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By Tracy Donegan, BSc

Why Being Mindful of Your Baby’s Movements in Pregnancy is so Important

In a time of obsessive multitasking, instant gratification and digital distractions, it’s not surprising that stress levels continue to escalate for expectant parents. Chronic stress in pregnancy brings an extra emotional and physical strain to the mind and body. In my GentleBirth work I encourage moms to take time out of their busy lives to take a “baby bonding” break. This is just a few moments of quiet mindfulness amid the madness to be mentally still and connect with your breath and your baby—to simply pause and tune in to your body and baby. Our babies are communicating with us, but the distractions of modern living make it difficult to pay attention to what they’re telling us.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean hours of silent meditation sitting cross-legged. It can simply mean a few moments of paying attention on purpose. Being mindful of your baby’s normal patterns of movement may reduce the numbers of stillbirths. Most studies recommend “kick counting,” a daily record of a baby’s movements (kicks, rolls, punches, jabs) during the third trimester, as a reliable way to monitor your baby’s well-being. If you notice any significant changes to your baby’s normal pattern, please talk to your caregiver.

This week I came across some fascinating research (courtesy of Sarah Wickham in the U.K.) about the concept of “Mindfetalness.” Many of you reading this will be familiar with my ongoing interest in the area of mindfulness in pregnancy and the increased adaptability of the maternal brain in those wonderful nine months (neuroplasticity).

Each baby’s patterns of movement are individual and unique, as are your perceptions of those movements. This perception is influenced by where the placenta is located (a placenta located to the front of the uterus can mean you perceive less movement), obesity and, of course, how far along into your pregnancy you are.

The study by Malm et al., published in BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, compares women’s experiences of doing kick counts in late pregnancy, and a method called “Mindfetalness.” Kick counting involves asking mothers to measure the time it takes for their baby to kick 10 times in the third trimester. Mindfetalness suggests that the expectant mother lies on her left side for 15 minutes during a time when her baby is usually active, and notice the strength, type and frequency of movements but not counting them. Forty women participated in the study, and the majority of the women preferred mindfetalness.

The women’s written experiences demonstrate how the application of mindfetalness as a clinical assessment of fetal well being can be an enjoyable experience, promoting connection and bonding with their unborn baby.

“I truly felt like I had contact with the baby,” one wrote. Another said, “I experienced that when I was listening inward the baby was listening vis-à-vis, as if there was a communication between us.”

The authors of the study speculate that mothers who prefer this unique application of mindfulness saw their baby more as an individual rather than just the abstract kicks to be counted. This sits so well with the midwifery philosophy. It’s not just about the mechanics: This is holistic health promotion between mother and baby.

Studies have also shown that a mother’s conscious awareness of her unborn baby positively influences the mother/ baby relationship. A 2000 study by Siddiqui and Hägglöf, published in Early Human Development, demonstrated that maternal prenatal attachment during the third trimester of pregnancy is associated with more positive postnatal maternal involvement (good for you and your baby). Given the rise in perinatal depression rates, this seems to be a low-cost, holistic intervention to encourage mindfulness throughout pregnancy, and specifically mindfetalness in the third trimester to promote mother/baby bonding before birth.

What a wonderful way to bring the practice of mindfulness to more women in our care, given the known salutogenic benefits to both mother and baby in pregnancy and in the postpartum period.