It’s the time of year when the diary is full of lovely get-togethers with family and friends and celebrating is the name of the game. But all this having fun can mean it’s more difficult to do the one special thing that you can do this year more than any other – spend some quality time with your bump!
Because amidst the blur of the shopping and dos, it can be hard to take the time to think about the little life growing inside of you. That’s why we think now is the perfect time to reconnect, using clever mindfulness techniques especially designed to help you relax and really focus on yourself and your growing baby, even when everyone and everything around you is whirling at high speed. Oh, and they’ll enable you to sail through the Christmas chaos unruffled too!
‘Mindfulness will help you focus on the present moment rather than being distracted by the world around you,’ explains health psychologist and mindfulness teacher Dr Elizabeth Sparkes. ‘It will help you enjoy your Christmas but also bring your attention back to yourself and your baby every day. And so, even when you’re caught up in the season, you’ll be aware of your baby and bonding with him.
‘Mindfulness will bring your mind and body together too, which is vital in pregnancy. It’s so easy to live in your head, but being mindful brings you back to living in your body, and that’s where it’s all happening at the moment!’
These techniques will help you connect with your unborn baby even if you are racing to different parties, cooking the Christmas lunch and wrapping endless presents: ‘They all work, some even in a room full of other people,’ promises Elizabeth.
Breathe in the moment
The turkey’s arriving in half an hour and the washing up is bubbling away in the machine, which means you and your bump have 10 minutes spare to reconnect. Mindful breathing can help you do this, anytime and anywhere. ‘Every single day, make time to “follow your breath”. This simply means being aware of how you are breathing in and out, the temperature of your breath, and the feeling of it hitting the back of your throat,’ explains Elizabeth. ‘This simple act will clear your mind and allow you to look inwards, to your baby.’
She recommends sitting in a quiet place and setting a timer for 10 minutes – choose a gentle tone on your phone as an alert. ‘There are no strict rules on how many breaths you should take a minute,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Instead, just be aware of how you are already breathing. If your breaths are really shallow, simply follow them being shallow for a bit. Close your eyes and really start to explore how it feels as you take that breath in. How is it changing? Can you feel it go all the way into your stomach? Can you feel it surrounding and nourishing your baby? How does it feel as you exhale? Explore it exactly as it is, and lose yourself in the process.’
If you find yourself getting distracted, refocus. ‘Each time you get distracted by a thought, bring yourself back to your breath. Imagining the sound of a ticking clock will help,’ suggests Elizabeth.
Find three minutes
However hectic your Christmas is, you can find time to do the ‘three step’ exercise, which takes just three minutes. ‘You can do it anywhere, and no one even needs to know,’ says Elizabeth. Which means you can do it while everyone’s sitting round the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, or when everyone’s reading their cracker jokes after lunch. ‘The first step is spending a minute simply acknowledging what your thoughts are at that moment,’ continues Elizabeth. ‘That might be anything from “I’m feeling peaceful” to “I’m feeling achy from the weight of my baby”. For the next minute be aware of your breathing in the same way as the previous technique. And for the last minute, come back to that sense of how your body is feeling, and think about your baby. Is your baby moving, or does it feel like he is sleeping?’
Afterwards, you’ll feel far more connected to your growing baby, and he’ll be more a part of the rest of your day.
Scan your body
With so much going on, it can be easy to miss your baby’s movements, from his kicks when he hears Mariah Carey on the radio, to his hiccups when you’re making the most of the buffet table. To refocus yourself on your bump, do a body scan at the end of every day by focusing your attention on each part of your body in turn. ‘This will help you wind down too,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Lie in a comfortable position on your bed. First bring awareness to the top of your head – just be aware of it and what it feels like. Then slowly move your awareness down your body. When you reach your bump, imagine each breath in and out is hugging your baby. Continue all the way down to your toes.’ This full body scan can take anything from three to 10 minutes.
This exercise will also help you deal with the stresses of Christmas, and lead to a better night’s sleep – a study of pregnant mums found that regular body scan meditation helped reduce anxiety levels.
Write a gratitude diary
Another way to really keep yourself in the moment with your bump is to write a list every night of the things you are grateful for, that usually go unnoticed. And this can be anything from the way your baby wriggled when you had that slice of Christmas cake, through to the excitement you’re already feeling when you think about next Christmas when you’ll be holding him in your arms.
‘Writing a gratitude diary helps you tune into your body, to how it’s changing in pregnancy and what your baby is doing,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Perhaps you might write down “the way my skin is stretching to give more room to my baby” or “the coldness of the winter air as I breathe in, nourishing me and my baby.”’
It only takes a few minutes every evening and, according to a recent study, tuning in to all these experiences can help you enjoy your pregnancy. Research found that a group of women in their second and third trimesters who wrote diary entries about how they felt physically and mentally, for just two weeks, reported an increased feeling of wellbeing compared with a group who didn’t.
Escape for 10 minutes
One of the best ways to bond with your bump is through meditation. It’s a simple skill to master. First, adopt a comfortable position, sitting, or lying on your side, and put your hands on your bump. ‘Start by being aware of your breathing and then spend time focusing on sending kindness to yourself. For example, focus on your heart and wish yourself well. Then focus on your baby and imagine a line of love connecting your heart to your baby,’ explains Elizabeth. ‘Talk to your baby, either out loud or in your mind, and notice his movements. Really imagine what he is doing in there!’
This ‘compassionate mediation’ can help you bond with your bump as levels of the love hormone, oxytocin, rise during the process. So even when you’re up to your ears in relatives on Christmas Day, find time to slip away for these 10 precious minutes. And for the rest of the day, enjoy thinking about that line of love connecting you and your baby.
Meet the expert
Dr Elizabeth Sparkes is a health psychologist and mindfulness teacher with a particular interest in maternal health and wellbeing.