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Mindful : August 2013
elsewhere. Her recently published book, Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, ma kes it possible for people who can’t take the course to do the program on their own at home. It has also attracted the attention of other professiona ls working with childbirth a nd parenting who are looking for innovative ways to counteract the persistent medicalization of birth and help pa rents-to-be make a deep human connec- tion to what they’re going through. Pregnancy offers an ideal time to begin practicing mindfulness. Bardacke says it can make all the difference in managing the emotional stresses a nd uncertainties of pregnancy, the physi- cal pain of childbirth, and the sudden plunge into parenthood. “ It’s the best tool I know,” she says, for navigating enormous life tra nsitions. Her confidence is g rounded not only in the anecdotal experiences of more than 1,000 parents who’ve taken her course but also in a growing body of scientific resea rch. Decades of studies document the harmful effects of stress on expectant women and newborns. Pregnant women who suffer high levels of stress are more prone to having miscarriages, preterm births, and C-sections. They’re more apt to deliver babies with lower birth weights, smaller head circumferences, and lower Apgar scores (which is an assessment performed on newborns based on their appeara nce, pulse, g rimace, activity and respiration). The effects on fetuses are far-reaching, possibly affecting their motor skills and cognitive, social, and emotional development. In one exa mple, Canadian researchers following children born to women who were preg- nant during a disastrous ice storm found that those whose mothers were most traumatized by the event had lower IQs and verbal abilities at age five tha n children whose mothers were less stressed out by the emergency. Stress is also a contributor in child abuse a nd neglect. The research shows that mindfulness meditation can effectively reduce stress a nd its harmful effects. There is also increasing evidence that it ca n help alleviate intense pain and reduce a nxiety a nd recur- rent depression. All can be issues in pregnancy a nd pa renting that ultimately affect a child’s well-being. (It’s estimated that 7% to 12% of new mothers suffer postpartum depression.) The two small studies that have looked directly at the use of mindfulness for pregnancy and child- birth—one coauthored by Bardacke—found it helped relieve expectant mothers’ anxiety and negative feelings. Given that evidence, says Larissa Duncan, a researcher at the University of California–Sa n → Bardacke leads her class through some exercises on the yoga mat. She says mindfulness practice can make all the difference in managing the emotional stresses and uncertainties of pregnancy and the sudden plunge into parenthood. August 2013 mindful 45