Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the co-director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Group at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. Becoming a mom led her to do research that shows that mindfulness practices can reduce negative emotions and anxiety during pregnancy. That research birthed her Mindful Motherhood program, directed toward helping women get in the best emotional and mental shape possible for that first critical year of motherhood. Here’s an exercise from her new book, Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year (New Harbinger/Noetic Books).
Diaper changes are great because they are a microcosm of your life with baby — sometimes fun, sometimes hilarious; and sometimes they just stink. They are also frequent opportunities to connect and bond with your baby, to look into her eyes, to match your facial expression to hers, to have skin-to-skin contact, and to transmit your capacity to stay grounded in the face of discomfort, teaching her in a very direct way how to begin to deal with her own discomfort when it arises. This even applies (perhaps even more so) when you are on one of those public bathroom changing tables. Try this exercise the next time you change baby’s diaper:
• Take a moment to hold your baby against you (unless there has been, shall we say, an explosive event). Breathe with baby. Look at her and say, “Now we’re going to change your diaper” or something like that. This will signify that there is about to be a transition.
• When you lie her down, place a hand on her tummy or leg and practice mindful awareness of your connection with one another. In other words, the same way you can bring mindful awareness to your breathing and your body while doing yoga, bring that kind of open-minded, open-hearted, present-centered, nonjudging, accepting, nonstriving, curious, and compassionate attitude to this interaction. Focus on the way that you and she are in connection with one another, physically, through eye contact, and through your felt sense of being a dyad, a team, being coupled. “We two, here, are in this together, and I am recognizing that” is the flavor of this process.
• As you strip off her clothing and the used diaper, do it more slowly than you might usually do. Just take your time. Even if you’re in a rush, you’ll find that moving more slowly is actually more efficient, resulting in less fumbling and distress. There’s no need to be upset, even if poop is everywhere. Remember, thinking This shouldn’t be here is the source of more upset than its being there in the first place.
• Whether the baby is wailing and flailing or cooing and goo-gooing, it doesn’t really matter to mindful awareness. This awareness just notices what’s there. None of it is actually a problem, when you get right down to it. Only our defining something as being a problem makes it a problem.
• Take a moment after the clean diaper is on and clothing is replaced to hold the baby to you once more. Make a humming sound or say a deep “Mama loves you.” Help your baby revel in the relief of being dry and mark the transition by looking at her and saying, “Now, we’re done!”
For guided meditation and other tools for pregnant women, go to mindfulmotherhood.org.