Soothing Postpartum Anxiety with Belly Breathing
Postpartum anxiety lends to racing thoughts, and a driving compulsion to be constantly moving. Breathing exercises require coordinating movement and breath, a balance that necessitates focused attention and feels like “doing something.” Tuning into the mind-body connection, even for a moment in the midst of chaos, can melt tension as your awareness settles into your breath and your body. Belly breathing is particularly grounding, gentle, and easy. It is accessible anytime, anywhere!
Before we experiment with belly breathing, let’s look at your current breathing pattern.
Are you a reverse or chest breather?
In any comfortable position, take a moment to notice:
- When you inhale, does your belly expand or contract?
- Does it barely move at all on both inhale and exhale?
If your belly does not expand during inhalation, you are likely a reverse or chest breather. This type of breathing is common in our flat-tummy-obsessed culture. However, breathing in this way increases anxiety. This is not what a new mama needs.
Time to breathe into our bellies
Belly breathing (abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing) is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. Allow yourself to feel nourished with this earthy breathing practice.
- Lie in a comfortable position and relax your whole body. Allow your eyes to close if that is comfortable for you. If you feel dizzy or uneasy, perhaps allow them to close most of the way and maintain a soft gaze.
- Place your right hand on your abdomen, just above the navel, and your left hand over the center of the chest. You may find it soothing to place both hands on your belly instead.
- Observe your spontaneous breath without controlling it. Allow your breathing to be natural.
- Now begin to focus on drawing the energy and breath in and out directly through your belly.
- Allow your belly to fill with breath on your inhale, gently pressing into your palm(s). Notice your hand(s) moving down or in with your exhale. If your left hand is on your chest, notice that it stays almost still.
- Let your belly relax. Do not force the movement in any way.
- Refrain from expanding your chest or moving your shoulders. Rather focus on feeling your belly gently expanding and contracting as you breathe slowly and deeply.
- Continue for a few minutes, as long as it feels nurturing.
- Relax any effort and once again watch the spontaneous breathing pattern.
- Bring your awareness back to your physical body as a whole. Become aware of your surroundings and gradually open your eyes.
Key times to practice belly breathing are bedtime and anytime throughout the day you find yourself feeling anxious. Also, consider practicing:
- Whenever you experience physical symptoms of postpartum anxiety, such as nausea and panic.
- Before you get out of bed in the morning.
- Before eating.
- Along with your morning routine. (A morning routine can be as simple as doing just one thing, such as bathing, each day when you wake up.)
- As soon as your baby falls asleep. It may help you drift off into a nap, too!
- As soon as you find yourself in a quiet moment.
Pranayama instructions adapted from Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
Nena Complo offers women and families holistic support throughout the childbearing years. She is a holistic birth & postpartum doula, yoga teacher, and midwifery student. Nena lives with her sweet husband and their two radiant daughters in LoveLand, Ohio.