Mindfulness Practices with a New Baby
By Ann Brand, Ph.D
The joys of a new baby in the house! The warmth, the smells, the cuddles, the awe this new life inspires! What a wonderful time of parenthood! But wait, there is also exhaustion, overwhelm, anxiety, frustration, and sadness. When we feel these challenging emotions as a new parent, it can feel like we are doing something wrong. Aren’t we supposed to be experiencing pure bliss? Mindfulness practices can offer a way to be with these typical challenges with more ease and assist us in gathering the resources and support we need to navigate both the joys and challenges of the postpartum period.
Managing stresses: Overwhelm with new responsibilities, lack of sleep, and changing hormones can lead to a great deal of mental, emotional, and physical stress. Simple mindfulness practices like taking three, deep belly breaths can help us calm down our nervous system, slow the racing mind, and help us to be more present. Taking time during feeding baby to focus on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of the body not only soothes your nervous system, but also soothes your baby. Sometimes just a few moments of mindful breathing provides much needed relief from the stresses of new parenthood.
Tuning into the body: Our body is always giving us information about how we are relating to the present moment, but it can be difficult to pay attention when our focus is on the needs of baby. We neglect our own needs and do not heed the call of the body for self-care. When we are depleted, we have less to give. A brief body scan starting at the top of the head and ending at the feet can help you tune into the messages your body is sending so you can respond with more care to support yourself and baby with kindness and ease. And if you doze off during your body scan, even better! Those moments of sleep are precious and much needed.
Working with expectations: New parents receive many messages about how they are supposed to feel during this postpartum period. When our experience does not line up with expectations of new-parenthood bliss, we can be very hard on ourselves. We can feel like a failure and approach our struggles with judgment and harshness. This in turn can perpetuate our sense of failure, leading to more anxiety, frustration, and sadness. Mindful practices help us to notice our thoughts without judgment. Acknowledging our experience with kindness can give us the clarity we need to put things in perspective and seek out support.
You do not have to navigate these challenges alone. Reach out to family, friends, and your health care professionals for support during the ups and downs of the postpartum period. Help is available to support new parents, infants, and families. Consider cultivating a mindfulness practice during pregnancy to grow mindfulness skills to use during postpartum. It is never too late to start practicing mindfulness. We can begin in every moment.
Ann Brand, Ph.D is an instructor at UW-Stout and a mindfulness meditation teacher. For more information about mindfulness, see Ann’s website www.annbrandmindfulness.com