The Benefits of Relaxation

Having a baby doesn't leave you with a lot of spare time for yourself, so if you are pregnant for the first time, make the most of this opportunity to spend some time on yourself. If you are pregnant with other children, the time for yourself is even shorter. Practicing relaxation sounds like a luxury you cannot afford, but there are simple tips that can help you to relax during even the busiest of days. Other longer relaxation methods are also available, for when you have more time.

Benefits of Relaxation

There are many reasons for using relaxation before, during and after pregnancy. There are different types of relaxation which can be used, and benefits include:

  • Feeling that you have a better ability to cope with stress.
  • Allows time out from problems, difficulties and responsibilities.Provides your body with a "rest" from the effects of stress.
  • Improves your feelings of well being.
  • Reduces anxiety.
  • Reduces the effects of fatigue and tiredness caused by stress.
  • Less aches and pains are felt, as these can be due to increased muscle tension.
  • Blood pressure may be reduced by practicing relaxation.
  • Visual imagery helps to use your imagination in a positive way - sometimes we imagine things that increase tension and cause stress and anxiety. Using your mind in a different way on a regular basis can help to overcome these or change your mind's focus.
  • Your baby will gain a more relaxed Mum and enjoy the benefits of less physical tension within the body during pregnancy.
  • After pregnancy your baby can pick up extra tension in Mum or Dad - relaxation can help to reduce this, and therefore help to settle both you and your baby more easily.
  • Specific relaxations can help to confront fear and frustrations and anxieties.

Benefits during labour

  • Reduces the pain and the intensity of the contractions.
  • Helps to save energy so that you have more to use for labour.
  • Allows labour to progress more easily.
  • Can help you to rest between contractions.
  • Helps you to cope with labour better.

Benefits after you have had your baby

  • Easier to settle your baby when you are more relaxed.
  • Encourages the 'let down reflex' during breast feeding.
  • Can give you the opportunity for a rest when you don't have time to sleep.

Why do we need to use relaxation?

The various stressors that influence us during our lives can have an effect on us physically, spiritually and emotionally. If we learn to recognize these we are more likely to be able to counteract and overcome them before, during and after pregnancy.

The Physical Effects of Stress include:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Shallower and more rapid breathing.
  • Breathing in the upper chest, rather than using diaphragm which is more effective.
  • The emphasis is on the breath in, or the breath is held after breathing in.
  • Increased muscle tension in a recognizable pattern:
    • Tightness in the upper back and neck muscles (have you ever noticed tightness or a headache at the end of the day, and not realized that you were holding in all that extra tension?).
    • Hands clenched into fists.
    • Legs or feet crossed.
    • Sitting in forward position on a chair, sometimes in a rigid position.
    • Frowning.
    • Teeth clenched.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Fidgeting.
  • Tiredness, from using extra energy.
  • Butterflies in the stomach.
  • Dry mouth.

The accumulation of the effects of stress over long periods of time can cause pain, illness and even disease.

During pregnancy

Prolonged stress may affect your baby.

Increased hormones and chemicals caused by stress and anxiety can cross the placenta and reach the baby.

In labour

The effects of increased physical tension during labour can:

  • Increase the pain or intensity of the contractions.
  • Cause more energy to be expended than necessary, therefore labour can be more tiring.
  • Slow down the progression of labour by inhibiting the contractions.

Other effects of stress:

  • Irritability.
  • Grumpiness.
  • Mood swings.
  • Increased smoking or drinking.
  • Poor ability to sleep.
  • Increased eating or decreased appetite.
  • Types of relaxation

There are a wide range of methods of relaxation available, ranging from very in depth to very simple and easy to use in every day life. It should be possible to choose one or more relaxation methods that you feel comfortable with. Some examples of types of relaxation follow.

Meditation

There are various forms of meditation that can be used. Please refer to relaxation books, tapes, CD's or a practitioner near you for more details.

Physical Relaxation

Also known as physiological relaxation, as it produces physical effects in the body.

Easy to use anywhere, in any position, by moving your body part into the opposite of the tense position, eg dropping your shoulders down so they are no longer hunched.

The more you practice recognizing that you are holding yourself in a tense position, and change it by relaxing the muscles, the easier this will become. Your brain will then alert you when the signs of tension come on. You can then move your body into the opposite position.

Breathing Awareness

When you are stressed the focus is often the breath in, and you may even hold your breath at times. It is hard to relax your body when the breath in is the focus. Breathing out more deliberately can assist you to release tension and gain a more relaxed position. Sometimes even doing a big sigh out can achieve this.

Focusing on breathing out, and allowing your body to breathe in again when it is ready to, can help to slow down your breathing and allow your diaphragm to work more effectively. You may notice that your breathing also changes from being in your upper chest to lower down when you focus on breathing out comfortably for even a few minutes.

Mental/Visual Imagery

Concentration is on a mental image, eg imagining that you are sitting or lying in your favourite outdoor place, and focusing on the sounds around you, what you can see, smell and enjoy. You can imagine that you can visit this favourite place at any time.

You can also be guided by someone's voice through visual imagery relaxation, picturing the images which they describe for you.

Stress Relief Techniques

Sometimes a reminder to do something for yourself can help you cope with the demands of your busy day. Find one thing that you can do for yourself today from this quick list for reducing stress.

  1. Exercise ~ Take a walk. Just getting out of the house into some fresh air can help. Think about your favourite exercise class or activity. Decide when you can fit a session in this week.
  2. Relaxation ~ Try one of the relaxation methods available.
  3. Massage ~ Place your hands behind your neck and gently massage in a circular motion. Move up to the base of your skull and massage here using your fingers.
  4. Have a break ~ Just stop everything for 5 minutes and sit or lie down. It can wait.
  5. Deep breathing ~ Take a slow deep breath in, hold it for a moment and then slowly blow the air out through your mouth. Repeat a few more times with your eyes closed. Try to drop your shoulders down and feel the tension leave your body as you relax your arms and fingers while you breathe out.
  6. Enjoying a bath or spa ~ Spas are not recommended if you are pregnant and baths should be warm not hot.
  7. Going out for a coffee, tea, latte, juice or mineral water
  8. Sipping a cold drink through a straw and taking the time to enjoy it
  9. Reading a magazine.
  10. Getting someone else to prepare you a meal or go out if possible.
  11. Have a change of scenery ~ Get out of the house for a while.
  12. If you haven't found something so far to help, choose your own stress releaser.
  13. Hobbies and Enjoyable Activities

You don’t always need to stop and lie down to relax. Enjoying one of your favourite activities is a good way of using relaxation before, during and after pregnancy.

Exercise

Although not all women find exercise enjoyable, it is a good stress reliever. To take a walk, swim or cycle or enjoy your favourite activity can provide a change of scenery from the daily routine. It gives the opportunity to take time out from other commitments and burns up excess energy, rather than allowing it to build up as excess muscle tension.

Massage

Massage helps to improve the blood flow and relax the muscles. This can be particularly useful around the neck and shoulders, or a full body massage when you are able to have one. This should help you to really relax. Some people enjoy foot massages during pregnancy, and even during labour. Others enjoy their back being massaged during or between contractions to help with the pain of labour.

Learn and use some simple massage strokes (if you have done massage before, then experiment with what strokes you enjoy). You don't need to be an expert for your partner to enjoy massage. There are even massage tools, which can be used, some as simple as a tennis or squash ball being rolled on the back. You can even use these yourself by sitting or lying back on one, positioning it over the area which you would like massaged, then moving your body slightly to change its position. Other wooden and plastic massage tools can be purchased, but make sure you try them out first, as some are better than others.

Touch relaxation

Can encourage or assist moving into a relaxed position when someone applies gentle pressure to a body part, eg the shoulders to let go and drop down relaxed position. This can be useful to practice before labour, to prepare for the touch that you may experience during labour. It also can be a useful method for partners to use to assist relaxation during labour, although it does not suit all women (some women don't like to be touched during labour).

Group Relaxation

There may be a group near you that you can join, to learn and practice relaxation methods. Sometimes this is one really good way to set time aside for yourself. Usually in your Antenatal Classes you should get to practice relaxation to help you to prepare for labour.

Individual benefits by CD's or DVD’s for personal relaxation time

There are many commercially prepared relaxation CD’s or DVD’s that you can buy to use at home, to help you to relax. Try and find some that you enjoy and use them regularly.

Using music to assist relaxation

Music can be used either in the background or as a main focus during relaxation. Choose your favourite relaxation music during pregnancy and you may be able to use it during labour.

IMPORTANT NOTE

The more often you use and practice relaxation the easier it will become to use it at times when you really need it, eg during labour or while settling your baby. You may not always have time to stop and practice a longer relaxation method, but as you do practice, you will be able to use it during your daily activities more quickly and with less concentration.

If you would like to use relaxation during labour, it is important that you do practice it during your pregnancy, as it will come to you more naturally when you have practiced it. Try to practice different methods and find out what suits you. Also use different positions, as you may move around in labour and try different positions and ways of getting comfortable. If you only practice in a lying position for example, it won't be as easy to use relaxation, eg when leaning over pillows during labour.

It is also good to practice relaxation when there is noise going on around you as when you are in labour, it is not always a quiet and relaxing environment and there are other people around (like your midwives, doctors, care givers, and/or support people).

When to practice relaxation

  • When you lie down for a rest ~ before you fall asleep.
  • While watching television.
  • While practicing breathing and relaxation in preparation for labour.
  • Before going to bed.
  • While sitting in the doctor's waiting room.
  • During a vaginal examination.
  • After the birth, while sitting or lying to feed your baby.
  • Practicing relaxation before or during breast feeding can assist the let down reflex.

Ten more times to use relaxation

  • At the end of a long day at work or at home.
  • When sitting to feed your baby or toddler.
  • After unpacking the groceries from a shopping trip.
  • When you need a sleep but there is no time.
  • When there is no one else around and you need some help.
  • After preparing dinner, so that you can enjoy it when you eat it.
  • When all the things you are doing to settle your baby aren't working.
  • When you have too much to do and you don't know where to start.
  • In between reading your emails or working on the computer.
  • Those times when you just want to spend some time on yourself.

Relaxation methods to practice: A simple physical relaxation

Sit comfortably and let your shoulders drop down.

Stretch your fingers out and rest back into the chair.

Take a slow deep breath in and then focus on a long steady breath out. Try to empty your lungs as much as possible.

Then breathe normally but each time you do, focus on breathing tension out of your body as you exhale.

Stay here for 1, 2, 5 or 10 minutes depending on how much time you have before your next interruption. Even 1 minute can give you that feeling of the luxury of a little time to yourself.

If you are pregnant for the first time, try this technique often to practice and prepare for using it after the birth of your baby.

Cotton wool ball relaxation

Sit down and read this through. Then close your eyes. Try to turn off from all of the things that you have to do, and take a slow deep breath in, hold it for a few moments and then slowly breathe out. Repeat this again four times. Now imagine....

Go into your bathroom and on the bench is a container full of cotton wool balls. These are your cares and responsibilities for the day. Different colours for different ones.

Take out one at a time and put them into the empty jar next to it. Try to put them in one at a time, doing or thinking through each commitment, then leaving it in the jar once done. Only then, take another to do.

Can you move them each day, touching one thing at a time, some more quickly than others, some taking longer and will still be the same tomorrow until completed? Transferring from side to side.

New balls will be added, others discarded once used and done. But you can hold each in the palm of your hand and consider its purpose until done.

Life and motherhood can be overwhelming with responsibilities and demands crying out for your attention. You can only do one thing at a time. If you don't already, write a list so that you can focus on doing one thing until it is completed. Then cross it off or picture moving that cotton ball. Only then, move on to another thing from your list.

Massage Relaxation

This is a longer relaxation for lying down when you do have that little bit of extra time.

Lying down on the floor, couch or bed, let your body go heavy, sinking into the support. Let your legs roll out if you are on your back (lying on your side not your back if you are over 16 weeks pregnant, with a pillow between your legs if needed to make yourself more comfortable). If you are on your side check that your legs are resting comfortably. Enjoy the feeling of the weight off your legs being taken from you by the support. They do not need to hold you up at the moment.

Imagine someone massaging your feet, telling them that your feet and legs are tired because you've been on them a lot today, all through the day.

If your calves and lower legs are weary, imagine someone massaging your calves.

Feel the blood flowing back into your legs and feet. As you rest there feel the energy coming back into your body as you gently breathe in and out.

If you still have time, let your arms and head and upper back go heavy. Now imagine someone massaging your neck and shoulders and feel the tightness and tension go from your body. Imagine the blood flow improving from your neck down your arms to your fingertips, and feel your arms being heavy. As you gently breathe in and out, feel the energy coming back into your body.

Now if you actually have someone who could massage your feet and legs and neck and shoulders, convince them of the immense value of this. Tell them where to start (or let them read this as they do the massage) and lay back and enjoy it!

Copyright 2013 - 2017. Demac Resources Pty Ltd. www.thepregnancycentre.com.au


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Pregnancy Relaxation e-course available from The Pregnancy Centre