Note: I am using the principles, values, and practices of Taoism, and of its martial art Tai Chi. Taoism is not a religion, and I am not asking you to practice Tai Chi. I found a wonderful correlation between what I studied in Taoism and my own deep thoughts around what I believe is essential to practice “right parenting.” Whatever religion (or non-religion) or spiritual path you ascribe to, you will find compatible with the ideas I share with you here. I would love to hear about your experiences with every principle and value I write about.

Use Controlled Belly Breathing (see previous post)

Partners can participate together in this practice. After the baby is born, massage will be as much a part of your daily routine as changing diapers, so now is a good time to slow down and make that time. It is the beginning of your conscious choice to spend loving, listening time with your child your day’s most important priority.

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The Prenatal Environment

Dr. Bruce Lipton, in an article on maternal emotions and the development of the prenatal infant, says, “The information relayed by the mother to the fetus concerns the status of the environment. The mother’s attitudes about life convey this status. The mother’s emotions, such as fear,  anger, love, hope, among others, can biochemically alter the genetic expression of the offspring . . . The mother’s blood-borne emotional chemicals cross the placenta and affect the same target cell in the fetus as those in the parent.”

An article in Science Magazine is 1996 reveals that parents pass more on to their infants than their genes. Studies revealed that maternal emotions can profoundly enhance the baby’s chances for thriving and even influence its ability to adapt to the environment. Recent evidence suggests that even though a child may be affected by specific genetic defects, such as Tourette’s syndrome, non-genetic factors such as the prenatal environment, modify the degree of severity of a gene’s defect.

More and more we are finding that parents affect their babies even before conception. For example, a father who smokes damages his sperm and passes a higher risk of childhood cancer to his offspring. Research consistently supports the idea that even before birth an infant is profoundly affected by its parents’ activities and emotions. Being as relaxed, happy, well nourished, and as stress free as possible gives your baby the best possible start in life.

Massage and Self-Massage Important for Pregnancy

In every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact is essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the parent’s ability to nurture. In studies with rats, if researchers restrained pregnant females from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. In many studies, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply. Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans.

Mothers Who Experience Stress and Anxiety During Pregnancy 

‘More likely to have babies who cry for longer’

According to the latest research, women who experience stress, worry or panic attacks before and/or during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to report that their babies cried excessively. Experts suggest an infant’s excessive crying, if not from digestive or other physiological problems, may be due to the mother’s production of stress hormones during pregnancy, which cross the placenta and affect the development of a baby’s brain. A parenting specialist, Dr. Clare Bailey, said: “Mothers can easily get into a traumatic negative cycle when worrying about a newborn. The more they worry, the less they sleep and calm themselves, and the more they worry. Anxiety can make them hyper vigilant, distressed by crying, and they can feel rejected by their babies. It intuitively sounds likely that a calm mother who feels relaxed, comfortable and confident will be more likely to help a baby to self-settle. Babies can pick up emotional cues very early on.”

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at nearly 300 women who were in the early stages of pregnancy. Researchers asked about their history of anxiety and depression, and interviewed them during their pregnancy and until their children were 16 months old. Ten percent of women with anxiety disorders reported excessive crying following the birth. Further analysis found that babies born to women with an anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to cry for longer periods.

Massage During Pregnancy and Infant Massage Reduce Babies’ Crying

It is possible for stress hormones to cross the placenta and contribute to an infant’s crying spells. Infant Massage addresses this by 1. helping the baby’s gastrointestinal system mature, 2. addressing the baby’s (and a mother’s) need for close, loving contact, and 3. helping mothers feel empowered to help their infants feel secure, loved, and attached.

Loving Massage During Pregnancy Benefits Both Mom and Baby

Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies are filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

Preparing for the Birth of Your Baby

Taking a childbirth education class together can help both you and your partner prepare for the baby’s arrival. Practicing the relaxation and breathing techniques at home can slow you down enough to begin talking about the deeper issue of what each of you feel is important that this child receive. You may each want to make a parenting mission statement and compare notes, combining your ideas into a new mission statement that encompasses both.

Long warm baths, massages, and periods of deep relaxation each day can help you sort out all the information coming your way and to feel what it is this baby needs and what your soul has chosen to learn by being this baby’s parent. If this isn’t your first child, dedicating time to relaxation is not so easy; it is necessary that a partner supports, values, and participates in activities to help you relax and connect with your new baby.

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Try to imagine different scenarios and how you might handle them.

For example:

— What if your baby hardly ever sleeps through the night?

— Are you going to breastfeed? If so, how might you change your diet to help support a balanced state of mind and body?

— Are you going to have someone else minding the baby? If so, look closely at the character of that person. Is he or she the kind of person who easily adapts to changes of mood, who easily incorporates babies into the world, who is unruffled by noise and chaos? Can that person relate to the deeper issues we are discussing here?

— What if your baby needs to be held much of the time? Are you and/or your partner willing to cooperate in “baby-wearing”?

— Who will massage the baby, and when? Read books on the subject and discuss them with each other — not just logistics, but the concepts they encompass with regard to your family’s future habits of interaction.

— What if the baby has health problems that change your plans? How can you still hold to the principle of relaxation?

— What if you find yourself suffering with postpartum depression? Do you have a therapist or healer who can help you with this?

— Very few parents take the time to reflect on these things — and yet discussing things like this is tremendously helpful in the months and years ahead.

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The Qualities of Water

Using the Taoist meditation on the qualities of water helped me throughout my parenting years, but especially during my pregnancies and the first year of life for my children.  During my pregnancies I spent a lot of time in warm water, relaxing and floating, getting in touch with my baby on a deep inner level and relaxing my body through the weightlessness. I thought about the water’s fluidity and flexibility, and how when a bit dripped from my finger, not only did it join the whole, but it made ripples that spread outward to the limits of the water. I knew, with a deep inner certainty, that I could be that “drop” in my children’s lives and thereby affect the world.

Water Nourishes Without Needing to be Nourished

Water is the most yielding of all things, yet it can overwhelm that which is most hard — rock. Water nourishes without needing to be nourished. Like water, which nourishes all things without discrimination and without needing anything in return, good parents give selflessly to their children. They provide for their children’s physical welfare, intellectual growth, emotional security, and spiritual connection without expecting anything in return. They are willing to sacrifice, if necessary, so their children may grow and prosper. The “martyr”parent, who exacts payment in guilt for every sacrifice, is not part of this paradigm. We remember that every principle contains its polarity in seed form, and we can catch ourselves before fatigue or frustration goad us to shame our children for requiring so much of us.

Water Flows into Places Where There is Seemingly No Room

Water flows into places where there is seemingly no room. Rigid things can’t do this. Only that which is relaxed, yielding, and fluid can go into places of seemingly no space and be effective there. To get to this type of receptivity, a practice of conscious relaxation is a must. The single most effective thing most of us can learn is simply how to breathe deeply into our bellies and relax. When an individual dipper of water is placed into the ocean, it merges with the ocean as if separation never existed. Studying the qualities of water can give us important clues about how to relax and yield.

Practice Selfless Giving

Ideally, marriage prepares us for the bigger sacrifices required when children come along. We have the opportunity to practice selfless giving, to test and stretch ourselves, and to explore our programming. We may consider ourselves giving people, but sometimes when confronted by the stress of another’s need we discover how limited our patience can be. We may find ourselves doing and saying things that precisely echo the voices of our parents’ mistakes. But how do we then think and act to correct our course? It is exactly at those moments when we are most un-Godlike that we have the opportunity to choose to grow toward oneness rather than separation. So, the idea is not to suddenly (or ever) become the perfect parent; rather, it is to use parenting as our path — and discover, along the way, the excitement of a journey that gives us real opportunities to become what we wish to be.

Take Time for Personal Spiritual Renewal

Where do we get all this strength, if we are to endlessly give and provide? Again, water is our model. There is an ocean of consciousness from which all things are created. Some call it God or Goddess, some call it the Great Spirit or higher self; Taoist call it the Tao (pronounced dow) or the Way. Yielding like a cup of water yields to the ocean, we merge our consciousness into the great, eternal consciousness that creates and maintains all things, forever. Thus our strength is omnipotent, our well never runs dry. Wise parents take time for personal spiritual renewal so that the strength upon which we rest is that of the infinite source of our being.

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Explore All Your Birthing Options

Because of some birth defects of my own, I had to give birth by Cesarean section and, back then, my choices were few. But I was able to remain awake and alert during their births and to hold and nurse them right away. Getting home as soon as possible was important to me, to get my babies into the kind of atmosphere I wanted for them right away. I encourage you to explore all your birthing options and choose those that feel right, comfortable, and good for you. Also consider that fate has a way of intervening, and that if things don’t go exactly as you wish, you still have plenty of time, choices, and opportunities to follow through on your principles.

© 2014 Vimala McClure

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