Using Sports Psychology for Childbirth – The New York Times

by pregnancy journalist

Joan Steidinger, a sports psychologist based in the Bay Area and a former ultramarathon runner, told me to develop a mindfulness plan by identifying the extremely difficult moments in labor — the 45-minute cab ride to the hospital under the onslaught of contractions topped my list — and to design a predetermined meditation for each. She used this strategy when she prepared runners for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, in which the track goes through canyons with stagnant 110-degree air. “You might visualize a cool waterfall, something to take your mind off the situation,” said Dr. Steidinger.

I still wondered how athletes reframe their minds if something doesn’t go as planned mid-competition. How does a figure skater shift from aiming for gold to finishing her four-minute routine with dignity when she doesn’t land a jump that took months of practice? “What we usually do is create some kind of action they do to refocus because an action connects mind and body,” said Caroline Silby, a former figure skater turned sports psychologist. That could mean pushing down on the ice or drawing a deep breath to move beyond failure, Dr. Silby said.

The physical cue I developed to help me reframe mid-labor started with clenched fists during an inhale and then opening them during an exhale, with my palms up in a surrender. I would surrender to the difficult moments or to whatever my body needed for a safe birth, whether that was every intervention under the sun or nothing at all.

The idea of pain with a purpose is common in sports and labor. So are breathing techniques and visualizations to cope. Visualizations didn’t do it for me, but breathing did. During my birth class, I figured out what I liked — a long, loud exhale where I focused on the vibrating hum inside my mouth. I practiced this a few times each week while holding a piece of ice (it’s surprisingly painful). Dr. Silby added a tip: Stay present and enjoy the rest between contractions, much as a marathon runner turns a downhill section into active recovery. “If you’re anticipating the next painful push during recovery, that is a waste,” she said.

After an anxious and tearful 13 days beyond my due date, contractions started on a Monday evening. Labor quickly became a familiar rhythm, not unlike my favorite workout of high-intensity interval training where, say, a minute of squats is followed by a 20-second break.

By 3 a.m., my contractions were down to three minutes apart, our cue to head to the hospital. Excitement. Anticipation. And then my labor stalled. I used my physical cue — releasing clenched fists — again and again to move beyond the disappointment.

My mind held it together until around midday. Why did my stupid body slow the contractions? At the same physical and mental crossroads in a soccer match, I would have raised my hand for a substitution so a more energized teammate could finish what I started. But this was labor. I was the only one who could birth this baby.

This content was originally published here.

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