Meeting our needs for a healthy pregnancy in uncertain times…
Last week I was asked a question by a woman currently expecting her second baby how she can meet her needs for a healthy pregnancy in the face of so much uncertainty… “With all of the fears and anxieties surrounding my birth experience to come, how can I focus on having a mindful and healthy birth experience?” I am certain she is not on the only pregnant woman seeking answers to this question. How to answer such a huge question when there is so much angst shrouding birth in our current environment?
Let’s start at the beginning, by looking at what we, as humans, need in order to be ‘healthy’. We can then translate that to what we need for a healthy birthing experience before deciphering how to get that in this changing environment.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
My favourite approach to this is a theory developed by a man named Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist whose work focused on the pursuit of human happiness. He is perhaps most well known for his motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”:
Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, human needs are:
Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.
- Physiological needs – Our biological requirements for human survival, e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep. If these basic needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function.
- Safety needs – Security (emotional and financial), stability, personal safety, predictability, control, freedom from fear.
- Love and belongingness needs – feelings of belongingness, acceptance, affection, and trusted interpersonal relationships.
- Esteem needs – esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and respect from others.
- Self-actualization: the final tier, refer to the realization of a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, and personal growth.
What this looks like can differ from person to person, for example, one individual may have a strong desire to become an ideal parent. For another, this may be expressed creatively through art.
Meeting our Needs in Pregnancy
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be directly translated to pregnancy, depicting what it is that we need to consider for pregnancy, labour and birth. In our current unstable climate, how do we move through these tiers?
Our biological requirements for human survival remain the same. Access to food, drink, shelter, rest.
- Ensuring you’re providing your body with the nutrients and physical activity it needs will go a long way toward meeting the physiological needs of your developing baby.
- While sleep is often disrupted during pregnancy, proven mindfulness and relaxation strategies can be used to provide your body and mind with the rest it needs to support your baby.
Safety and security now becomes paramount in pregnancy and birthing.
- This can be achieved through taking an honest look at your chosen care provider model and your birthing environment. Do they make you feel safe and secure in your birthing? Do you trust them? If not, is it time to explore your options (eg, home birth, independent midwives, etc).
- Consider options for meeting the human need for stability through continuity of care by means of a doula that can support you through your pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
- Take a look at how knowledgeable you are about the process of birth and the tools that you have available to you. Explore options for solid antenatal education that will empower you by giving you practical tools for birthing that you can utilise without reliance on others. Antenatal education that will prepare you for any turn that your birth may take so that you feel secure and safe with your choices, removing your fears, answering that human need for predictability and control.
- Learning and consistently practising proven relaxation techniques can work to greatly reduce fear and stress in both pregnancy and birth, giving way to feelings of safety and security.
- Find your own retreat space. Space is at a premium while we are isolated so it is important that we think through our own separate space for relaxation. Blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags allow us to build a sense of security in our space in the lead up to birthing. This also gives a sense of control over the environment which is lacking in our wider situation.
- Consider ongoing support for your mental wellbeing through engaging with a counsellor, meeting the need of safety and security within the therapeutic relationship. This can also work to address fears, past birth traumas, and anxieties that may be contributing to not fulfilling your human needs in this tier.
- Limiting your access to Covid related social media at this time can go a long way to supporting feelings of safety and security in our current environment.
- Engage in repetitive movements (knitting, colouring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) and left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping). These have shown to be effective self-regulation tools in moments of distress.
We’ve established connection as basic human. In pregnancy this need escalates as birthing women seek to be surrounded those that care for her, support and encourage her. This need is heavily challenged within our current times of social isolation.
- Start by connecting in to your family and friends, consistently, via technology if needed. Set yourself a requirement of connecting to at least one person outside of your home each day. It doesn’t have to be pregnancy/birth-related, but staying connected is vital to meeting the need for acceptance and relationship.
- Explore your online world and put yourself out there in joining support groups that you align to. The Birth Circle is a great example of a group that has made the shift to online, fostering feelings of belongingness, acceptance, affection, and trusted interpersonal relationships. Again, limiting your access to social media sources that entice fear and unnecessary panic.
- Our need for social connection involves our need to be seen, to be heard, and to be validated. In pregnancy, as well as postpartum, this can be achieved through reaching out to a trusted counsellor who will show you unconditional positive regard and validate and work through every emotion with you so that you are genuinely heard. In birth, we need this from our care providers and our birth support people. Ensuring that your antenatal education prior to your birth assists you in learning strategies that will ensure your voice is heard in your labour will work toward meeting this social need. Antenatal classes that incorporate teaching relaxation and bonding techniques to mum AND her partner can be valuable in initiating a secure attachment between mother, partner and baby, that meets baby’s need of belonging and love.
- Reach out to a counsellor if you’re finding it difficult to establish connection and are facing emotional distress. Even via distance a counsellor can support you in navigating your distress with being distanced from others and assist you in establishing connection.
Esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and respect from others. Feeling respected and valued forms an integral part of this tier. Building our own self-worth is the starting point for this.
- Download my free ebook on Self-worth: 5 Ways to Increase Yours and get to work. Low self-worth or self-esteem may lead to placing your personal power in the hands of others when women need to hold it for themselves, particularly during birth. High levels of self-worth lead to confident, empowered, informed birthing.
- Combine high self-worth with knowledge and education, and our esteem needs can be confidently met during pregnancy and birth. Stepping into your power and owning your choices by delving into what you want to achieve from your experience of birth then educating yourself on how to get it independently of others if needed.
And finally, self-actualisation needs
The 5th tier, the realization of a person’s potential and self-fulfillment. Realizing that your fulfilling, positive experience of birth does not have to rest in the hands of others nor does it have to be driven by fear. You have the potential to steer your birth toward what is YOUR version of a positive birthing experience.
Using Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs we can begin to focus in on exactly what we need for a mindful, healthy and positive birthing experience.
My name is Fiona Rogerson and I am an ACA accredited counsellor, and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Practitioner. I work with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. I am also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations. I am based south of the river in Perth and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0402 017 425 or via my contact page. Find me on Facebook and Instagram.