Though expecting and giving birth to a new baby is usually exciting and exhilarating, emotional stress, physical fatigue and radical lifestyle changes can also make the same journey difficult for a new mother. To make the transition easier, the new mother, family members and friends can create a stress relieving plan and a daily routine of enjoyable stress-proofing breaks that will nurture, revitalize and recharge the new mom. Studies show that there is a direct link between psychological and physical areas of both the immune system and the nervous system. When a person allows herself to relax, the physical and mental tension in her body is released.
There are a variety of pleasant ways to incorporate relaxation and stress-relieving steps into everyday life. New mothers may be encouraged to experiment with progressive relaxation, meditation, self-massage, massage, yoga and therapeutic breath work.
Here are some nurturing exercises new mothers can try.
Lie in a comfortable position and allow your body to begin to relax. Focus on the feeling of your breath as it moves throughout your body. Flex and release your feet, breathing in and out of your nose slowly. By bringing your awareness to the contraction of your muscles and then releasing the contraction, you can relax the whole body systematically. Tense and relax both of your legs. Tense and then relax your buttocks. Tense your stomach and relax. Hunch your shoulders by bringing them up to your ears slowly, then slowly relax. Press your chin in towards your neck and relax. Move your jaw side to side, thrust it forward and then relax. Raise your eyebrows and then relax. Clench fists tightly, raise fists to shoulders and then relax. Tighten the whole hand, making “claws” with your fingers, and then relax. Keeping your eyes closed, take a few moments to breathe, focusing on all the sensations in your body.
The belly breath is a wonderful technique that can be practiced anywhere. The new mother can be sitting or lying down. This type of breath exercise is slow and deep and helps to promote deep relaxation, emotional balance and stress relief.
Find a comfortable chair to sit in at a time when there will be few distractions. Sit up straight, not leaning back on the chair. Take both hands and spread them low across the belly. Begin to breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose. Press gently with the exhalation out of the nose. With the next inhalation, let your belly drop down as if it were a balloon filling with air. Slowly exhale, gently pressing on the belly with your hands.
Practice the belly breath for five minutes. Gentle music with nature sounds, or classical music such as Mozart, can be helpful in inducing the nervous system to relax even more deeply. Relax in the chair for a minute after the breathing exercise is finished, allowing yourself time to feel all the sensations in your body.
Find a quiet place free of distractions and interruptions. Choose a word or phrase to focus on such as “ocean,” “calm,” or “home.” Words that end with “m” or “n” have a comforting drone, and carry a heavy meditative weight in stress reduction. These vibrating sound waves create calm brain waves.
Sit comfortably upright with your hands resting in your lap. Let your eyes gently close, relax your face with your mouth slightly open, relax your muscles and quiet your mind. Begin to breathe normally, becoming more aware of your breath and the slow natural rhythm of your breath, repeating your focus word or sounding it out silently as you exhale. Ignore any distractions. Let thoughts, imagery and feelings come and go from your awareness. Do not concentrate on them; just let them pass through.
Try this exercise for ten to fifteen minutes. Don’t use a timer. Let your judgment be your guide as to when you’ve completed the relaxation. When the relaxation is completed, remain quiet, with your eyes closed for a few minutes, to allow yourself time to adjust to being present and awake.
Seated gentle yoga routine
Yoga is the union of breath, stretching, and the awareness of our physical and mental response within the movements. Yoga can be performed in a chair, on a bed or on the floor. This seated routine takes ten to fifteen minutes depending on the number of repetitions. It leaves the physical body and the nervous system relaxed, alert and refreshed.
Choose slow, gentle, rhythmic music. Find a comfortable straight-back chair and wear loose-fitting clothes. Begin with a warm-up of the muscles from head to toe. Each movement should be performed slowly. Turn your head gently side to side four times. Move your head up and down, touching chin to chest four times. Move your shoulders up and down four times. Roll your shoulders forward in a circle four times. Roll your shoulders backward in a circle four times. Move torso in a circle four times in one direction and then four times in the other direction. Lift both arms up to your shoulders and ease them back down four times. Lift one leg straight up in front and ease it back down four times, then lift the other four times. Lift and stretch one leg out to the side of your body and return it to the center. Do this four times then repeat with the other leg. Turn your ankle in a circle four times, first in one direction and then the other. Repeat with the other ankle. Flex your foot back and forth four times gently. Repeat with the other foot.
Close your eyes and focus on your breath for one minute. Get up slowly from the chair.
Self-massage for the face
The gift of massage is a wonderful benefit to the body, whether someone is giving you a massage or you are giving yourself a massage. A five-to-ten minute (or longer!) massage daily adds great stress-relieving and immune system boosts to the body.
There are many, many benefits to massage. Massage aids in relaxation, relieves stress and anxiety, reduces blood pressure, helps reduce mental stress, reduces muscle spasms, improves circulation of blood and lymph, relieves muscle tension, reduces formation of excessive scar tissue, promotes deeper and easier breathing, strengthens the immune system, promotes a relaxed state of mental alertness, provides greater joint flexibility and range of motion, and satisfies the need for caring–the nurturing touch.
Shiatsu massage originated in Japan. This Shiatsu face massage is great for relieving allergies, headaches and migraines as well as increasing relaxation throughout the whole body. You can perform it on yourself or lie down on the bed or floor and have a family member or friend perform the face massage on you.
Before applying your hands to anyone’s face, your fingernails should be trimmed and your hands should be washed. Do not wear makeup while receiving a face massage.
Press finger pads into the top of the head, slowly moving them all over the head, while being mindful of your breath. The movement of your hands should be slow, relaxed and graceful. Smooth finger pads across the forehead, taking care to cover the entire forehead with fingers. Pretend you are tracing imaginary lines. After smoothing fingers across, gently press into each part of the forehead at quarter-inch intervals. Do this slowly over the entire forehead.
Press fingers over eyebrows several times. “Pluck” eyebrows with the fingers. Press into cheek area with fingers. Press, release, and press again, moving slightly, until you have covered the entire area. Use the fingers to rim the cheekbones, pressing gently, moving over the entire area again. Slide the middle fingers down the cheek over the jaw joints. Repeat several times. Press the middle finger gently right between the eyebrows. This is a wonderful relaxation point.
Gently slide a finger up the bridge of the nose. Grip the chin at the center point and smooth out towards the ears. Place fingers under the chin and press gently, sliding from chin out to the ears again. Gently grip and pull the ear lobes down. Repeat several times. Press finger pads into scalp and gently massage fingers all through the scalp. Comb through hair with fingers and then gently pull hair. Relax several moments after massage is complete before rising slowly.
There are a few areas on the body, according to acupressure theory, that should not be pressed. These areas are: the web between the thumb and forefinger, areas around the ankles and the top of the shoulder. Never massage a pregnant woman or new mother who has a fever, abdominal pains, sudden swelling or edema.
The use of scent for healing, as in aromatherapy, is not advised for pregnant women during the first three months of the pregnancy. Consult your doctor and a certified aromatherapist.
Gifts for the new mother
Family members and friends can encourage new mothers to create an enjoyable and revitalizing stress-relieving plan by choosing appropriate gifts.
- Soothing and healing music CDs help new mothers to lower their blood pressure. Prenatal and postpartum yoga videos help new mothers formulate a rejuvenating exercise routine. Lavender-, orange- and geranium-scented candles may help the new mother to relax, while grapefruit-, peppermint and bergamot-scented candles may help energize her.
- Ergonomic shoes, supportive back pillows or a cushioning mattress pad can help a new mother feel more comfortable throughout the day. Gift baskets of nutritional snacks can help her eat healthier. You can give items like these a personal touch by making a pillow by hand or creating your own snack basket.
- For a really special treat, give a gift certificate for a hand massage, face massage, Shiatsu, Craniosacral therapy, Polarity therapy, Reiki therapy, Lomi Lomi (Hawaiian) massage, or sideline massage with a certified pregnancy massage therapist.
- By relieving a new mother’s stress and fatigue, we care for the whole woman. We can ease her transition into motherhood by helping her to relax and to savor her excitement, exhilaration and joy.
Kim Brooks is an Integrated Yoga therapist. She also practices Polarity therapy, Shiatsu, Reiki, and Thai massage. She is a graduate of a 620-hour massage program.
Encourage new mothers to incorporate some of these everyday stress-reducing and immune-system-enhancing strategies:
• Breathe slowly and completely.
• Practice the belly breath.
• Stretch, meditate, rest, and renew.
• Listen to relaxing music and perform the progressive relaxation routine.
• Receive a relaxing massage.
• Gently move each muscle group slowly, relaxing and enjoying the sensations of the range of motion of each joint.
• Nurture yourself by allowing the gift of time into your life each day to replenish your body and soul.