5 Ways Breathwork Can Support A Mindful Pregnancy
The breath is the foundation of every mindfulness practice, and it is also the foundation of life. Establishing a relationship with your breath, especially while pregnant, will have lasting effects for you and the child you are bringing into the world.
One of the most important responsibilities during pregnancy is to keep the nervous system regulated, which in turn regulates the system that is being built in utero. Another essential aspect of pregnancy is to strengthen, and in some cases cultivate, connection and communication between the mother and her growing baby. As a breathwork teacher who has worked with countless pregnant mamas, I often hear that being able to access a relaxed and interconnected state is their most common goal.
Some of the biggest issues facing modern mothers are the stressors of feeling like they have to do it all, the disconnect they often feel from their bodies, their pregnancies, and fears surrounding labor and childbirth. As a new mama on the scene, I can attest to how real the stress and fears feel and how much they have taught me about the need to slow down and self-regulate in a more substantial way. During pregnancy, the body changes rapidly, creating an entirely new human in just about nine months. As these changes unfold, there is something new to learn, process, and integrate at each stage of development.
Thankfully, there are many ways that breathwork can support a mindful pregnancy that are easy to incorporate, very effective, and allow more space for relaxation and connection:
1. Reduce stress.
It's true, pregnancy can be stressful. There is much to navigate with the physical, as well as the emotional and mental, changes that take place. This is a very transformational time in a woman's life. Developing a daily breathwork routine will help her access her parasympathetic nervous system so that she can stay clear, regulated, and handle the myriad of changes she will face during pregnancy and throughout parenthood. When expectant mothers are able to self-regulate through a simple breathwork practice, that relaxed state imprints on their growing baby and they in turn co-regulate each other.
2. Increase sense of connection to self and baby.
I've heard from many new mothers, especially in early pregnancy, that they don't feel connected to themselves or the little one(s) developing inside of them. It's very common to experience a range of emotions during pregnancy, and many of my clients didn't make a big connection to their babe until their first ultrasound. There is something transformative that takes hold when you get to actually see the child your body is creating.
Having experienced this disconnection myself in the first trimester, I can attest that doubling up on my breathwork practices helped a great deal. I suggest making it a point to connect to your breath for a few minutes three to five times a day to give your body, psyche, and the babe inside plenty of opportunities to synch up with one another. It's important to incorporate this practice with as little expectation and judgment as possible. Give yourself space and time to simply be with your breath, yourself, and your babe, and the connection will form and strengthen over time.
3. Communicate with baby.
Up until fairly recently, the majority of science around babies in utero is that they had no connection to their mothers and had no way to communicate with them. Now that science has caught up with what mothers and midwives have known for ages, we have research that shows1 the very real connections between mother and the little one(s) in utero.
The easiest way to communicate with babies in utero is from a relaxed state. Taking time each day to practice extending your exhales is the quickest way to shift into a parasympathetic state, which allows your body to be in a rest-and-digest mode. When the body shifts into this slower pace, it gives you clarity and space to open lines of communication with your babe.
Babies' nervous systems operate at a much slower pace, even though they begin developing just 16 days after conception, when the foundation of your baby's brain and spinal cord are being laid down. Taking this into account, it's understandable that cultivating a relaxed state on a regular basis is important. From this state, it is much easier to tune into the energy of your baby and communicate with them through reading, talking, soft music, or even gently rubbing your belly. You might find yourself surprised by how much your baby wants to communicate with you, as well.
4. Prepare for birth.
One of the most important aspects of birth is being able to soften and relax your body. No matter what type of birth you are having, tension and stress trapped in the body make for a more difficult delivery and recovery. Taking time each day to practice regulating your nervous system and accessing a relaxed state will be a huge support throughout your pregnancy and into labor.
Many women I work with are very scared of labor and childbirth. Addressing each of their fears in their minds and bodies is a key component of preparing for birth. Breathwork can be an incredible tool for becoming aware of tension in the body as well as releasing it. One simple way to begin practicing this is to incorporate a body scan at the beginning of your breathwork practice. From there, choose one area in your body where you feel tension. Explore that area with curiosity and openness. When you are ready, begin to lengthen your inhales and exhales (through the nose) as you keep a gentle awareness on that place of tension. Continue to practice until the tension has shifted.
Keep in mind that even a 10 percent reduction in discomfort is progress. Go slowly and give your body the time and space it needs to dissolve the tension when it feels safe enough to do so. I encourage my clients to practice this on a daily basis as an add-on to their current breathwork routine.
5. Find relief postpartum.
Postpartum can be a very challenging time for new mothers. Not only does the body go through a major drop in hormones, but the sudden shift in attention from the mother to baby, and the ongoing demands on the mother's body and energy, can become overwhelming to navigate, especially in the first few months. Postpartum can also be a time of deep connection, excitement, and expansion of the heart. Most of my clients go through a range of experiences, and having an established breathwork practice provides calm and solace in the new months of parenthood.
After birth, it's very helpful to incorporate a gentle breathwork practice that will support your body to recalibrate and realign itself. It can be difficult in the early weeks, especially after a cesarean birth, to reconnect with your body. The key here is to go slowly and listen to the needs of your body, trusting that when you are ready to come back to your practices, you will. Please note that some women do experience shortness of breath after delivery as a result of organs not realigning. If you or someone you know has this experience or feels chest pain, palpitations, light-headedness, or dizziness, I suggest finding a good local osteopath in your area who can support you and your body through this transition.
In addition to realigning the body, breathwork postpartum supports emotional and mental health, as well. Making sure that your recovering body is getting plenty of nourishing oxygen and rest are key to restoration on all levels. When you are ready to reestablish your breathwork practice, I suggest slow inhales and exhales in and out of the nose to begin. This will help renew your mind and body and give your emotions a place to be felt. I am also a big supporter of this type of slow, intentional breathing while breastfeeding, which gives you and babe an opportunity to be in synch and co-regulate each other.
Ashley Neese is a Los Angeles-based breathwork teacher and the author of How to Breathe: 25 Simple Practices for Calm, Joy, and Resilience. She has studied with some of the world’s leading masters in yoga, meditation, medical intuition and somatic therapy, and also has a bachelor's and master's in printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art and California College of the Arts, respectively. She is also a 200-hour registered yoga teacher (E-RYT). Neese draws from her diver background to guide people back into their bodies, where they learn how to cultivate resilience and develop relational intelligence beyond the cognitive mind. She is in currently practices in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.