Mindfulness, Mothers & Babies

Last week I had the true pleasure and privilege of giving a 2 day Introduction to ACT workshop for more than 55 experienced clinicians at the Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health full week seminar series. Babies’ and mothers’ attachment needs in the perinatal period, and ACT processes of presence, purpose, acceptance and action made for a perfect fit. Mindful mothering, with our awareness grounded in the present with our baby makes it easier to notice our babies’ need, respond in a natural way, notice the rewards and also the struggles of being a Mum and be present with it all. Many perinatal nurses, psychologists and other clinicians from Brisbane and far beyond had already applying mindfulness based ACT principles and practices in their mother baby work, finding it a beautifully natural process.

Connecting mindfulness with the practical applications of attachment theory comes quite naturally. When mothers are more aware and open and able to respond to infant’s cues (noticing when is it appropriate to play, talk, comfort), and in doing so more attuned in their skin to skin touch, holding, and mutual eye gazing we increase our infants sense of security, comfort, and protection. In doing all of this mothers can assist their babies in experiencing their emotions in an open and expressive way. Secure attachment is also modelled in therapeutic context. ACT therapists strive always to be aware, open and engaged, attuned to the client’s needs, encouraging security and exploration. Indeed we learned ACT skills in the workshop by applying them to ourselves, so as to engage more fully, flexibly and effectively with our clients.

I had extraordinary help in delivering this perinatal ACT workshop from four wonderful women who were not able to be in the room. Koa Whittingham is a psychologist with specialisations in both clinical and developmental psychology, a research fellow at the University of Queensland and a mother, and has written “Becoming Mum” which is a truly unique self-help book. It is the first book written to support women, all women, through the psychological passage to motherhood, empowering them to become the kind of mother they wish to be. There has been a crying need for an ACT book for pregnancy and mothers during infancy, and Becoming Mum is IT! I cannot recommend it highly enough, and did so over and again to the perinatal workshop attendees, nearly all of whom purchased at least one if not 2 or more copies. Koa also writes a great blog,Parenting from the Heart.

Koa is in partnership with General Practitioner academic Dr Pamela Douglas who is developing a service to help mums and unsettled babies especially in the first 16 weeks, Possums Clinic. Pam also helped me in focussing ACT principles upon this uniquely sensitive area of human life. Emma Hanieh is a fantastic ACT therapist from The ACT Centre Adelaide who has a great half hourinterview on ACT and Attachment here, and gave me slides and knowledge from her Perinatal ACT Workshops to help me. Finally Louise Shepherd from The Sydney ACT Centre also provided inspiration through her great mindful motherhood blog posts. Koa, Emma and Louise are all very recent mums (Pam some time ago) and all display wonderful sensitivity, connection and scientific rigour in approach to their lives and work. Not only in ACT training, coaching, RFT and adolescent work are we blessed with superb talent in Australia, our perinatal ACT and mindfulness pedigree is deep and growing.

Koa is providing a Free Brisbane Public Mother’s Day Weekend Event this Saturday 10 May at Aspley for her book. If in Brisbane I encourage you to get along!

Becoming Mum ends with this simply wonderful paragraph:

“Take this lightly too!”

“You shouldn’t live your life by my advice. Don’t turn these concepts such as mindfulness into just another monster. Remember that the thought “I’m not practising mindfulness enough” is also just a thought, and sadness at not accepting your emotions is just another emotion to make room. So don’t start steering your ship by the words in this book; steer it by what you’ve always had in your heart. Steer your ship by your guiding stars – your values -and alter your course as necessary along the way so that you are doing what works for you and for your baby.”

Wise, mindful advice!

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