During 2020 it seems everything about life has changed. But there are some things that do remain just the same as they always have been, and one of those things is that everyday, around the world, hundreds of thousand of babies and new mothers are born. Despite the huge changes to our everyday lives, life does go on. What I’ve noticed in my inbox over the last few months is that expectant and new families are feeling confused, helpless and filled with fear. At a time that can be anxiety creating even under usual circumstances, the Covid-19 outbreak has meant that support and services for expectant and new families are in a constant state of flux and families are struggling to keep up. Health trusts and third party services are releasing new guidelines and protocols on what seems like a daily basis, whilst they try and work out how their service can adapt to the changes being bought about. On the one hand they need to keep their service going – babies aren’t waiting for this to be over! But they also need to find balance between providing an essential service and keeping mothers, babies and themselves, colleagues and their families healthy. With the pace at which this is all happening, it’s no wonder that families are feeling worried and uncertain about their birth and early parenting life.
In every corner of the earth right now, humans are feeling affected by this virus – if not in a physical sense, then absolutely a mindful one. Our news stories are full of analysis of deaths rates and hospitalisations. Fear-based language fills our screens, radio waves, newspapers and daily conversations. Certainly, in Westernised societies, most of us have not experienced living in a society-wide emergency situation like this. It’s unsurprising that we are feeling this mentally and physically. Stress, anxiety, overwhelm and fear are all words that people are using to tell me how they feel. They feel scared that the peri-natal support and services that they took for granted are no longer available. They’re worried that they don’t know how to access help after their baby is born. They are feeling anxious about going into hospital and perhaps not having their birth partner there or being able to have the birth that they had planned for.
When we are chronically worried and fearful, we are functioning in our flight, flight or freeze response – aka: our sympathetic nervous system. When our bodies are in this system, they don’t work as they should. In this state our body and mind are preparing us for a threat and puts us on high alert. Blood and oxygen are carried to the main muscle groups and organs and away from the gut and places of our body not needed in an emergency. Our body produces extra adrenalin and cortisol and withholds hormones such as oxytocin which is needed for birth and breastfeeding. It can feel like we’re on edge, sometimes like panic. Our body cannot function as it should in this state. The problem is that with the Corona Virus outbreak, there is actually very little we ourselves can do about what is going on. Yes we can do our part to help stop the spread of the disease, but we can’t stop the changes, or the NHS or government guidelines. Our movement is restricted as are many other normal parts of life – almost all of it is out of our control. The worry and the stress don’t change the circumstances we find ourselves in. But the one thing we can control is HOW we react to what is going on. Right now the most useful thing that we can all do is help ourselves come out of our Sympathetic Nervous System.
As a Mindfulness teacher and Lactation Consultant, I am being called right now to teach as many expectant and new families as possible, mindfulness tools that will help them be feel more resilient in these testing times. What I know, through teaching these techniques to countless families, is that reducing stress not only makes you feel better and happier, but it also helps your body to birth and breastfeed your baby! It empowers you to ask the right questions, follow your instincts and make confident decisions. On top of all that, the less stressed and anxious you feel, the more you will be able to connect and bond with your baby. So the most powerful things you can do during pregnancy and early parenthood is to learn ways create a low stress, protective bubble around you and your baby. Here’s how you can get started:
This is the easiest and most accessible way to calm your nervous system. Close your eyes and let your breath settle. Now concentrate on taking each in-breath deep within your lungs. You can put your hand your belly and you’ll notice that it expands on a deep in-breath and moves back on the out-breath. Just 5 deep breaths can really start to settle your nervous system. If you feel nervousness or panic rising, stop what you’re doing and try 5-10 of these breaths.
In the Mindful Breastfeeding School, we use a Mountain relaxation. In it you visualise a mountain and it’s strength and steadfastness. Whatever the weather, whatever storms are happening above and around, the mountain stays grounded, centred and strong. It’s something that we can do too. Remain standing and steady despite the storm going on around us. It may not feel like it right now but you ARE strong and you’ve got this. Tell yourself this, visualise it and believe it. Writing it down can help.
Probably my favourite grounding technique at the moment is to go outside in bare feet. I close my eyes and feel the ground underneath me and notice all the little details of sensation. Taking a moment of gratitude for all that I have, I focus on some simple deep breaths before going back inside. If you don’t have a garden and like many communities are unable to leave your house at the moment, you can do this on a tiled, wooden or stone floor – somewhere cool works well.
The accessibility of antenatal education has changed rapidly over the past month, but although you may have to access it differently, I promise you it’s still there. Both birth and breastfeeding education are vital to taking control of your own experience and keeping a check on any worries you have, whether you’re a conscious of these or not. If you can access a Mindfulness-based antenatal course then even better! They are the perfect combination of practical learning, relaxing, empowerment and having your questions answered.
Reach out for help
Like many other areas of our lives, parts of peri-natal care are being provided remotely. Group support has stopped and clinics are being held over the phone or online. This can make communication a little bit harder. It’s really important that you keep talking to your care providers about what is going on for you. Contact them if you have any worries or concerns about you or your baby. Don’t avoid going to hospital if you feel you need to go. At the moment we need to be a little bit more pro-active in accessing the healthcare that we need. Even if you are healthy and well, your health care service is still there for you. Given them a ring and tell them what you need.
Be kind to yourself
We’re all feeling this and we’re all reacting to it differently and one thing I have noticed is that generally we are not at our best. Snappy, short tempered, reactive – it’s that sympathetic nervous system kicking in again: We’re essentially feeling fear in our bodies and reacting to it. But that’s ok. Give yourself a break, these are tough times. One way that we can help reduce these feelings is to be conscious of the fear-based media, language and conversations that we’re consuming. Take a break from the news or social media for a couple of days and you will notice a real difference to how you feel. Think about the conversations that you ae having and the words that you are using. Are they dramatic? It wouldn’t be surprising if they were, this does feel dramatic. But notice how this is fuelled by the words and stories shared by the media and those around us. It’s very useful to have an awareness of what we take in. Once we’re more aware we can make conscious decisions about whether that form of communication serves us or not. Test it out yourself and see how you feel.
We don’t know and we can’t control how long we will be impacted by Covid-19. I hope that this article has helped you to think about what you CAN control in your life during this uncertain chapter. Right now I have never felt-more grateful to have Mindfulness tools at my fingertips so that I can put them into practice for myself and with my family. I’d love to share them with you too.
The Mindful Breastfeeding School offers an online antenatal cours for expectant and brand new parents all about having the calm and connected infant feedin experience you hope for. You can book here