The early postpartum period can be a challenging time for parents. The demands of caretaking can be intense in the initial days following birth and the subsequent “newborn phase”, as mums manage fatigue from sleep deprivation, hormonal shifts and associated mood changes and physical pain as the body heals from childbirth. It is common for women to report feeling overwhelmed during this time and some mums report feeling disconnected and disengaged from others including their babies. This can lead to subsequent feelings of failure and guilt which may lead to more serious emotional challenges such as post-natal depression.
It is common for the mind to wander into the future, focusing on worries about our child’s development or the challenges of caretaking and whether it will get easier over time. The mind may also have thoughts of past experiences such as difficult memories of a traumatic birth. Thoughts may also arise regarding one’s previous self or lifestyle before baby and reflecting on the significant changes that have come about since baby arrived. These are very normal thought processes that most people experience to some degree however, for some mums, preoccupation with past or future events leads to constant disconnection from the present moment.
The skill of being able to focus and keep our attention in the here and now, without judgement is called Mindfulness. According to some theoretical models of mindfulness, the skill also involves the capacity for nonreactivity to internal experiences (Baer et al., 2006). This means that mindfulness helps us to be less reactive to difficult thoughts and emotions as they arise and we therefore have greater capacity to pause and respond to daily challenges in a manner that is consistent with our personal values. Research has also demonstrated that skills in mindfulness underlies the regulation of emotional and attentional reactions to stress. For example, adults with high level skills in mindfulness have been found to report lower stress levels and cortisol (stress hormone) levels (Zimmarro et al., 2016), have fewer depressive symptoms and are better able to regulate their emotions (Tomlinson et al., 2018).
The parenting literature also shows important benefits of mindfulness skills in managing aspects of raising children. Parents with high level of mindfulness skills not only experience less stress but also report greater confidence about caretaking. Parents with greater developed mindfulness skills were also better able to apply more positive parenting strategies including warm, supportive and responsive parenting practices (Kil et al., 2021).
What is mindful mothering?
The concept of mindful mothering captures skills in deliberately increasing your awareness of your baby and your interactions with baby in the present moment. When our awareness is grounded in the present with baby, parents are better able to notice their baby’s cues and respond in a sensitive and empathic way (Wittingham, 2013). We can fully experience the moments of joy and bonding with our babies more fully as our focus in entirely in the here and now. Being grounded in the present allows us to notice unique features of our babies and therefore, we are more likely to notice the rewards of parenting because they exist in the here and now as well.
Like every skill, mindfulness needs to be done frequently in order for automaticity to develop and for the benefits of mindfulness to be experienced consistently. It may be helpful to perhaps start with guided meditations which can be accessed through various apps such as Smiling Mind. Engaging in these exercises daily helps to build and develop that “mindfulness muscle” over time. Mindfulness exercises are not restricted to guided meditations and incorporate a wide range of activities such as mindful bushwalking, mindful eating and mindful painting just to name a few. Investing in mindful practice at any stage from pre-conception, pregnancy or post birth will be highly beneficial and recommended by perinatal psychologists for positive wellbeing and facilitating resilience throughout the parenting journey.
Encouraging Mindful Moments with your Baby
Spend quiet time each day simply looking at your baby - Really notice her eyes, the colour of her hair, the shape of her fingers and toes….notice all the details.
Be curious – what is he doing, what sounds is he making, what might he be saying if he could? What is he trying to communicate?
Slow down – spend some unhurried time just being with your baby. Holding her, stroking her, observing whatever she might be doing.
Feeding - Whether breast feeding or bottle feeding, be present with your baby - watching, noticing your baby and being curious. It is a time for mindful connection. Don't use this as a time to mindlessly scroll through your phone. Your baby feels the difference and you will both likely have a much better feeding experience.
Be aware of your own mind – notice what you are feeling or thinking.
Hold your baby close and make eye contact – spend some time gazing into his eyes. Let him see you and feel you.
Talk to your baby– not just at her or about her. Tell her what you are doing and why. Tell her what you are seeing. Singing is a lovely way of connecting with your baby.
Touch your baby – gently hold, stroke and touch your baby, helping to sooth, calm and connect with him.
Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27–45.
Roemer, L., Williston, S. K., & Rollins, L. G. (2015). Mindfulness and emotion regulation. Current Opinion in Psychology, 3, 52–57.
Zimmaro, L. A., Salmon, P., Naidu, H., Rowe, J., Phillips, K., Rebholz, W. N., ... & Sephton, S. E. (2016). Association of dispositional mindfulness with stress, cortisol, and well-being among university undergraduate students. Mindfulness, 7(4), 874–885.
Tomlinson, E. R., Yousaf, O., Vitters., A. D., & Jones, L. (2018). Dispositional mindfulness and psychological health: A systematic
review. Mindfulness, 9(1), 23–43.
Kil, Hali., Antonacci, R., Shukla, S., De Luca, A. (2021). Mindfulness and Parenting: A Meta-analysis and and Exploratory Meta-mediation. Mindfulness, 12, 2593-2612
Whittingham, Koa. Becoming Mum. Pivotal Publishing, 2013.