by Meghan Coleman
All you have to do is watch one baby being born and you will understand without doubt just how powerful the female body is. But because of the way stress can affect the body and hormones, learning to calm the nervous system is one of the most important steps to having a peaceful birth and postpartum. And when I say peaceful, I mean feeling okay about things, no matter how they happened.
Here are some examples of how thoughts or unprocessed feelings can create stress in the body. Have you ever been enjoying a relaxing morning when all of a sudden you’re taking a trip down memory lane and feeling upset because a song came on that reminds you of a sad time? Or you think of your to-do list and get totally paralyzed with anxiety instead of staying in the moment and tackling it one thing at a time?
These are totally normal because all of us have overstimulated nervous systems and emotions we haven’t dealt with. It’s just part of living in a modern world that values productivity above all else. I mean who has time to rest or feel their feelings when there is so much stuff to do!? But since birth and postpartum are such vulnerable moments, especially hormonally, any excess stress or unresolved emotion tends to get magnified.
Every first time mom I’ve worked with has some fear or feels overwhelmed about birth. After the baby arrives, there’s a whole new set of feelings. There could be some grief over the loss of a part of your pre-motherhood self or worry around the responsibility parenthood brings. Then on top of that there is the day to day work of navigating stress or fatigue and the inevitable hormonal fluctuations. It’s a major transition!
One of my favorite ways to support clients through all of this is re-birthing breathwork, a trauma-informed practice that improves emotional processing, gets you into a dream-like state and eases stress through a specific type of nasal breathing. Before birth it can help clear stuck emotions and fears. During labor it enhances focus and brings pain-relief. And postpartum it can relax the nervous system and boost mood.
I know this all sounds a little woo but science backs it up. So let me break down how this works.
A study at Northwestern University found that the rhythm of our breath can support emotional awareness and well-being. This is because when we inhale through the nose the hippocampus and amygdala are stimulated. These are the parts of the brain that process memories, emotions and influence mood. So by breathing in a certain way we can process emotive memories and ease our anxiety.
Another 2014 study on military veterans with PTSD showed a decrease in their symptoms of anxiety and depression after just one month of doing breath based meditation. Deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve, which is responsible for turning on the parasympathetic nervous system and telling the body to relax.
Here’s an interesting tid-bit about stress and birth. When we are in fight or flight mode, the body literally blocks the hormones that facilitate a healthy labor and postpartum. But when we’re calm, those healing hormones can flow more easily, which is why having a supportive doula during birth can be so helpful! When we are in a relaxed parasympathetic nervous system state, birth, breastfeeding and bonding with your baby is easier.
Our bodies are amazing and I’m all about finding little hacks to help it function at its best. People talk alot about the negative impact of stress on your health, but it’s true. Well-being really is all about dealing with any feelings that cause stress in the body and calming the nervous system. Learning to work with the breath is the absolute easiest way to do this, paving the way for a smooth and easeful birth and postpartum.
Here are some link to some of my sources if you’re curious to learn more!