Benefits Of Childbirth Meditation
Biological and psychological benefits of meditation through calm birthing are transmitted to a womb child through the pregnant woman’s bloodstream and through sympathetic resonance. The woman communicates with the child telepathically and energetically, influencing the production of beneficial neurohormones and neurotransmitters (Verny, 02). Postnatal benefits will be transmitted to the child through lactation and breast-feeding and through sympathetic resonance. Before and after birth, meditation benefits are dual, inseparably benefiting the woman and the child.
Biological Benefits of Calm Birthing Meditation
This subject has become vast, but with respect to directly influencing the quality of prenatal and perinatal health, the focus will be primarily on hormonal balance and immune system enhancement.
Our era has been called the age of anxiety. Anxiety causes an overproduction of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, suppressing important biological functions in order to shift energy into muscle systems. Anxiety suppresses immune system function, but childbirth meditation brings adrenaline and cortisol levels down, restoring normal immune function for birth. Meditation strengthens the immune system with major hormones, melatonin and DHEA, to give a vital basis for life and to cope with the side effects of medical birth.
Anxiety pushes tolerance of pain to low levels; meditation restores normal tolerance of pain and produces endorphins, pleasure agents in the nervous system, so important for childbirth, reducing physical pain.
The chemical treatment of anxiety in pregnancy can be risky, but childbirth meditation is a safe, proven antidote to anxiety. Childbirth meditation reduces the need for medical interventions during labor, and brings biological enrichment.
DHEA, a life-enhancing hormone, was one of the first biological benefits of meditation to be observed. DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands, just above the kidneys. Issuing from the same glands that produce the stress hormones, elevated levels of DHEA imply reduced production of restrictive cortisol and adrenaline. DHEA has a variety of health-impacting benefits. It is an immune enhancement agent that has been proven to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lupus and other conditions. DHEA stimulates the production of monocytes (T cells and B cells), potent immunity bio-chemicals that cause the production of other immune system agents. T cells (white blood cells produced in the bone marrow) produce two powerful immune system agents: interleulin-2 and gamma-interferon, intelligent defense agents that help maintain health. DHEA is good for the bones, muscles, blood pressure, vision and hearing. It is the substance from which the male and female hormones are developed and it is the source of vitality and youthfulness. DHEA is a mood elevator that makes people feel and look better. It enhances brain biochemistry and growth. Anxiety and stress lower normal DHEA levels in the bloodstream. Meditation elevates DHEA levels. Thus meditation during pregnancy, in offering potentially ideal hormonal function, conveys elevated levels of vivifying DHEA to the womb child, and, through lactation and breast- feeding, to the child after birth.
The fact that meditation produces elevated levels of melatonin, the hormone secreted by the pineal gland located at the center of the brain, was first disclosed by research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The pineal gland has drawn the attention of human insight for a long time. In sacred literature more than 2,500 years old, the Vedas of India, the pineal glad was envisioned:
“The [pineal] gland was portrayed as one of the seven chakras, or centers of vital energy, which are arranged along the central axis of the body. The pineal gland was thought to be the supreme or crown chakra…the ultimate center of spiritual force.” (Reiter, 1995, p.131).
In the 17th century AD, Descartes, in his famous Treatise of Man, called the pineal gland the seat of the human psyche, the principal location of self-awareness. Though the above insights may be inspiring concerns for people interested in meditation, current world-wide interest in melatonin, evident in the presence of hundreds of research papers and books, is focused on its biological benefits, particularly concerning the remarkable effects of melatonin on the human immune system. Melatonin many be the most potent and versatile antioxidant. It directly stimulates interleukin (IL-2) activity which in turn stimulates the increase of all the various cells of the immune system, in a pervasive, global optimization of immune function. Melatonin directly restores and increases T-helper cell production in bone marrow.
In stress-inducing times, which tend to cause detrimental hormonal imbalances, strong levels of melatonin in the bloodstream, naturally induced by pregnant women, are a sign that they are engaged in effective prenatal care. Melatonin is renowned as a sleep-aid. Especially when produced naturally to elevated levels, it helps establish normal sleep and rest even in challenging situations. Melatonin is known to have a calming effect, bringing contentment and improved mood.
To summarize, the natural production of elevated levels of melatonin in meditation, conveyed to the womb child through the woman’s prenatal bloodstream, and then through postnatal lactation and breast-feeding, gives woman and child remarkable immune enhancement and overall health benefits. Though the extensive research in melatonin benefits has been concentrated almost entirely on the above, there are probable intelligence enhancement benefits warranting research.
Meditation is also known to produce endorphins, peptides secreted throughout the nervous system that have a very strong pain-relieving and pleasure-inducing effect, similar to that of morphine. Depak Chopra writes (1990, p.62)
“Thus the brain [and nervous system in general] produces narcotics up to 200 times stronger than anything you can buy . . . with the added boon that our own pain-killers are nonaddictive. Morphine and endorphins both block pain by filling a certain receptor on the neuron and preventing other chemicals that carry the message of pain from coming in, without which there can be no sensation of pain, no matter how much physical provocation is present.” Michel Odent observes that the longer and more challenging the labor the higher the level of endorphins (1994, p.15) . Also, the more time devoted to the practice of prenatal meditation the higher the level of endorphins at birth. A woman who practices prenatal meditation will tend to be less afraid of pain, less disturbed by it, and will experience more joy.
Endorphine production is important to a woman in avoiding the risks of medical interventions and in gaining confidence in her natural abilities in childbirth. Pert (1997) writes about her third childbirth:
. . . my magic bullet had been breathing, which is a surefire, proven strategy for releasing endorphins and quelling pain. Obviously, this is what previous generations of women, in the days before IV drips and synthetic painkillers, had relied on. Both they and their babies must have been better off for the experience, as I certainly felt myself to be. (p.167)
Psychological Benefits of Calm Birth Meditation.
Another important benefit derived from meditation is increased tolerance of pain based on psychological factors. Extensive research conducted at the UMMC (Murphy & Donovan, 1999, p.77-78) demonstrated statistically significant reductions in the following: present moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity, mood disturbance, anxiety and depression, and the need for pain-related drug utilization. The implications for childbirth are evident.
Murphy and Donovan describe published research in the following psychological benefits of meditation:
- Extended Perceptual Ability
- Quick Alert Reaction Time
- Field Independence
In a pregnant woman, the above benefits of meditation entrain the womb child, through sympathetic resonance, to develop these inherent traits. Hopefully research will seek to observe these traits developed in children though childbirth meditation methods.
One of the first important health effects of meditation to be discovered by modern medicine was that it lowers blood pressure. Today there is strong evidence that meditation helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. The findings have been replicated in many studies (Murphy and Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, IONS, 1999).
Childbirth meditation directly reduces blood pressure and heart rate, lowering the risk of pre-eclampsia and potential preterm brain damage.
Attention Gain Entrained in Utero
With the alarming pandemic of attention deficit disorders in children, it’s good to see how childbirth meditation can help.
Mindfulness meditation, known and respected in the medical establishment, is a practice of attention. It strengthens attention. It increases attention. In childbirth meditation, the woman’s shift of attention from mind to awarenes entrains the womb child to be aware, to orient better.
This can only help prevent attention deficit problems which might arise from hospital birth medications.
Other observed benefits of childbirth meditation:
In their important study (2003) Vieten and Astin concluded what common sense and countless thousands of women who meditated during pregnancy have indicated: meditation significantly reduces prenatal anxiety and stress. Furthermore, “Experts suggest that the practice of meditation by the mother can reduce high levels of neurological and endocrine [stress] chemicals that could be detrimental to the newborn. (Giobbi, M.; 2011, p. 1)
Two recent studies from Thailand are significant. Because of the great concern in the USA about preterm birth, a primary factor in the high infant morbidity and mortality rates in USA, a major Thai hospital study (2011) on the prevention of preterm birth through the intervention of meditation is important. The study concludes that meditation is a promising technique for reducing the incidence of preterm birth. Recommendations were made for further research in this area.
Another recent hospital study in Thailand, “Incorporating Buddhist Clear Clean Mind Meditation into Natural Childbirth Practices”, concludes: “Clear Clean Meditation should be encouraged during natural childbirth, through labor and delivery, in other hospitals in Thailand.
Other observed benefits of meditation with significant implications for childbirth are as follows: Benson (1996) noted cesarean section surgery reduced by 56% andepidural anesthesia use reduced by 85% among meditators.
All together, increased attention to the child, increased pain management skills, increased levels of endorphins and important hormones, should be important incentives for women who don’t want to risk chemicals and anesthesia in childbirth.
As we discover more and more dimensions of physiological and psychological function, and as mind/body methods become more and more a part of childbirth medicine and the focus of research, we’ll learn more about the potential benefits of meditation in childbirth.